Homeschooling teaches parents more than they ever learned in their own schooling. When you have the ability talk about a familiar, interesting topic, the kids are more engaged, and Mom looks forward to learning more. Because of that, my family is often pulled along my rabbit trails based on what I have read and learned as we weave it into what we have been learning about history and our world.
Until I began deep diving into the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy, I was not aware of his involvement in the major events of the early 1960s: Cuba, the USSR, the Space Race, and the Civil Rights Movement. Although I had always had an interest in Kennedy, it revved up several years ago when I read 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Since then, we have watched adult movies, read other books, and dove in to children’s books to learn even more.
Unlike many events and people of the last half-century years, there is no shortage of great children’s books about our thirty-fifth president. I don’t know if it’s the controversy behind the assassination or that he was alive in the recent past, but I feel like JFK comes up in the news and media frequently.
Look over the timeline to aquaint yourself with his life and the major world events occurring during his presidency. Dive in with your kids and allow it to take you learning further about the space race, communism, civil rights, and the crazy time of the 1960s. Maybe even listen to some Beatles while you’re at it.
Here is my list of kid books, Mom books, and adults movies that I have personally read and watched. I hope they inspire your next family dive into history!
A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech
written by Shana Corey, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
My favorite. This book can serve as a backbone for an entire study for the early 1960s with all the extra topics brought in while discussing the life of JFK. Unlike the other picture books about him, this book focuses many pages on the Civil Rights Movement and his involvement working toward the Civil Rights Act which LBJ would later pass. Included in these pages are Ruby Bridges, the Greensboro Four, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson as activist, the Freedom Riders, University of Alabama desegregation, and segregation as a whole. John F. Kennedy’s direct speech quotations lead the reader through the beginning of the space race, the Berlin Wall, and his predecessor, President Johnson, signing the Civil Right Act of 1964 into law. With six pages of back papers, lots of extra history and research is added for future investigation. The book opens and ends with a call to action for us to see ourselves as history and to help make history today.
written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by AG Ford
The lovely paintings throughout this book take us into the author’s personal story as he relates watching the Kennedy’s drive past him in the Dallas parade right before the assassination and through the mourning of the nation. His childhood is briefly touched but moves quickly into his political career including the writing of his first book, the televised presidential debate against Nixon, his assistance with the desegregation of the University of Alabama, and the struggled through the Cuban Missile Crisis as he worked alongside his brother Bobby. The book ends by relating his Camelot family life back to one of Kennedy’s favorite stories of King Arthur as he was growing up.
Lincoln and Kennedy: A Pair to Compare
by Gene Barretta
This is one of my favorite kid history books. The fun, cartoon-like pictures take these two tragic presidents to learn about the facts without the emotion. Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy are lined up and compared details by detail. After contrasting their drastically different backgrounds, the similarities take over: fighting for rights, dates of their elections, and deaths. This book allows a great review of so much history to just stop and talk about what you already know. Some of my favorite pages in the book show Lincoln and his divided county versus Kennedy and the divided world with the Communist countries highlighted. The book ends in pictures of both of their assassination locations without gruesome detail. Very touching indeed.
Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy
written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares
Similar to her other picture biographies, this JFK story features huge, full page paintings with direct quotes from John and his family members. Two spreads are devoted to his military courage and similarly to his involvement with the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear talks with the USSR. The book speaks several times about his chronic pain and illness which he hid from the American people and the books that he wrote. This is a beautiful book. Don’t forget to check out her other equally lovely picture biography books.
Patrick and the President
by Ryan Rubridy, P.J. Lynch
Written and illustrated by Irish natives, this is the true story of an Irish boy, Patrick, and his family who were able to meet with the president when he visited the Kennedy family’s homeland and interacted with the Irish people. This beautifully illustrated book shows how well respected and famous John Fitzgerald Kennedy was in even other countries outside the United States.
The Brothers Kennedy: John, Robert, Edward
written by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Amy June Bates
First off, the watercolor paintings in the book are beautiful. Love them. This book introduces the eldest Kennedy brother Joe, followed by John, Robert, and Edward. The history and important qualities of this dedicated, political family are mixed in with stories of the individual boys and their childhoods. The impact and death of each of the older three are discussed (in a nontraumatic fashion) as well as several pages dedicated to Edward (Ted) and his lengthy service in the Senate. I appreciate that all of the sons are represented in this book especially Ted since he was the one most recently in our memories.
John F. Kennedy the Brave
by Sheila Keenan, illustrated By Chin Ko
Even though this is an easier “I Can Read” book, it shouldn’t be overlooked for a harder read aloud. Because you are able to read it faster, it allows for a good overview of his life including his upbringing and military rescue up to his assassination which it says “shot and killed” without too much detail for younger audiences. This book would be a good introduction for the whole family. Included in the back are a timeline of his life as well as several pages of photographs. I enjoyed going over these and showing the kids again that he was real, not just a story character.
11/22/63: A Novel
written by Stephen King
This was the book that revved up my interest in JFK. It took what I knew, or thought I knew, and through the fictionalized story, added a level non-fictional details that taught me so much. While Stephen King admits that he did way more research for this book that usual, it is still fictionalized and flows with his typical story-telling prowess. Time travel to change the past brings the modern day and the 1960s together. You will find yourself looking up extra information and diving into other books to learn ever more than you would have reading nonfiction. Noteworthy for King skeptics: this is the least weird King book I’ve ever read!
The Kennedy Detail: JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence
written by Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin
Reading this book after 11/22/63, I bored people around me for months afterward with all the details about the intense planning and funding required to protect the president. Although non-fiction and biographical, this book was far from hard to read, seeming more like a novel with lots of action and emotion. The author combines his first-hand experiences with those memories from other agents and people involved in the JFK assassination and guard. It’s an excellent account of the background and days leading up to the event and highlights the attachment and devotion that this select group of men showed for the presidential family. If you want to know more about JFK and are tired of the conspiracy books, this is the book for you.
And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis
by Stephanie Marie Thornton
Spoiler alert: Even though you know how this book is going to end, you really don’t want it to stick with the truth. I was kinda hoping for a change apart from history. Jackie and Jack come alive through this well researched story, and you get to know their marriage and their flaws and their humanity. The story begins before she meets Jack and ends after Jack, but he her connection to him carries the story forward. Although being one of the most visible women in America, the loneliness she feels is palpable. I especially enjoyed getting to know the rest of the Kennedy family through the story and her relationship with Bobby. Great book. Check it out. I couldn’t tell where the research stopped and the story began.
This is a short, 2016 eight episode Hulu miniseries which follows very closely along with the King book of the same name. With James Franco and Chris Cooper, it is done on a big screen level. It’s not a show for kids, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the reconstructed time periods and dress. It lives up to the book’s greatness, and most books can’t say the same.
With great, realistic casting, the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis are shown with realistic details and insider perspectives. It is presented at times like a documentary including subtitles identifying the real-life political figures involved. This is a great movie for older kids to show them JFK in action and lead to further discussions of the relationship between the US and the USSR. As a warning, there is some swearing and the men in the story drink and smoke – typical for the time.
Eh. It was a good look at the emotional aspect Jackie would have felt after the assassination, but it was just okay. It would be better than no movie about her I guess but that’s about as positive as I can be about it. It was nominated for some Academy Award, so you know it was a bit boring. Ha! The costumes were great, and the settings appeared historically accurate. Don’t expect your husband to want to watch another JFK movie with you if you pick this one first.
- 1917 – John Fitzgerald Kennedy born May 29 in Brookline, Massachusetts
- 1940 – Graduates from Harvard
- 1943 – JFK led his crew to safety after his navy boat PT-109 torpedoed by the Japanese during WW2
- 1944 – Brother Joseph (Joe) P. Kennedy Jr. killed in action in military
- 1946 – Elected to US House of Rep for Massachusetts
- 1952 – Elected to US Senate for Massachusetts
- 1953 – Marries Jacqueline Bouvier, journalist and photographer
- 1957 – Daughter Caroline is born
- November 8 – Defeats Richard Nixon to be elected 35th president
- November 25 – Son John Jr. is born
- January 20 – Kennedy’s presidential inauguration
- February 20 – John Glenn orbits the earth
- April 12 – Soviet Yuri Gagarin becomes first man in space
- April 17 to 19 – Bay of Pigs invasion fails to overthrow Castro’s communist dictatorship in Cuba
- May 5 – Alan Shepard Jr becomes first American in space; JFK commits to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade
- August 13 – East Germany begins building the Berlin Wall to prevent further movement to West Berlin
- October 14-28 – Cuban Missile Crisis threatens another world war as Kennedy and his team negotiate peace with Cuba and the USSR’s involvement in providing nuclear weapons
- June 10 – JFK federalizes troops to intervene in the desegregation of the University of Alabama
- June 11- Kennedy proposes his Civil Rights Bill
- June 12 – Medgar Evers assassinated
- August 7 – Infant son Patrick lived two days after his premature birth
- August 28 – March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech
- November 1 – Vietnamese president murdered during a coup and conflict is escalating
- November 22 – Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald
- 1964 – Kennedy’s proposed Civil Rights Bill is signed into law by his successor President Johnson ending segregation in public spaces and banned employment discrimination
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Neil Armstrong
- Bobby Kennedy
- Nikita Khrushchev
- Fidel Castro
- Richard Nixon
Don’t stop with these books and don’t just read them straight through. Use them to review, discuss, bring in extra information you know about history, and look up places on the map. Interact with your books and make the people come alive to your family.
- Why was it a big deal that Kennedy was the first Catholic president?
- Why were there prejudices against Irish people at the time? How might the family history relate to their father’s push for involvement in politics?
- Why was the Soviet Union fighting against the U.S. in space race? Involved in the Cuban missile crisis?
- What is Communism? Why did JFK and the U.S. fight against it so much?
- What were the other communist countries at that time? Where are some still today?
- What new countries were formed when the USSR collapsed?
- If this was in you or your parents lifetime… Ask grandma where she was when JFK died? What did they have to practice in school during the risk of nuclear war? Do you remember John Jr. dying in the plane crash?
- What does JFK’s funeral procession have in common with Lincoln’s?
- Tie this in with a civil rights study!
- President John F. Kennedy Gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery
- The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza – Located in the original Book Depository Building, this JFK dedicated museum looks out over Dealey Plaza from the viewpoint of Lee Harvey Oswald’s viewpoint. where JFK museum in Dallas
- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; Boston, Mass.