Monday, March 26, 2007

Review: Being Teddy Roosevelt

Claudia Mills' Being Teddy Roosevelt is a small school story with a big punch. Aimed at the 1st- through 4th-grade reader, Being Teddy Roosevelt stars Riley, a fourth-grader who lives with his single mother and isn't always a grade A student, though his intentions are good. You see, he's forgetful and those math worksheets just have a way of disappearing.

When Mrs. Harrow, Riley's teacher, announces the class will be preparing reports on famous historical figures and attending a biography tea in full costume, Riley is concerned. He knows he'll have trouble reading a full biography on his subject: Teddy Roosevelt. He's concerned about being in costume and preparing for the tea. Adding to his biography problems is the announcement about instrumental music in 5th grade. Students have been invited to enroll, but Riley knows his mom can't afford to rent him a saxophone.

Despite his reservations, Riley gets caught up in his subject and learns that Roosevelt never went around an obstacle--instead he faced them head on. Riley decides he'll earn the money himself to buy a sax and his friend Grant, a well-off child with millions of video games, is happy to help. (Grant drew Gandhi for his biography subject--to hilarious results at the tea.) In working towards his goal, Riley earns an A- on his Roosevelt report AND, with the help of Grant and two other school friends, finds a way to get a saxophone. Erika (a pushy Queen Elizabeth) and class brain Sophie (a frustrated Helen Keller) convince Riley to just ask the band director for a sax: "As they got close to the cafeteria, Riley could hear the fifth graders playing a lively march. It made him feel braver inside. Music could do that for you. It could change the way you felt. It could make everything better." (86)

Mills' Being Teddy Roosevelt is a realistic tale, with recognizable child characters and a lot of heart. I've always worried about kids not having access to instrumental music, simply because they're too afraid to admit their families can't afford the rental fees. Being Teddy Roosevelt combines this issue with an entertaining school story every child will enjoy. R.W. Alley's illustrations are generous and funny and readers will recognize each and every character in the drawings. Highly recommended for elementary audiences.