The 50th Anniversary

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During this month of tributes to President John F. Kennedy, I have been remembering the 15 years I spent working at the Kennedy Library.  Although this month marks the anniversary of his death, I keep thinking about our response to all of the young Library visitors who would arrive knowing more about the events in Dallas than they did about the 46 years leading up to that day.  Remember, the Library staff would remind them: John F. Kennedy was the President for 1,063 days before he went to Dallas.

Since leaving the Kennedy Library 15 years ago, I’ve experienced discomfort when hearing stories about Kennedy’s attitude toward women. I’ve grappled with the fact that he has been mythologized beyond any true understanding. And I continue to be proud of my association with his life and his Library. There is just so much to admire – not only about Kennedy himself, but about many of his associates and family members.  I admire Kennedy’s life-long intellectual curiosity and the way he inspired so many others to participate. I admire the way he appealed to our best selves.  I admire him as a person who, at the end of a long day on the campaign trail, sat on a plane reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

During the 15 years I spent at the Kennedy Library, I literally heard hundreds of people cite President Kennedy as the reason they entered public service. I heard Nelson Mandela talk about the Kennedy family’s campaign for his release. I heard Peace Corps volunteers say that President Kennedy and his brothers were their inspiration for joining.  And I personally witnessed Senator Kennedy’s kindness and generosity to all kinds of people.

This post is a departure from my regular topic, but in keeping with my focus on children’s books, I will end with this list of my favorite books about the Kennedy family. On November 22, remember to share stories of President Kennedy’s legacy, rather than the details of a horrible day in our nation’s history:

Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy by Ilene Cooper

High Hopes: A Photobiography of John F. Kennedy by Deborah Heiligman

The Brothers Kennedy: John, Robert, Edward by Kathleen Krull

Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy by Doreen Rappaport

Kennedy Through the Lens: How Photography and Television Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Leader by Martin W. Sandler

And the best place to learn about President Kennedy’s life – the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum…

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