CD_FirstLadies_1024x1024The history and stories of the Presidents of the United States of America and their First Ladies fascinate many Americans.  When we discuss their history, our personal politics seem to melt away as we are drawn in by the struggles and turmoil that each of these individuals faced during their time at The White House. As ordinary citizens of this country, we cannot fathom what it is like to live in a political fishbowl where every word and gesture can be misconstrued.  Throughout our nation’s history, the press has closely followed the President.  Some of the First Ladies have been treated worse by the press than their male counterparts.  There was a time when the press did not follow any ethical guidelines and many times, stories about the President and the First Lady were fabricated.  While this appalling, it is evidence that Americans have always been interested in the First Family.

Over the years, NPR has had several guests speak about the First Ladies of the United States of America on their radio programs.  Included in this list are historians, authors, actors and the First Ladies themselves.  In this CD compilation, NPR has included stories from our first First Lady, Martha Washington until our present First Lady, Michelle Obama.  For many of the latest First Ladies, listeners can hear interviews with the women themselves and hear the First Ladies discuss issues and voice their own opinions.  NPR also included voice recordings of former First Ladies which is quite fascinating.  I expected Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice to be lower and more authoritative so I was quite surprised to hear her speak in her very proper ladylike manner.  Jacqueline Kennedy can be heard talking to Arthur Schlesinger four months after her husband was killed. It was also quite entertaining to hear Lady Bird Johnson give LBJ notes on how he should speak to reporters. LBJ defensively tells her, “they get mad at you if you waste their time”.

Many of the Founding Mothers are discussed at length as well. Abigail and John Adams have over 1200 letters on file so a lot is known about her. Many years of their marriage was spent living apart which must have been a hardship for Abigail. There are only three letters that survive between the Washingtons. George ordered Martha to burn their letters after he died in order to keep their private lives private. What few people realize is that Martha lived in the military camps with George. She was a favorite among the soldiers. Sally Field discusses playing Mary Todd Lincoln. Field read all the letters that the Lincolns wrote to one another in order to help her prepare for the role.  An interesting note about The White House when Lincoln took office is that there were literally livestock on the first floor.  Mary believed that The White House was something that Americans should be proud of so she spent money making the place look better.  Of course, the press criticized her for this because she spent too much money.

A fun part of this recording is the discussion on the former First Ladies’ ball gowns. At the time of the recording, there was a display at the Smithsonian Museum featuring the First Ladies’ gowns. Most of the gowns that were described were the dresses for the Inaugural Bowl. The gowns reflect the fashion of the time and the economics of the time. The third time that Franklin Roosevelt was elected, they canceled the ball due to the Great Depression. Women in the crowd at the Smithsonian talk about which gowns they would and would not wear and little girls giggle at the poofy sleeves.

First Ladies is a fun way to learn about the First Ladies of the United States and is appropriate for the whole family!

prezIn a world where corporations have the power to rule the world, where social media has infiltrated presidential elections, and when the age restriction on who can run for president has been abolished, you know things are bound to get interesting really quick. Prez, Vol. 1: Corndog-In-Chief tells the tale of this messed-up world and all the deals happening behind the scenes.

In the not so distant future, 2036 to be exact, the world is topsy-turvy. People vote for elections via Twitter, corporations have the ability to run for President, and a strain of cat flu has infested the world, one that costs millions of dollars to cure and that is infecting people worldwide. One of the people infected and dying is Beth Ross’ father. Beth becomes viral-video famous, an internet celebrity named Corndog Girl, after an unfortunate incident at the fast food restaurant where she works.

The country is in the midst of a presidential election, one that is being controlled behind the scenes by a few major corporations. Two candidates have been presented, but a famous video blogger has chosen to endorse Corndog Girl for President instead! She’s eligible to become president, something the corporations never believe would happen, so they write her off. Joke’s on them! She becomes president and soon finds herself thrown into a messed-up world of politics and corporate power grabs. Beth is left to fill her cabinet with people she can trust and all the while try to figure out how if she has the power to take back control of this upside-down world. This graphic novel is full of snark, witty social media commentary, and a glimpse into what our lives could possibly be like if corporations are given more control over our way of life.

Every Iowan needs to take a trip to West Branch to learn about the humanitarian who was our 31st president. Before and after his presidency, he used his management skills and financial resources to help people around the world.

Before he was president, Hoover was chairman of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium. In 1915, he reported, “All Belgium is now on a ration of 10 ounces of bread per day, rich and poor alike, …” (from the Historical New York Times, available through the PrairieCat catalog under the Find Articles tab). Because Hoover was able to get food shipped to Belgium in time to save millions from starvation, he is regarding as a hero there today. Streets and plazas have been named after him. According to a NPR report, “Hoovermania in Belgium,” he organized feeding “more than nine million people every day for four long years . ” He was an “international symbol of American generosity and practical idealism. ”

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum displays give you insight into the depths of gratitude felt by Belgians during and after World War 1. The Belgians embroidered flour sacks with expressions of thanks to Hoover.

The taped interviews also make you understand a little bit of the horrors of  the widespread starvation felt by Europeans.  One man tells of the wonder of getting a bread roll, dubbed “Hoover rolls.”

So, celebrate Hoover’s birthday with a trip to West Branch and learn a little more about a truly fascinating man.

Any book the President picks up instantly becomes the subject of analysis and fascination. Everyone knows that Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwobama-booksin which describes Lincoln choosing several political rivals for his cabinet and staff, is an Obama favorite.

According to, The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria, and Lincoln: the Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan are some other books he has been seen with.

Check out Mr. Obama’s Facebook page for some of his favorite books, such as Moby Dick, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and the Bible.

Libraries love the fact that, not only is he the world’s most famous reader, he is also a talented writer (both attributes can do no harm to our bottom line…the number of materials that are checked out).

According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama’s own Dreams from My Father, “evinces an instinctive storytelling talent…and that odd combination of empathy and detachment gifted novelists possess.” Obama won the 2006 Grammy for “Best Spoken Word Album” for his reading of his memoir and search for identity.

So, check out one of these books, carry it around and see if anyone snaps a photo….


Andrew Jackson, 1829

The big day is finally here – and for those of us living in Iowa where it has been an especially long political cycle, it sometimes seemed it would never come! Today the United States will inaugurate the first African-American President when Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office. The peaceful transfer of power is one of the great hallmarks of democracy, something America has maintained throughout her history, during peace or war, economic prosperity or depression. Plenty of reasons to celebrate.

To find out more about the 2009 Inauguration, visit the official website Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. You’ll find interactive maps, descriptions of the days events, Washington DC weather reports, and a history of past Inaugurations. You’ll even find – get this – the recipes for the food to be served at the Inaugural Luncheon (in case you were wondering what to do with that pheasant you’ve got in the freezer!)

The library, of course, has all kinds of Presidential information including biographies of every President as well as histories of the office. We even have a book about Air Force One, the President’s plane and a history of the White House. Here’s a sampling:

Air Force One: a History of the Presidents and their Planes by Kenneth Walsh

Union of Words: a History of Presidential Eloquence by Wayne Fields

The White House Garden by William Seale

First Dogs: American Presidents and their Best Friends by Roy Rowan

Real Life at the White House: 200 Years of Daily Life at American’s Most Famous Residence by John Whitcomb

The President’s Table by Barry LandauHappy President’s Day! Every third Monday in February has been set aside to observe the birth anniversaries of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22), although it is now generally used to honor all former US presidents.

Ever wonder what goes on at those lavish Presidential State Dinners? The beautifully illustrated The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy by Barry Landau gives us a unique picture of the world and work of the Presidents. Showing us history from a social rather than strictly factual viewpoint, Landau makes history fascinating and personal. Included are photographs of menus and invitations, descriptions of meals served, and details of trends in entertaining which reflect the birth, growth and dominance of the United States.