At a recent appearance in Charleston, Ben Stein (the comedian-economist or the economist-comedian) had the crowd laughing as he told true stories about Americans who couldn't answer basic questions about their country's history, such as: What world war was happening in 1944? Hint: It was not World War I.

Americans are notorious for a sketchy knowledge of their own past. "Jack's Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy" by Doreen Rappaport is a great way to start bridging the gap. This picture book is an ideal introduction to Kennedy for children in second grade through elementary school.

Rappaport begins the biography with Kennedy's childhood. She says that Jack's mother read to her children every night and quotes his mother as saying, "He (Jack) always read more than any of the others." Throughout the book, quotes are presented in bold type that makes them stand out. This design is appealing and draws readers into the book. Children can learn more about Kennedy using the book's "Selected Research Sources," bibliography and List of Important Events.

"Kennedy Through the Lens: How Photography and Television Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Leader" by Martin W. Sandler is an excellent introduction to Kennedy as well as the media. It reminds readers that Kennedy's presidency was the first that the public saw in full color photographs. It shows reporters crowded into phone booths to call in their stories. Besides the increasingly extensive use of television, still cameras were becoming smaller and easier to use, so more candid photography was possible. As Kennedy said, "The stories of past courage can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration."

"Meet the Obamas: America's First Family" by Andrea Davis Pinkney is also a picture book for young children. All the illustrations are full-color photos. No politics included, but lots of inside information about the White House, people who work at the White House, the food, the fun, their dog, Bo, and family activities.

Kids may be surprised to learn that Obama read all the "Harry Potter" books with his daughter, Malia. Obama's advice to other fathers: "Replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done."

Maybe it could be books like these, read early and often, that inspire our best and brightest young people to want to be president. Or perhaps it could be books like these that remove Americans from the list of topics for stand-up comics.

Reach Fran Hawk at