"And the night comes again to the circle studded sky
The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie
'Till the universe explodes as a falling star is raised
Planets are paralyzed, the mountains are amazed
But they all glow brighter from the brilliance of the blaze
With the speed of insanity, then he dies."
-- Phil Ochs, "The Crucifixion" (1965)
As we continue our approach toward the fifty-year anniversary of the tragic events in Dallas Texas that changed the course of history, I've now read a second new book about President John F. Kennedy just a couple of months after writing about a first one.
KENNEDY'S LAST DAYS is written by a famous political commentator. I'm apparently one of the last two-dozen people in America who have never seen his show. But I do recognize his face from a TV I once passed in an airport terminal. And irrespective of what the guy's views are on current issues, he's written a pretty solid and very interesting photo-filled book for middle school students that is focused primarily on JFK's brief presidency and death. It includes some great stuff about Jacqueline Kennedy's significant role in creating what later came to be known as the Camelot era:
"January 8, 1963 Washington, D.C. M.
Jackie Kennedy looks stunning in her pink gown and dangling diamond earrings. Long white gloves come up past her elbows. She makes small talk with a man she adores, André Malraux, the 61-year-old writer who serves as the French minister of culture.
"On this night, as she stands in the West Sculpture Hall of the National Gallery of Art, the first lady is truly a vision.
"Jackie turns away from Malraux to gaze at the figure in the painting hanging on the gallery wall. She is known as La Giocanda, or theMona Lisa, a wife and mother of five children who sat for this portrait by Leonardo da Vinci in the early sixteenth century.
"Bringing the world's most famous painting to Washington, D.C., had been Jackie's dream. About a year ago, she made a discreet request to Malraux, who then arranged the loan.
"Now millions of Americans will line up to view the painting before its return to France in March -- and all because of Jackie Kennedy.
"John Walker, director of the National Gallery, was against the loan, fearful that his career would be ruined if he failed to protect theMona Lisa from theft or the damage that might accompany moving a fragile, 460-year-old painting across an ocean in the dead of winter.
"Walker's task of protecting the painting at the gallery was made much easier when JFK ordered the world's most elite bodyguards to watch over the precious work of art -- none other than the men who would willingly take a bullet to protect the president himself: the Secret Service."
As we see highlights of a young family's life in the White House juxtaposed against some incredibly tense national and world events, and learn about the back brace which helped that young president endure the terrible back pain he was secretly suffering, KENNEDY'S LAST DAYS also reveals what Lee Harvey Oswald was up to during these years leading up to the , when the president's Dallas motorcade passed right in front of the Texas Book Depository where Oswald was employed.
This story in KENNEDY'S LAST DAYS is my history. I lived through all of this stuff as an elementary student and I just can't get enough of reading about it: The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis; the White House meetings with Dr. King, and the Children's Crusade, and the March on Washington and, yes, today's horrible fiftieth anniversary of the murders in Birmingham of four young black girls, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie May Collins. (My plans for today include rereading THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM, 1963.)
As I continue to wander the children's literature trail down the fiftieth anniversary of what was my own ninth year, it is sort of feeling at the moment like 1963 peaked on August 28th and pretty much went downhill from there.
978-0-8050-9802-0 336 pages 12 and up