Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 Contenders: "The President Has Been Shot!", by James L. Swanson

The plan was for my review of Prisoner 88 to be my last one of 2014 Newbery contenders. However, I looked back at my Mid-Year Predictions post, and noticed that I'd never gotten around to reading "The President Has Been Shot!",  even though it was on my list of books that I felt like I ought to make sure and read before the YMAs.

Now that I've finished it, I have to say that this is probably the most impressive nonfiction book for older readers that I picked up this year. In clear, vivid language, Swanson takes us through the lives of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, up to the moment where they violently intersect, and through its aftermath. Much like last year's Bomb, President reads more like a thriller than a standard nonfiction book, and is the better for it.

The criticisms I do have of the book are fairly minor. The section on JFK's life and career are less nuanced than I might have liked, but given that Swanson had highly limited space, it might be as good as it can be. The book also maintains a laser-like focus on its two subjects (and, to some extent, on Jackie Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the aftermath of the assassination), to the point that, although it mentions that Governor John Connally was also shot, the text neglects to inform us that Connally recovered from his wounds.

James L. Swanson has written two previous books for youth, Chasing Lincoln's Killer, and Bloody Times. Both of those got excellent reviews, but neither was eligible for the Newbery, as both were adaptations of Swanson's adult titles (Manhunt and Bloody Crimes, respectively). President also has an adult counterpart, End of Days. However, whether by design or by chance, President seems to have been published the month before End of Days, a bit of chronological trickery that I think may render it Newbery-eligible, since, at the time it was published, it was an "original work."

Assuming that the Newbery Committe also considers President eligible, I think this book has the best shot of any nonfiction title this year of showing up in the Newbery list. I don't think it's actually the best nonfiction title of the year -- that's still On a Beam of Light -- but it's easier to take the text of President on its own merits than that of OABOL. That said, I think the likelihood is still that no nonfiction titles show up in the Newbery rolls this year.

We'll find out in a week and a half!

Published in September by Scholastic


  1. My students completely agree, Sam. You might be interested in their comments during our Mock Newbery discussions:

    1. I really enjoyed reading through your Mock Newbery posts! It sounds like your students are dedicated and perceptive readers.