Kids’ Letters to President Kennedy

Children don’t hold back.

There are few places I’d rather be than a good used bookstore. The smells, the history, the possibilities….it’s magical. I’ve been obsessed with the presidential section at The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood for a while now, and I only recently thought to look outside that section for history books – to the paperback section.

That’s where I found a copy of “Kids’ Letters to President Kennedy,” compiled by Bill Adler and first published in 1962. This paperback edition was published in February 1963, nine months before Kennedy was assassinated.

I bought the book for $2.50, thinking it would be an amusing collection of kids-say-the-darndest-things letters, just like the cover said – a time capsule from a more innocent time before everything changed. The truth isn’t quite so simple.

Here are some highlights from the book, along with my thoughts.


The questions start out small:

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Please answer this question for me. What are Presidents for? Thank you.

Yours truly,

Richard S

Richard could have asked his teacher or looked in the encyclopedia, but he decided to go straight to the source and you have to admire that.


This guy doesn’t beat around the bush:

Dear President Kennedy,

I know how busy you are, but if you could get me to the White House I’ll explain my plan for the Cubans.

Your friend

Mickey M

I, for one, think we should hear “Mickey M” out.


Young Andrew was on to something:

Dear Mr Kennedy,

I am sending a picture of A. Lincoln since you and Lincoln are both Presidents in the 60’s.

Lincoln — 1861

Kennedy — 1961

Andrew N

I imagine Andrew as the source of the cockamamie conspiracy theory taking these coincidences even further, and I love the fact that he sent Kennedy a picture of Lincoln like he needed one.


Reaching for the stars isn’t for everyone, I guess.

Dear President Kennedy

Instead of trying to reach the moon, why don’t scientists try to find out what causes the viruses and other diseases.

Sincerely yours

Fred F

Listen, Fred. There’s no reason we can’t do both. It’s not a zero sum game. And you know what? The scientific advancements that came about as a result of the space race would blow your little mind. Memory foam mattresses. LEDs. Tang.

But sure, it would be nice if we could put more resources toward fighting diseases. I really hope you became a doctor, Fred, if only to spite the moon.


Rita has a great question:

Dear Sir,

How long do you think it will be before there will be a lady President in the White House?

Yours truly,

Rita E

Edna feels similarly, but with caveats:

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

I have been thinking real hard and I think that a woman president would be very nice in the White House.

But she should be young about 40 years old, smart like a teacher, very pretty indeed and intelligent.

There is one more thing. I think that school should be three months and vacation nine months. Don’t you think so?

Then you could see your children more often.

Your truly

Edna N

Who am I to criticize your feminism, Edna? Even if you think the glass ceiling should only be broken by Mary Poppins.


Some children are…direct.

Dear President Kennedy,

I want the names of the people that are Communists in the United States.

Your friend

Frank S

You’ll never convince me “Frank S” wasn’t just Sinatra pretending to be a kid.

“Their names, Jack. I need their names.”

 


Skipper here was just trying to help:

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

When you came to Honesdale, Pennsylvania to make a campaign speech my brother Skipper threw a rabbits foot in your car. Aren’t you glad?

Love

Martin S

Thanks, kids. Your rabbit’s foot ensured good luck would never run out for the Kennedy family.


Dear President Kennedy,

What mistakes did Mr. Nixon make?

Your truly,

Henry B

Just you wait, Henry…


The book serves as a reminder that childhood isn’t all fun and games, and neither was 1960s America.

Dear Mr. President

Ever since mom and dad saw you on TV they fight. Mom wants to make a shelter and dad says no because he just went back to work and there’s too many bills to pay.

Mom cries all the time. They fight almost every day. If I were bigger I would buy them this one for their anniversary in February. Then they will be happy.

Joseph O

Poor Joseph. I feel awful for this kid. I can’t imagine that kind of economic anxiety mixed with the fear of nuclear annihilation, but I also have to give him props for slipping in how his parents’ anniversary is in February, like there’s a real chance JFK might give them a bomb shelter.

I really hope he got an autograph at least.


The last letter in the book puts things into perspective.

Mr. Kennedy,

I am 9 years old. I don’t like the plans you are planning. I am too young to die.

Signed

Robert S

Damn, Robert.


The kids in this book had hope. Hope that the President might pay attention to them. Hope that he might consider their ideas. Hope that he would maybe send them a list of local Commies.

They also had fear, and for good reason.

These kids were born after World War II, but they were just the right age to be drafted into Vietnam. They fought for civil rights and they watched their heroes get assassinated. They had drills in school to prepare for a nuclear strike, just like kids today have drills to prepare for active shooters.

By putting that heartbreaking letter from Robert S last, I think Bill Adler was really making a plea to the readers. He was saying, yes, kids are innocent, and funny, and blunt.

And we should listen to them.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Jim
    May 29, 2018 / 5:19 pm

    There was a follow-up to this of kids' letters to President Johnson, which is mainly noteworthy for having been illustrated by Charles Schulz.

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