If you asked your kids what they think it would be like to spend Christmas in the White House, they would probably envision parties, gifts, and huge, decorated Christmas trees. This may be how things are done now, but back in Theodore Roosevelt’s day, things were very different, as they will learn from A Christmas Tree in the White House.
Gary Hines tells the story of how Teddy Roosevelt decrees that because cutting down trees goes against his conservationist views, there will be no Christmas tree in the White House. Roosevelt’s six children are understandably upset that their traditions are being changed and the youngest two make a plan to have some kind of tree for Christmas at the White House. With the help of their Aunt Anna—and using skills their father taught them in a previous game–the boys sneak a tiny tree into the White House and are able to keep it hidden for a while. When their father discovers it, though, he takes them to visit his friend and chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. To Roosevelt’s surprise, though, Pinchot tells the boys that cutting down some small trees can actually be beneficial because it gives the other trees more room and sunlight, so he allows the boys to keep the tree.
At the end of the story Hines includes some biographical information about Theodore Roosevelt as well as his children to provide some context to the story. Without knowing that the entire family enjoyed rambunctious play and crazy antics, this may seem like a tale of rebellion being excused or rewarded, but when you read more about them, you realize that this was the way they interacted. Even though the children did sneak the tree in, I don’t think this is a book that’s going to encourage your children to rebel! Hines also reveals what we know is true about this story and what details have been changed or added.
This is not your typical Christmas book, but your children will enjoy it. The children’s efforts to hide the tree are amusing and you wonder how they think they’re going to pull this all off–and how is the president going to react? You may also learn a bit of science as the chief forester tells the Roosevelts about why it’s okay to cut down some trees.
Alexandra Wallner’s charming illustrations are a great accompaniment to the story. They are simple and colorful and draw you into the story without distracting from it. If you enjoy this book, you may want to look into the other books on historical figures that she has written and illustrated.
When you see all the photos and news stories about Christmas in our nation’s capital this year, take some time to pull out A Christmas Tree in the White House and learn about a time two little boys worked to bring a little tree home to the White House.