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Questions no poll will ask

The media has been saturated with election campaigns, promises and speculation: Who will receive the largest number of votes? Which states will vote Republican or Democratic? How did the presidential debates help or hinder the candidates?

As close as we are to voting day, it's time to lighten up with some children's books that consider questions that no poll will predict. For example, who was the heaviest president in the White House? (That may not seem pertinent to this election but it might explain why one of the bathtubs in the White House could hold four men!)

Which president hated his four years in office and which one said, "No president has ever enjoyed himself as much as I?" (That statement didn't come from either of the past two presidents.)

Which given name is the most popular for presidents? (George and John were among the most popular but not the highest on the list.)

These facts and hundred of equally interesting ones are found in the 2000 Caldecott-winning "So You Want to Be President?" by Judith St. George and David Small (Philomel). Small pointed out when he was in Salt Lake City recently that the "revised and undated edition" includes President Bush. "I'm just waiting to see if I will have to update it again after this election."

"Duck for President" by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (Simon & Schuster) is not about the two major parties — or even a third. Actually, Duck, who began his career in a neighborhood pond, moved up in society by replacing the farmer, then aspiring to be governor and then a presidential candidate. Duck finds out that running a country is very hard work. "At the end of each day Duck was covered with paper cuts, staples and security badges."

"Duck for President " is full of spoofs on the elections such as voting booth problems, the candidate appearing on late-night television playing a saxophone and sticky ballots not counted properly.

"Smart About the Presidents" by Jon Buller and others (Grossett and Dunlap) explains the qualifications of the president, what the job entails and the oath taken at the time of inauguration. Each of the 43 men who have served as president is portrayed with just enough tidbits of information to maintain interest. A reference list is provided with a map showing where each president was born. (Eight presidents were born in Virginia, which is called the "Mother of Presidents." Ohio was the birthplace of seven presidents.)

Reading "Wackiest White House Pets" by Gibbs Davis and David Johnson (Scholastic) is definitely more fun that watching the poll runoffs! Over the years nearly 400 pets have accompanied the presidents and their families into the White House. These were not just goldfish and puppies, either. George Washington had horses, dogs and a parrot but his most interesting animal was a jackass, a royal gift from Charles III, the King of Spain.

John Quincy Adams kept an alligator (and its rightful owner, Marquis de Lafayette). Also, his wife, First Lady Louisa, kept silkworms in the White House for the threads they produced.

Theodore Roosevelt set the record with 20 different kinds of animals including several bears (one was named Jonathan Edwards), a lion, a zebra, a hyena, several dogs, snakes and an assortment of horses.

The authors of "Wackiest White House Pets" have included a fine bibliography of references, any one of which could be worth the reading.

Since many classrooms are using the elections as social studies lessons, "Election Day" by Margaret McNamara (Simon & Schuster) may be fun for the primary grades. Middle-grade readers will enjoy "Nutty for President" by Dean Hughes (Bantam).