New York Times:
The White House Was Her Playground
By SHERIE POSESORSKI
Alice Roosevelt was always determined that attention, and lots of it, be paid to her — starting first and foremost with her father, the 26th president of the United States.
So devastated was Teddy Roosevelt by the death of his young wife, Alice Lee, two days after the birth of his daughter, he left Baby Lee, as he referred to Alice, to the care of his eldest sister, unwilling to say or even write his wife’s name the rest of his life. Several years later he remarried, and Alice rejoined him, having to compete for his affection with his new wife, Edith, and eventually five half-siblings, in a family that she said she never felt at home in.
But Alice had inherited her father’s adventurous spirit, intellectual curiosity and passion for politics. Over the decades she became such an integral part of the political scene that she was nicknamed “the other Washington Monument.”
In her award-winning picture book biographies of Walt Whitman and Waterhouse Hawkins, Barbara Kerley has shown an affinity for iconoclasts, as she does once again in “What to Do About Alice?” Kerley reveals the essence of Alice in an upbeat account of her life, dramatizing Alice’s love of “eating up the world,” as she put it.
Kerley’s text plays straight man to the punch line of Edwin Fotheringham’s mischievous artwork. The first spread slyly sums up the relationship between Alice and her father, showing Roosevelt from the waist down, tapping his foot with exasperation, Alice already out of reach, only one foot in the frame. Fotheringham gives us a whirling dervish: Alice as a young girl tumbling downstairs, galloping through parks, bike-riding and let loose in her father’s library after refusing to attend private school. Five figures of Alice depict her snatching books off the shelves, as hungry for education as she was for experience.
When the 17-year-old Alice moved into the White House after her father became president in 1901, she reveled in the high-voltage spotlight. She greeted visitors accompanied by her pet snake, Emily Spinach. She sped about the streets of Washington in her car, danced all night and bet on horse races. The press covered the antics of the eminently quotable Alice “as if it were she who had just become president,” according to her biographer, Carol Felsenthal.
“I give a good show,” Alice proclaimed. That she did, as Kerley and Fotheringham demonstrate with verve.
It’s hard to imagine a picture book biography that could better suit its subject than this high-energy volume serves young Alice Roosevelt. Kerley (The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins) knows just how to introduce her to contemporary readers: “Theodore Roosevelt had a small problem. It wasn’t herding thousands of cattle across the Dakota badlands. He’d done that. It wasn’t leading the Rough Riders.... He’d bagged a grizzly bear, captured outlaws, governed the state of New York, and served as vice president of the United States, and still he had a problem. Her name was Alice.” Debut illustrator Fotheringham creates the perfect mood from the start: his stylish digital art sets a fast pace, making use of speed lines (rendered in dots, these earn their names) and multiple vignettes to evoke characters in perpetual motion. His compositions wittily incorporate headlines, iconic images and plenty of Alice blue, too. Kids will embrace a heroine who teaches her younger stepsiblings to sled down the White House stairs (“Alice tried to be helpful,” Kerley writes soberly as Fotheringham shows her in action), entertains dignitaries with her pet snake and captivates a nation with pranks and high jinks. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
School Library Journal:
Gr 2-4–Kerley brings another historical figure to life. Alice Lee Roosevelt was President Theodore Roosevelt’s only child by his first wife, who died two days after her birth. From the start, Alice’s behavior was unconventional, and that pattern was to continue throughout her colorful life. Kerley’s text gallops along with a vitality to match her subject’s antics, as the girl greets White House visitors accompanied by her pet snake, refuses to let leg braces cramp her style, dives fully clothed into a ship’s swimming pool, and also earns her place in history as one of her father’s trusted advisers. Fotheringham’s digitally rendered, retro-style illustrations are a superb match for the text. The energy in his pictures is palpable as when Alice is turned loose in her father’s library and five Alices dart about followed by lines that trace her frenetic path as she reads eclectically and voraciously. The illustrations not only enhance but are frequently the source of humor: “Alice tried to be helpful. She watched her younger brothers and sister so her stepmother could get some rest.” The picture depicts Alice and her siblings careening down the White House stairs on sleds. Alice blue, the color named after her eyes, swirls throughout in a subtle tribute. This book provides a fascinating glimpse into both a bygone era and one of its more interesting denizens as well as a surefire antidote for any child who thinks that historical figures are boring.–Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
Theodore Roosevelt’s irrepressible oldest child receives an appropriately vivacious appreciation in this superb picture book. “From the time she was a little girl, Alice ate up the world.” Taking her thematic approach from Alice’s own self-description, Kerley’s precise text presents readers with a devilishly smart, strong-willed girl who was determined to live life on her own terms—and largely succeeded. Sprinkling her account with well-chosen quotations, she outlines Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s childhood and its increasingly outrageous hijinks, as well as the loving (if sometimes exasperating) relationship she enjoyed with her renowned father. Fotheringham’s digital illustrations perfectly evoke the retro styles of an earlier age, depicting a confident Alice sailing through life and tackling every challenge with delight and aplomb. The illustrator takes every opportunity to develop Alice’s character further; one memorable spread shows a blandly smiling Alice leading her smaller siblings in riding trays down the White House stairs while the text merely remarks, “She watched her younger brothers and sister so her stepmother could get some rest.” It’s a gleeful celebration of a fully, unapologetically led life. (author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)
This sassy biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth validates President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quip about his oldest child: “I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” Spunky and headstrong, Alice “was hungry to go places, meet people, do things. Father called it ‘running riot.’ Alice called it ‘eating up the world.’” Readers can call her actions what they will as they follow Alice sneaking out at night; riding trays down the White House stairs; or diving, fully clothed, into a ship’s pool. With a palette that emphasizes Alice Blue, her signature color, the illustrations often match Alice’s spirit with zigzag streaks, circular pieces of spot art, and slanting figures. Both text and illustrations can depict a demure Alice (on her wedding day, for example), but that decorum is short-lived as she dances the turkey trot or plays poker with “the boys.” An author’s note hints at Alice’s probable unhappiness as a child (her mother died two days after Alice’s birth, and Theodore never spokeher name again); expands on ways that Alice served the president; and details her political influence, and outrageousness, in later life. What to do about Alice? Enjoy! b.c.
December 15th, 2007
Irrepressible Alice Roosevelt gets a treatment every bit as attractive and exuberant as she was. The daughter of Theodore Roosevelt (and a mother who died soon after childbirth), Alice had a joie de vive that she called, "eating up the world." This energy exhibited itself in her joining an all-boys club, tramping around Washington D.C., and, later, taking off on around-the-world adventures. Kerley's text has the same rambunctious spirit as its subject, grabbing readers from the first line: "Theodore Roosevelt had a small problem." Children will be impressed with the way Alice took control of her life: eschewing formal schooling, she convinced T. R. to "let her loose in his library." The large format gives Fotheringham, in his debut, plenty of room for spectacular art, which uses digital media. In almost every picture, Alice is running, motoring, racing. One clever spread shows what it was like to be a media princess: newspaper pages fly across the spread, obscuring Alice. There are a few flaws. Kids, who have a shaky sense of history, would have benefited from a time line, and quotes are barely sourced. But these are small points in an otherwise invigorating look at larger-than-life Alice. An afterword is appended. -Ilene Cooper