Opening Lines: "Marissa felt a tap on her elbow. She tried to ignore it."
Sean O'Brien is the former speechwriter for the White House, the Secretary of Defense and the Navy. He's also performed improv and held roles as Chief of Staff for two Members of Congress. White House Clubhouse is his debut middle grade book that centers on two fictional first daughters who travel back in time to meet Roosevelt's children. Together they learn of the president's plans for the construction of a series of dams which could lead to devasting environmental changes, so they try and intercede.
Marissa and Clara's mom has just been elected as president of the United States and so lots of changes have happened since the election. For one, they've moved from the comfort of their home in California to the White House, where there are rules and regulations about keeping them safe. Like the new addition of secret service agents who take them to and from school every day. Clara can't even climb trees outside anymore. Their life has been overrun by events of state and because of living in the White House they have to be extra careful, cause everything around them is an antique. It's during one of these events that the girls have a mishap and find themselves entering a secret passage that leads them to a room filled with toys, books and clothing. In the room is a weathered piece of parchment with the words White House Clubhouse and an invitation for them to sign on as a White House Kid who will promise to help the president and make a difference. Upon signing the document, the girls are whisked back in time to 1903 where they are met by Teddy Roosevelt's children. Soon they're getting involved with family business at the White House and learning about the president's upcoming train trip to California. They are then swept up into plans to save the California redwoods from being chopped down by a greedy land developer. Can the girls complete their mission to make it back to their own time?
I enjoyed that there was a secret clubhouse that connected two different time periods. It was an interesting way to present information about the White House and events that have occurred. Centering it on the children was also fun because you got to see how the two time periods differed in their eyes. I also learned a lot about Roosevelt and his train trip across the U.S. I've always known him to be an outdoorsman but hadn't realized that it was this trip that inspired a lot of his ideas about conservation and the protection of lands. The train ride itself was filled with lots of action, and lots of dangerous moments as one can imagine. Trying to convince Teddy Roosevelt to get involved with saving the redwoods, while holding off the land developers and Roosevelt's corrupt aide made for some entertainment as well. Most of all I enjoyed reading about the environmental issues of that time. It's unfortunate that we are still faced with the same kinds of environmental devastation now with the expansion of roads, dams, deforestation, and uncontrolled fires. This idea of build, build, build has me very sad. Included in the story are black and white sketch work, although my copies artwork wasn't final, I really liked having the pictures of the president and his children and Marissa and Clara. The one's on the train also added to the excitement. At the end of the book there are also the authors research notes, stating which events were factual and a list of resources to encourage further reading. Overall, this was a fun story, and I enjoyed the link between the past White House kids and the present, really worth a read.
I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE