A Word from Lindsey Leavitt, Author of the Commander in Cheese Series
I fell in love with American History as a fifth grade teacher. Our elementary school taught a rather robust unit, and while teaching I memorized the Gettysburg address, the preamble to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the state capitals, and other historical wonders that have since grown a little fuzzy in my crowded brain.
Fast forward years later, when I sold my first early chapter book series, COMMANDER IN CHEESE. Suddenly I had the luxury to read read read about American presidents, White House history, and D.C. monuments–all in the name of that lovely writing perk…research! I’ve watched documentaries, movies, news reports, TV shows (Although House of Cards was a bittttt of a stretch). I traveled to the Reagan Presidential Library and gallivanted around Washington D.C., because, again, RESEARCH! And I’ve actually memorized the presidents now, in order, although I do get Harrison and Garfield mixed up sometimes, but don’t we all?
What I didn’t foresee, what many of us didn’t foresee, was a wildcard 2016 election. Some teachers/librarians have confided that their enthusiasm has waned as this election season dragged on. How to combat such drudgery?
Two words. History and humor.
In my chapter book series, COMMANDER IN CHEESE, we meet siblings Ava and Dean Squeakerton. If you are a human, Ava and Dean could fit in the palm of your hand. If you are a mouse, you might have heard about Ava and Dean. They are kind of famous. For mice. That’s because Ava and Dean and the rest of the Squeakerton family live in the White House.
In each book in the series, Ava and Dean find themselves on another adventure. And as they face conflicts big and small, my goal was to bring history and humor into the story. I also strive to do this in my school presentations, which includes loads of metaphorical and literal cheese, as seen below.
History is woven in quick doses throughout the series, usually by way of Gregory, the siblings’ secret service mouse. Gregory LOVES everything and everyone that has ever existed in the White House. And he’ll tell you about it. Over and over again. Gregory also appears in the back matter of the book, which is full of real life facts, photos, maps and trivia. The back matter often takes me just as long to write as the narrative. Because research is just that fun, and I relish reading a zillion odd facts before finding the perfect one.
And humor? It’s hard to hold back. There are so many fun, crazy, silly, zany stories about our nation’s leaders and their famous home. Like did you know Gerald Ford loved swimming laps so much, he once gave a press conference from the White House pool? And speaking of humor, did you know Ronald Reagan once performed as a stand up comic in Las Vegas? Maybe that’s why he’s known as being one of our funniest presidents. After an assassination attempt, he told his wife, Nancy, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”
Whew, I could go on forever. Maybe just read the books for more. Or check out this super-cool, common-core aligned educator guide and activity packet! Or find out more about school visits. Because, together, we can make America GRATE again. *
*This is in no way an endorsement for Donald Trump or any other nominee. I just REALLY LOVE CHEESE.
Praise for Commander in Cheese
“A frisky adventure not at all weighed down by the timely doses of local history folded in.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Illustrations are simple yet not without some charm, adding to the appeal for new readers. The borrowing tendencies of these young mice and their ancestors bring to mind John Peterson’s “The Littles” series.” —School Library Journal
“This accessible chapter book features large print, a well-paced story, and appealing black-and-white drawings that strike a cheerful tone overall. While this down-to-earth adventure has a twenty-first-century setting, the information in the back matter stretches back to 1789 with portraits of the presidents, a few glimpses of presidential history, and descriptions of inauguration days as well as White House moving days. An easygoing combination of fiction, fact, and fun.” —Booklist