Robert McCloskey, JFK, and Picture Books


Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts intending to raise my spirits. There were two exhibits on my agenda, but mostly I wanted to hit the reset button.   I am overwhelmed and discouraged by recent political events and thought being surrounded by art and beauty would help.  As always, it did.


First stop: The Art of Robert McCloskey which is at the MFA in Boston until June 18.  To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Make Way for Ducklings, the museum is displaying work associated with McCloskey’s classic Boston story, along with studies for Blueberries for Sal and Time of Wonder.  There are also a number of independent paintings by the Ohio native that show the wide range of his artistic talent.




One of the highlights of the day was reading Michiko Kakutani’s front page article about President Obama’s life as a reader in today’s New York Times:

It’s a wonderful article, full of insight about how books have shaped President Obama’s world view. Over the past eight years, I’ve appreciated any glimpse into President Obama’s reading life – especially reports of his holiday and summer trips to Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. and Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard.  I read Dreams From My Father, Obama’s memoir, during his 2008 campaign and still recall passages about books that helped him make sense of his family and his identity.

But….there is one thing about the article that jumped out at me as, perhaps, an oversight. Here is the opening sentence:

“Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.”


I think that sentence would be more accurate if it included John F. Kennedy, a man almost literally raised by books.  As a sick child, he spent countless hours alone reading, mostly history.  “During one of his numerous hospital stays, Jack received a visit from one of his father’s friends, Kay Halle,” I wrote in a book for young readers about JFK.  When Halle went into the future president’s room, she said: “All I could see was this peaked little face with freckles standing out on the bridge of his nose…..and I was awfully interested because the book he was reading was World Crisis by Winston Churchill.”

One of my favorite stories about JFK is one his long-time aide Ted Sorensen told me: at the end of a particularly long day on the campaign trail, Sorensen said that he thought Kennedy was looking forward to sleeping on the plane as much as he was. But, as Sorensen told the story, when he looked over once the flight was underway, he found Kennedy opening Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography!

There are numerous other stories about JFK’s love of books, and of course he won the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage.  I’m hopeful that in 2020, we will elect another president who likes to read.


Last week at school, we began one of the most enjoyable parts of the year: the 3rd grade library and tech class.  Designed to be a bridge between the lower elementary and the upper elementary programs, the kids use both Inly’s maker space and library to learn new skills.

The vehicle we use to introduce new material is the Caldecott Medal. The students look at past winners, learn picture book vocabulary, and use technology to make their case for which book they think is most deserving this year.



I began this post saying that there were two exhibits I wanted to see at the MFA.  The other was William Merritt Chase, an American painter active at the turn of the last century. It is a lovely exhibit, full of color and light.  Below are two of the paintings that I found myself lost in today, perhaps trying to soak up their sunny energy for use in the days ahead….





3 thoughts on “Robert McCloskey, JFK, and Picture Books

  1. Glad you found some balm for the soul at the MFA, and I loved your insight into JFK’s reading habits. We will need lots of books and lots of art to get us through the next four years (although I am hoping it will be less than four…).

  2. I loved that Obama article, and I must see that McCloskey exhibit. I’m finding myself overwhelmed and discouraged too, and you’re right, Shelley: art helps.

    • Hi Katie!
      Yes – you would love the McCloskey exhibit –
      thanks for all of the Instagram suggestions on places to visit in NYC!!

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