As I mentioned the other day, a few years ago I pursued a project that I’d hoped would turn into a book for young readers called The Week the World Changed, about the JFK assassination. The book never happened, but here’s what the sample of Chapter 1 looked like in the proposal I sent out:
Chapter 1: Who was John F. Kennedy? And why was he in Texas in November 1963?
John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th president in November 1960. A Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts, he was the youngest person elected president and the first Catholic to hold the office.
Frank Wilczek is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. During the 1960 presidential campaign, when Wilczek was nine years old, he shook Kennedy’s hand at a rally on Long Island.
Wilczek: It was a rainy day, and he was late by an hour and a half, but we stayed. I thought it was a great adventure. It was very exciting to see a potential president. It was very impressive that all these grownups were acting in a very different way from [the way] they usually acted. They were getting excited and cheering. It was something special. My family was Catholic, so that was a point of identification [with Kennedy]. My parents were not strong, practicing Catholics. Nevertheless, I think they felt a kind of group identification. I was already very interested in science, and the whole thing about going to the moon and so forth — I very much associated that with Kennedy, this kind of dynamism, so I was a big fan. Even at that time, I liked that he was young and spoke very well in complete sentences, and he was funny.
In fall of 1963, Kennedy was preparing for the next year’s re-election campaign when he planned a November visit to Texas, including a stop in Dallas.
Wilczek: I kind of identified with Kennedy because I had run for class president and given speeches and several of the teachers said that I reminded them of Kennedy, the way I spoke, and the gestures. It’s very possible that I was imitating Kennedy.
Tom Lichtenheld is an illustrator of bestselling children’s books. In fall of 1963, he was ten years old and had just moved from Racine, Wisconsin, to Rockford, Illinois.
Lichtenheld: My teacher was Mrs. Williamson, and at the time, I thought she was mean, because the very first day of school, she asked me my telephone number, and we had just moved that week so I didn’t know my telephone number, so I started crying. Pretty humiliating for a grade-school kid, a 10-year-old boy, to start crying. I had a newspaper I used to write every Sunday. It was called the Sunday Thing. I would write it and draw the pictures for it and my dad would print it on a little thing called a hectograph. I’d sell it to my family and friends for a nickel apiece. In September or October of that year, I wrote an editorial critical of President Kennedy in the Sunday Thing. And the thing that’s most embarrassing is that at the time out music teacher would start every class by reading from John Birch Society propaganda. We didn’t know it was John Birch Society propaganda, we thought it was the truth, because she was a teacher. And that’s what I wrote about in my editorial — that I didn’t think President Kennedy should sell wheat to Russia. Apparently, that was a big issue that the John Birch Society was touting in those days.
Kathi Appelt is an award-winning author of books for children and young adults. In fall of 1963, she was nine years old and living with her parents and two sisters in Houston, Texas.
Appelt: [Kennedy] came to Houston the day before he was in Dallas. My mother and dad actually took my sisters and I out of school to go down and stand on Broadway. She got us all dressed up, and all five of us — my whole family — went and stood on Broadway to watch the president and vice-president come down the road. We were right in front, and I’ll never forget, because my mother made us wear our hair in rollers to school, which was, like, “Aaaahhh!” So, we were dressed up like we were going to church, but we were only standing on the side of the road to see the president go by. It seemed like they went by really fast, and so we went through all that trouble just to barely see him.