Interview with Julia Moberg – PRESIDENTIAL PETS
Forty-four presidents have occupied The White House and all but a few have brought animals with them. PRESIDENTIAL PETS: THE WEIRD, WACKY, LITTLE, BIG, SCARY, STRANGE ANIMALS THAT HAVE LIVED IN THE WHITE HOUSE by Julia Moberg (Imagine! Publishing, 2012 – an imprint of Charlesbridge) introduces young readers to the furry and feathered friends of our nation’s leaders.
Who knew Thomas Jefferson had bear cubs or that Andrew Jackson had a cursing parrot or that martin Van Buren had two baby tigers? Young readers will want to learn which president kept sheep, bald eagles, pigs, a hyena, a lion, a zebra, a badger, snakes, etc, and which man kept an alligator in the bathroom. Some critters came with the presidents while others were gifts from dignitaries.
Double page spreads are dedicated to each president, in order of term, and include bite-sized highlights of each commander in chief and the animals they shared The White House with. Kids will appreciate the generous white space, the fun cartoony illustrations by Jeff Albrecht, the fun verse introduction to each prez, and the short information snippets categorized as Presidential Stats, Tell Me More!, and Accomplishments and Events. Ultimately, the content goes just beyond the presidential pets to provide a clever
introduction to the historic legacies of our presidential leaders.
A table of contents and bibliography may have better cemented the book as a classroom source, but it is still a worthy recommendation with great kid appeal.
Author Julia Moberg was kind enough to answer a few questions about the creation of her book.
Welcome Julia. Please introduce yourself, your editing background, and what drew you to children’s books.
I’m Julia Moberg, and PRESIDENTIAL PETS is my second book. I have had the pleasure of working in the publishing world for the past 10 years. I started at a small company called Newmarket Press, where I worked as an publicity and marketing assistant on film and television books. From there, I landed a job at the Penguin Group, working in their managing editorial department for one of their adult imprints. I learned a lot about how the publishing industry works through both of these positions, but I always knew that children’s books were what I ultimately wanted to work on. I left Penguin and went to work as the editor for the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club for six years.
The books I read growing up left the biggest impressions on me. I guess you could say that authors like Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Mary Downing Hahn, Maud Hart Lovelace, and Robert Newton Peck drew me to children’s books.
What was your general journey to publication with PRESIDENTIAL PETS?
Because I worked in the publishing industry, I decided to agent the book myself. I sent the manuscript around to all of my contacts at the various houses. Although many of the publishers liked the subject matter, they thought that poetry was too hard to sell these days. But then Charles and Jeremy Nurnberg at Imagine Books wrote back expressing interest in the subject matter. They wanted me to shorten the poems and asked me to add some fun facts about each president. I re-wrote each poem, and added fun facts. Soon after, they offered me a publishing contract. They assigned me a wonderful editor, and we started the huge task of verifying all of the factual information. Soon after, Imagine found Jeff Albrecht, who illustrated the book.
What interested you in the topic of presidential pets?
I’ve always been fascinated by little-known pieces of history. I first learned that Abraham Lincoln had a dog through a work colleague of mine, and that intrigued me. I started reading more on the subject of presidential pets, and was amazed that there were all these wacky and weird animals that had called the White House their home. I immediately thought: This is a book for kids!
Researching forty-four presidents seems a monumental task. How did you tackle the research process? What kinds of sources did you reference?
It was a monumental task. Originally, I just started listing all the basic information, such as date of birth, who the first lady was, and how long each president’s term was. But then as I continued to learn more about each president, I realized that the book could be so much more than a compilation of each president’s pets. It could ultimately tell the story of our country. So I began to research, select, and write more in-depth accomplishments and events that happened during each presidency. I used encyclopedias, White House records, newspapers, presidential museums and estates, and various other books and sources for reference. We had to be very careful and absolutely sure that each fact was true. A few times I did have a piece of information from a lesser source that we could not verify, and would have to cut.
I noticed there is no bibliography included in the book. Was this a publisher decision?
The publisher decided to include an index in the back of the book rather than to include a whole bibliography.
Your coverage for each president goes beyond their respective pets and introduces bite-sized facts about each man’s presidency and family life. How difficult was it to narrow down which facts to include?
It depended on the president. Some presidents it was difficult to decide which facts to include, and others it was a struggle to find enough facts! William Henry Harrison, for instance, was only in office for 31 days. He accomplished very little, and as a result I had very little to write about him. Other presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in office for 12 years, had more than enough information to include. Ultimately, I wanted to include the facts that would interest kids the most. I wanted the reader to learn something without realize they were learning.
Who had the weirdest, wackiest, strangest animals you came across in your research?
One of the weirdest & wackiest animals was John Quincy Adams’ alligator. It was a gift from a Frenchman named Marquis de Lafayette and lived in a East Room bathroom for at least two months. This was definitely one of the strangest animals that has lived at the White House, and was also one of the first animals I researched for the project.