Ken Burns's Nighttime Routine Inspires His First Children's Book

Historians in the News
tags: Ken Burns, Grover Cleveland again



When his daughters were young, the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns sent them off to sleep with a call and response routine perhaps only someone who has devoted his life to chronicling American history would invent. He taught them to memorize the names of the U.S. presidents, in chronological order, by feeding them a first name – say, “George” – and waiting for them to finish with, say, “Washington.” 

“Pity the four girls who have me as a father,” Burns said. 

It all went smoothly until No. 24, Grover Cleveland, who was also, of course, No. 22. Cleveland was the only man to serve two, non-consecutive terms as president. When Burns would say “Grover” a second time, his daughters would shout, “Cleveland, AGAIN!”

“I promised them one day I would do a book and that would be the title,” Burns recalled, fulfilling his pledge decades later with a collective biography of the U.S. presidents titled, Grover Cleveland, Again! (Knopf, July), which arrives in time for this year’s presidential election conversations at home and at school. Each of America’s 43 presidents is given his own spread, with curated facts and anecdotes designed to illuminate the “fascinating characters,” as Burns calls them, who have led our nation. 

Every president, that is, with the exception of Grover Cleveland. He gets two spreads. ...




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