How to Explain Presidential Assassinations to Your Kids

An illustrated history of both real and would-be assassins and their presidential targets, children’s edition.

National Journal
Marina Koren
Sept. 20, 2013, 10:42 a.m.

Two years ago, when Bry­an Young ex­plained the as­sas­sin­a­tion of Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln to his 8-year-old daugh­ter after his trip to Ford’s Theatre in Wash­ing­ton, he was sur­prised by how fas­cin­ated she was.

“That was the first time she real­ized that pres­id­en­tial as­sas­sin­a­tion was a thing that could hap­pen and that it was a thing that had happened in his­tory,” Young said. “She wanted to know about who would do such a thing, and why would they do such a thing.”

Soon, Young can give his daugh­ter, and oth­er kids her age, the an­swers. In An Il­lus­trated His­tory of Pres­id­en­tial As­sas­sin­a­tions, out early next year, Young writes about U.S. pres­id­ents who sur­vived as­sas­sin­a­tion at­tempts (and the ones who didn’t) in a style that’s equal parts his­tory text­book and bed­time story.

Pres­id­ent Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln and his as­sas­sin, John Wilkes Booth. (Il­lus­tra­tion by Erin Ku­binek)

The book be­gins with the first at­temp­ted as­sas­sin­a­tion of a pres­id­ent in U.S. his­tory. In 1835, Richard Lawrence, de­li­ri­ous from paint chem­ic­als and con­vinced he was meant to be King Richard III of Eng­land, shot at An­drew Jack­son after a con­gress­man’s fu­ner­al on Cap­it­ol Hill.

Jack­son was leav­ing the Cap­it­ol through the East Por­tico when Lawrence struck, fir­ing his first pis­tol…
…but it mis­fired!
Pulling his second pis­tol, he fired again…
…but it mis­fired, too!
Not one to take such ac­tions lightly, Jack­son hit Lawrence with his cane, chas­ing him around and hit­ting him un­til the on­look­ers could re­strain the would-be as­sas­sin. For­tu­nately for every­one, Con­gress­man Davy Crock­et, hero of the fron­ti­er, was there and was able to sub­due Lawrence with the oth­er on­look­ers.

(Il­lus­tra­tion by Erin Ku­binek)

The book doc­u­ments the most fam­ous as­sas­sin­a­tion vic­tims, like Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln, James Gar­field, Wil­li­am McKin­ley, and John F. Kennedy. It also chron­icles at­tempts with (un­der the cir­cum­stances) happy end­ings, like the time Theodore Roosevelt gave a 90-minute speech while bleed­ing from a gun­shot wound to the chest. And the time Samuel Byck hi­jacked a plane to fly in­to Richard Nix­on’s White House. And the time John Hinckley Jr. fired a bul­let that missed Ron­ald Re­agan’s heart by an inch.

Last month, Young began rais­ing money for the book on Kick­starter, a fun­drais­ing web­site. He reached his goal of $3,000 with­in 10 days. With less than a week to go un­til the cam­paign closes, the people of the In­ter­net have pledged $5,238. Young said he was sur­prised by the re­sponse, but thinks there are par­ents — and people in gen­er­al — like him out there who like see­ing his­tory pack­aged in a quirky way. Es­pe­cially polit­ic­al his­tory, which he says car­ries a cer­tain stigma.

“In today’s day and age with such a di­vis­ive polit­ic­al land­scape, I think people for­get that we have a shared his­tory, and that it doesn’t have to be di­vis­ive or un­com­fort­able,” Young said. “It can be in­ter­est­ing or fun even though the top­ic is grim.”

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