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Review: ‘Action Presidents’

Action Presidents

Action Presidents #1: George Washington!
Action Presidents #2: Abraham Lincoln!
Written by Fred Van Lente, illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey
HarperCollins, $9.99 each
Ages 8-12

The team behind Action Philosophers! have returned with an entertaining look at key men and events in American history, beginning with the two most famous Presidents.

The attitude behind the series is apparent from the beginning. As narrated by Noah the Historkey (a history turkey), the George Washington! book begins with the best-known fable about Washington, which is promptly denounced as both “boring” and told by a “well-known liar.” Instead, we get a story of adventure, as young George is sent on a spy mission into the frontier and fights battles during the French and Indian War.

Action Presidents #1: George Washington!

The no-holds-barred truth-telling approach is addictive, while Dunlavey’s distinctive art resembles animated caricatures. Facts are made more memorable by illustration, as when Washington’s home state of Virginia is described as “the oldest British colony” and the picture is of the state outline transformed into a crotchety old man. Van Lente points out (through Noah) several points where a different decision would have changed history, a thought-provoking approach.

There’s no white-washing here, as the economic reliance on slavery and the futility of war, among other things, are noted. At the same time, pop culture references keep surprising the reader with humor. Young comic readers will appreciate, for example, that a comment about Washington’s teeth problems is illustrated by a happy face with his hair and braces, a reference to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. More than his life, though, this book covers the basics of the causes for the American Revolution, with plenty of battles and military strategy, and the formation of the new country’s government.

Action Presidents #2: Abraham Lincoln!

The second book, about Abraham Lincoln!, continues exploring the problems with slavery and its effect on the country, along with how Lincoln grew up on the frontier. It’s another example of how educational comics can be, particularly when lightened with humor. And a graphic novel exploring the causes of the Civil War certainly can use some laughter, even if a good amount of it is based on fart jokes. (Which also shows they know their audience.)

One of the most significant sections comes when Noah is arguing with Pappy the Confederate Crawdad over the true causes of the Civil War. It’s ludicrous to see but makes key, substantial points that will be more easily remembered for the silly images. The book includes the arguments for and against secession, the history of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s family tragedies, his assassination, and the founding of Thanksgiving.

Action Presidents is recommended, particularly for fans of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, for which this makes a welcome companion with its blend of action, humor, and meaningful points. The series will continue with the story of Theodore Roosevelt.

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Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Comments

  1. Dear Johanna,
    I am a school librarian in France, working in an international secondary school. I have a question about Action Philosophers! and Action Philosophers! : what is the age level ?
    Best regards,
    V. B.

  2. Johanna Johanna says:

    As I said above, Action Presidents is rated ages 8-12 according to the publisher. The earlier series by these creators, Action Philosophers, was self published and doesn’t have a listed rating — but I would say it should be for older readers, teens and up. Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m curious how the Roosevelt book will address his “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are” statement, his belief that they weren’t equal to whites and couldn’t be highly educated, as well as his promotion of the horrible “Indian Schools.”

  4. Johanna Johanna says:

    Good question. They didn’t shy away from Washington’s slave-holding, so I would hope that the more problematic aspects will be handled similarly, with an acknowledgement that some of our heroes are real people of their times, with difficult elements to their history.

    The Roosevelt book has been delayed, though, with no stated release date now, so we’ll have to wait to see.

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