Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt!
Bully for You is the story of the 26th American President as only Jean Fritz can tell it. Fritz reveals how Theodore Roosevelt, who hated the name Teddy, beat the odds to fulfill his goal of becoming the President of the United States. He also had a stuffed animal named after him.
In this post I will first summarize the book, and then give my recommendation.
Roosevelt’s Early Life
Theodore Roosevelt started life as a puny, sickly boy subject to terrible asthma attacks. Many things scared him, including the werewolf he was sure was at the foot of his bed. Even the word zeal sounded frightening to him the way the preacher said it.
He greatly admired and loved his father. He was determined “to amount to something” someday so that his father would be proud of him. Tutors taught him at home because his father considered him too sickly to go to school.
Teddy Works to Become Strong
Teddy’s frail health worried his father, who one day called Theodore in and told him that although he had a good mind, he would never develop his potential unless he built up his body and his strength. He needed to “make his body.” His father then added a gym to the house and Teddy pushed himself as hard as he could to become strong. He succeeded and continued to push himself to his limits all his life.
Teddy had great interest in the natural world from an early age. He collected all sorts of living creatures — insects, snakes, frogs, anything he could catch and observe. He would measure and describe them in notebooks. Teddy thought he wanted to a naturalist and considered himself to have already started his career. He especially liked birds.
Teddy was the sort of boy who wanted to do everything and do it all at once. He thrived on action. While at Harvard he involved himself in extra-curricular activities that included shooting, art, writing, history, and more.
Marriage and Interest in Politics
He married for the first time when he was 22. His doctor told him then that he had a bad heart and that he should live a quiet and sedentary life. He ignored that advice. He went to law school and wanted to get involved in government, but he came from an aristocratic family and most aristocrats felt politics wasn’t a proper activity for “gentlemen.” They were supposed to influence from behind the scenes without “getting their hands dirty.”
Teddy, however, still wanted to be where the action was, so he took to dropping by Republican headquarters on his way to the opera, in his fancy clothes. The headquarters was above a saloon, and the local politicians were working people not used to associating with the likes of Roosevelt. Finally the men became used to him and they were able to communicate.
Election to the New York State Assembly
During the summer break from law school, Teddy and his wife Alice went to Europe. Teddy, who by then was very athletic, climbed mountains, including the Matterhorn. After he returned to school he was elected to his first public office – Assemblyman to the New York State Legislature. He decided law school was no longer important, so he quit.
Roosevelt was quite a sensation in the Assembly with his fancy clothes and his squeaky voice that spoke with a Harvard drawl. He was often ridiculed and called “Young Squirt,” “His Lordship,” and other mocking names, but he soon began to make friends. Always a reformer, he was determined to right wrongs and fight corruption. But he also learned “give and take” was necessary in order to get things done, and he had to admit to himself that he didn’t know everything.
Illness and Grief
He became sick and sought treatment in a spa. He hated the treatment but did regain his health. Afterwards he went to the Dakota country to hunt buffalo. After several days of rain and mud and even being hurt, he persisted until he finally shot his prey. He invested in cattle and hired people to care for them before returning to New York.
Then things turned bad. His wife had a baby girl. His mother was sick in an upstairs room and died that night. The next afternoon his wife died on the first floor of the same house. That was a terrible Valentine’s Day.
To deal with the pain, he left the baby in the care of his sister “Bamie” and returned to Albany to plunge into his work. He named the baby Alice after his wife, but never told his daughter about her mother. After that he never mentioned his wife again — not even in his autobiography. He erased pain by putting things out of his mind and keeping them in the past.
Ranching and Remarriage
When his assembly term was over, he became a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago and then retreated to the Dakota country again, glad to get away from politics. He purchased more cattle and started a ranch, doing a lot of physical work himself, participating in the round-up activities right beside the cowboys. The friends he made there were the core of his “Rough Riders” later.
Theodore continued to travel between east and west and on one trip east in 1885, less than two years after Alice had died, he became secretly engaged to Edith Carow, an old childhood friend. After they were married, he stayed active in politics, and continued writing his books.
Fighting Corruption and Promoting Conservation
He climbed from one influential position to another, always fighting corruption and promoting conservation and preservation of wilderness areas. By 1895 he had a total of five children and would have another two years later.
By 1900, Roosevelt had been New York City Police Commissioner, an appointee to the Civil Service Commission under Benjamin Harrison, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, and Vice-President of the United States under William McKinley. When McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt became President of the United States at the age of 42, making him the youngest president ever. He was reelected in his own right in 1904.
Theodore Roosevelt as a Family Man
He was a family man and delighted in his children. His father, who had made his own childhood so happy, was his role model. The White House had never been as lively as it became when the Roosevelts moved in with their pets and children, who had the run of it. Teddy played with his children actively and they had access to him most of the time — occasionally even interrupting him during official meetings.
After leaving the White House, behind, Teddy still actively worked for his causes and wrote and stayed involved in the political realm, continuing to have adventures, including being shot at, until his death in 1919. I believe he reached his goal of “amounting to something” and that his father would have been very proud of him.
This exciting and entertaining biography will keep those of middle school age and above turning the pages as they witness an era of American life and politics that shaped much early environmental policy and made America more influential on the international stage. They will also see that someone born sick and puny doesn’t have to stay that way, and that someone with a squeaky voice can indeed “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” as Teddy said it himself. here. Reading level 6.8. Target age 10-14.
Teddy Bears were named after Theodore Roosevelt, even though he hated the name Teddy. I’ve included a couple of adorable Teddy bears here, in case you might want one to accompany this book. Give it to a child who needs to remember to become strong.