Cover image for Jack : the early years of John F. Kennedy
Jack : the early years of John F. Kennedy
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Dutton Children's Books, c2003.
Physical Description:
168 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Reading Level:
1090 L Lexile
A description of the childhood and youth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book Q J 921 KENNEDY 1 1

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He would be a symbol of power, grace, and tragedy-but before he was JFK, he was sickly and scrappy, troubled and charming; he was a boy called Jack.

To Jack, it seemed as if his brother Joe, not quite two years older, would always triumph-in school, on the playing field, in his father's affections. Jack was the sloppy second son, the witty, disorganized dreamer who could never seem to stay well long enough to muster his talents-a risky failing in the success-driven Kennedy family. Young readers cannot help but be fascinated by this sympathetic portrait of a complex youth who, as he struggled with the pressures of father-son dynamics and the shadow of ill health, discovered within himself an intensity for living and a profoundly ironic humor.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Cooper (The Dead Sea Scrolls) offers an engaging overview of the mischievous and often sickly boy who grew up to become president. Readers may be surprised by how un-presidential Jack behaved in his youth. For though Jack demonstrated strong creative and intellectual leanings, he struggled with rules, punctuality and order-struggles which cost him many meals in his strict Irish Catholic family and which nearly led to expulsion at his prestigious boarding school, Choate. Joe Sr., the head of the close-knit Kennedy clan "wanted winners in the house, not losers," Cooper asserts, as she effectively establishes the man's ambitions for himself and his sons. She speculates that Jack exaggerated some of his impish traits because he could never measure up to his seemingly perfect elder brother, Joe Jr., while also highlighting Jack's charm through family stories and occasionally in his own words, such as his well argued "A Plea for a raise" in allowance, addressed to his father. The author also discusses Jack's myriad health problems, which began with life-threatening scarlet fever at age two and plagued him throughout his life. Primary sources and photographs help capture the high pressured and privileged Kennedy lifestyle and an effective afterword chronicles Jack's rapid ascent in politics. Though this leader conjures the myth of Camelot for adults, young readers may well find the reality of Jack's boyish wiles and struggles nearly as appealing. Ages 10-14. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Middle School, High School) Without idealizing or sensationalizing, Cooper offers a revealing portrait of Kennedy's youth and the forces that shaped it. Her book includes many of the same anecdotes found in Barbara Harrison and Daniel Terris's biography A Twilight Struggle (rev. 9/92); but where the former spans Kennedy's entire life, this one ends with Jack's graduation from high school. Cooper works in a host of domestic details to give a firm sense of everyday life in the burgeoning Kennedy household. Readers discover what it was like for Jack to grow up under the paradoxical influences of privilege and prejudice. His father's wealth (which Cooper suggests was not all acquired through legitimate business practices) couldn't remove the perceived taint of the family's Irish Catholic heritage from the minds of the Protestant elite. To compensate, Joseph and Rose Kennedy pushed their children toexcel at everything they did, their parental mantra being ""we want winners."" In her meticulously documented depiction, Cooper demonstrates how this attitude led to rivalry between the rebellious, sickly Jack and his more serious and robust older brother, Joe, who was obviously being groomed by his parents to become the most successful of the siblings. Copious family photographs enhance the text's accessible tone, including a shot of six-year-old Jack dressed as a Keystone Kop for Halloween and another of him pretending to smoke a cigar while his unamused paternal grandfather looks on. An afterword sketches out Jack's adult life, briefly evaluating his presidency and winding up with a description of his assassination. With source notes, a bibliography, and an index. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

If you ask Ilene Cooper to name her favorite of the more than 30 books she has written, she doesn't miss a beat: "Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy. It's the book I always wanted to write." That's because she's been a Kennedy watcher since she was a kid. Her longtime interest made it easier to write this remarkable book, which follows Kennedy's life in detail from birth through his high-school graduation, and then concludes with an extensive afterword that takes him through his wartime exploits and into his political career. Why a book on just the early years? "There are several good biographies that cover his whole life," Cooper explains. "I wanted to focus on him as a child and teenager. He faced all kinds of pressure--ill health, an intense sibling relationship, mixed family messages, prejudice against Irish Catholics in America--but he was able to maintain his own identity. I also wanted to write about what it was like to be a child in this remarkable, yet highly pressurized, family. Kennedy never wrote or spoke much about his growing-up years, so I was excited to see what I could find out." She found out plenty. Delving into Kennedy's life, Cooper was fascinated to discover a boyhood that was unique in its circumstances yet achingly familiar in its reflection of the ways children try to find themselves as they grow up. To fill out her portrait, she visited places where Jack spent his formative years--his birthplace in Brookline, Massachusetts, now a national historic site; Hyannis, where the family spent summers; and Wallingford, Connecticut, where Kennedy went to boarding school at Choate. The travel, she says, helped her put herself in the place of the young Kennedy. It was her several visits to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in Boston, however, that meant the most to her. She spent time at the library going through Kennedy family papers, including several privately published books. She also found JFK's report cards and letters he wrote as a schoolboy, some of which are published in Jack. The experience of working in the library--and touring the museum that is also part of the building--was particularly meaningful for Cooper, who had helped raised money for its construction after JFK's assassination. The quality of the research in Jack shows both in the way background history is seamlessly interwoven with biography and in the extensive source notes. Jack brings not just a boy to life but also a period in American history--the period between the two world wars. At the Kennedy Library, Cooper also discovered a wealth of family photographs, a number of which illustrate Jack. She recalls having a great time choosing and placing them in the manuscript. She also remembers her frustration when she couldn't find a photo to fit a piece of text that seemed to call for art. She did, indeed, find some extraordinary pictures--of the Kennedy siblings; of Jack with his father and with his high-school buddies. There's even a shot of a smiling young Kennedy in bed recuperating from one of the many illness that plagued his childhood. One particular photo stands out for Cooper, a picture of teenage Kennedy looking guardedly at his older brother, Joe, Jr., who is oblivious to Jack's attention. "The expression and body language show the complicated feelings Jack had for Joe, Jr.," she says. "Here was Jack, this child who grew up in an extremely competitive family, with a brother who was designated heir apparent: Joe, the good son; Jack, the irresponsible screwup--who actually grew up to be president. What kid can't relate to a story like that?"

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Much has been written about the Kennedys, Jack in particular, so Cooper takes a different tack: she focuses on his early life, from his birth to his graduation from boarding school. In a lively style, she traces his entry into a prominent family, and shows the development of the family itself, as well as the relationships among its members. One that receives much attention is the competition between Jack and his older brother Joe, the heir apparent of their ambitious father, Joe Sr. The text is full of anecdotes and quotes from family members and intimates, so the book has a personal tone. Cooper also delves into the young Kennedy's personality and psyche, but masks many of the family's problems with softened explanations. Many black-and-white photos and reproductions of handwritten notes appear throughout. Source notes document the extensive research. A unique, highly readable choice for biography collections.-Carol Fazioli, formerly at The Brearley School, New York City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

"Jack Kennedy's life was a gift, but one that was wrapped with many strings." John F. Kennedy was sickly, he was a dreamer, and he was a second son. It was Joe, his older brother, who was groomed to be the first Catholic president of the US. Joe was the responsible one, the one good at school, the one most likely to live his father's dream. Jack was a practical joker, a lackadaisical student, a "boy who doesn't get things done." Cooper (Jewish Holidays All Year Round, not reviewed, etc.) succeeds at portraying Jack as an ordinary boy with concerns that many kids have: conflicts with an older brother, illnesses, trouble in school, competition for parents' attention, and, finally, finding his way in life. Unfortunately, when he finally does begin to buckle down and find his way, the story is over, and the more famous events of Kennedy's later years are sketched in the afterword. Like all good biographies, the subject is the lens through which readers learn about his times. Cooper covers much history here: the Irish potato famine, the arrival of the Fitzgerald and Kennedy families on filthy "coffin ships," the prejudice against Irish Catholics, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression. This is dependable nonfiction writing. Clear prose, numerous photographs, thorough source notes, and a solid bibliography make this a fine biography for young readers and a worthwhile addition to biography collections. (Nonfiction. 10-14)