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A look at 'The President Has Been Shot!'

by KAREN MacPHERSON Scripps Howard News Service on November 17, 2013 1:30 AM

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy fast approaching, here’s a look at some good books for kids and teens about both the man and the murder, beginning with two newly published volumes.

• Historian-author James L. Swanson seems to specialize in writing about U.S. presidents whose lives were ended by assassins. In “Chasing Lincoln’s Killer,” Swanson offers a fast-paced look at the search for the man who shot President Abraham Lincoln. And now, in “The President Has Been Shot!” (Scholastic, $18.99, ages 10 and up), Swanson has written a riveting narrative of the day that Kennedy was shot, as well as the several days following the event that shocked the nation.

Swanson tells the story in a day-by-day fashion, building up the drama and suspense. As a result, his book reads like a novel. The many black-and-white photos, especially the scenes showing Kennedy first waving to the crowd and then slumping over as he is hit by gunfire, add further emotional power to Swanson’s text.

While many young readers likely will skip to the sections of the book detailing the assassination and the days immediately afterward, Swanson actually opens his book with a brief biography of Kennedy and his accomplishments as president.

It’s helpful perspective, although Swanson’s portrait of Kennedy sometimes shows him as too saintlike, rather than the flawed — although charismatic — figure that he was. Still, “The President Has Been Shot!” is generally a highly readable look at a man and a historic event likely to fascinate many young readers.

• TV political pundit Bill O’Reilly presents his own take on the events surrounding Nov. 22, 1963, for young readers in “Kennedy’s Last Days: The Assassination That Defined a Generation” (Henry Holt, $19.99, ages 10 up). Like Swanson, O’Reilly takes a novelistic approach that will have young readers quickly turning the pages.

Of particular interest is the way O’Reilly contrasts the lives and dreams of Kennedy and accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Dozens of photos bring further interest to the book, which is a companion to the adult book, “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot,” that O’Reilly wrote with Martin Dugard.

The following books were published some years ago, but remain good introductions to Kennedy:

• Author Martin W. Sandler offers a photographic focus on the 35th president in “Kennedy Through the Lens: How Photography and Television Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Leader” (Walker, $19.99, ages 10 and up).

With an engaging text and, of course, loads of photos of the photogenic Kennedy and his family, Sandler shows how Kennedy used television and color photography to further his career and build public sympathy and esteem.

• In “High Hopes” (National Geographic, $17.95, ages 9-12), author Deborah Heiligman details Kennedy’s life through a well-written text that concludes with an afterword as to what happened to Jackie Kennedy and her children after the assassination. Subtitled “A Photobiography of John F. Kennedy,” this handsomely designed, picture-book-sized volume includes numerous photos.

• Author Ilene Cooper gives readers a different take on the 35th president as she focuses on his childhood and teenage years in “Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy” (Puffin, $12.99, ages 10 and up). Young readers will be especially intrigued by the highly competitive nature of the Kennedy family as well as Kennedy’s complicated relationship with his adored older brother, Joe.

• Elementary-school students will enjoy learning about the late president in “Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy” (Disney/Hyperion, $17.99, ages 7-10).

Author Doreen Rappaport uses quotes from Kennedy and his family — especially his father — to give readers a sense of Kennedy’s personality and accomplishments, while the illustrations by Matt Tavares enhance the book’s emotional core.

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