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First Pets: Presidential Best Friends

Presidential Best Friends
based on First Pets: Presidential Best Friends
by Nell Fuqua
Grades: All Ages

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About the Book
Learn more than you ever thought possible about the men who have served our country and the pets that served them. Which pet: Was descended from the first dog in space? Sang along as the president played his violin? Starred in a movie? Find out how hundreds of animals have brought love and devotion to our first families — from dogs to badgers and snakes to hippos!

Set the Stage
Begin with a discussion of the role of the First Family. Ask them who or what else can be considered to be part of a family. Then ask who among them has now, or has had a pet. Have students share how they got their pets and what types of pet they have.

Show students one of the illustrations of unique presidential pets from the book. Have students share any stories they know of people having really unique pets.

Review the Book
• Have students offer four reasons that pets have been important in the lives of our First Families.
• Discuss with your students the story of Lincoln and the Thanksgiving turkey (page 14). Explain what it means to "pardon" someone (or something). Ask students why they think this tradition has persisted.
• Have your students discuss which presidential animal they think is the strangest. Have them explain why they think this.
• Ask your class what animal they would like to have as a pet, if they could have any animal in the world.
• Have students recall what President had the most pets, who had the most dogs and who had the most cats?

Student Activity
Comprehension questions will test student's knowledge of measurement systems from the book.

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Related Activities

  • Many of the anecdotes in the book discuss letters that people wrote to the presidents' pets. Have your students choose a president and one of his pets. Have them write a letter to the president and/or his pet.
  • President Kennedy's dog, Pushinka, was a descendent of Strelka, the dog the Russians sent into space. The United States sent a monkey into space before Alan Shepherd took flight in 1961. Have students research one or both of these events. Why were these animals chosen? How did people react to news of these animals being firsts in space? Have other animals been sent into space? If so, why? For what purpose? What animals?
  • The pets of Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson both contributed to war efforts. Discuss with your class why animals are used in promotions and advertising. Have students brainstorm other instance where pets have been used to promote or sell something. Have students invent a new product and create an advertisement that uses animals to sell their new product.
  • Warren Harding's pet terrier, Laddie Boy participated in a "mock interview" with a major newspaper, offering positions on a variety of subjects. Ask your students to choose one of the pets in the book to "interview"; then have them write a newspaper article based on the interview.
  • Give each student an index card and have them draw a picture of their pet. If students have more than one pet, have them draw their pets on separate cards. Use these cards to create a class graph, showing which pets are the most popular.