Eleanor and Me
I have a new picture book out this year. It’s called Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic, and it’s based on a true historical event:
In June 1939, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and King George visited the United States. It was the first time British royalty had ever set foot in their former colonies, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to go beyond the usual Washington, D.C., pomp. She decided on a picnic in Hyde Park, New York, with hot dogs as a main attraction. Americans were appalled at this gaucherie—there are boxes of letters protesting said menu that bear witness to this fact—but Eleanor stuck to her guns and the picnic was a big success. Both king and queen tried hot dogs for the first (and maybe the last, I’m not sure!) time.
To write the story accurately and with as many colorful details as possible, I traveled up to the FDR library in Hyde Park. I’ve been writing books for many years, but I can honestly say that nothing in those years has been more thrilling than holding the actual letters that Eleanor received about the royal picnic. (Not to mention the RSVP cards that picnic attendees sent her.) “I am holding something that Eleanor Roosevelt may also have held and read,” I kept thinking excitedly—although it’s more likely that it was her secretary who handled the mail. Yes, I am a total history nerd. But come on, Eleanor Roosevelt! Letters about hot dogs! It doesn’t get much better than that.
The cherry on the top came a few weeks ago when I was invited (along with the terrifically talented illustrator of the book, Victor Juhasz) to participate in an event at Hyde Park commemorating the 75th anniversary of the original picnic. There was a book reading and signing, and then—of course, a hot dog dinner. What a blast!
So as you enjoy your summer picnics, think of Eleanor. Better yet, make a pilgrimage to Top Cottage, Roosevelt’s modest little house on a hill near the main Hyde Park estate, and the venue for the festivities. You’ll see a framed thank-you note from the queen, mentioning specifically the hot dogs. Then, please, read my book! I can’t be the only person who’s tickled by the thought of incredible Eleanor having a soft spot for hot dogs on the grill.
Here's what the New York Times had to say.