Saturday, March 25, 2023

Q&A with Stewart McLaurin




Stewart McLaurin is the author of the new children's picture book The White House: Designed by James Hoban, Built by Many Hands!. His other books include James Hoban: Designer and Builder of the White House. He is the president of the White House Historical Association.


Q: Why did you decide to write this picture book focused on the life of James Hoban and his role in designing the White House?


A: I think it is important for children who are just beginning to learn about our nation's history to know that James Hoban’s story marks the beginning of the story of the White House itself.


During the nine years that I have led the White House Historical Association, I have had wonderful opportunities to study and admire the home and office that Hoban designed and built for our presidents. Today, the White House is the most famous landmark in America--and perhaps in the world--yet very few people know Hoban's name.


And although there are scholarly works about Hoban, including one I authored for the Association in 2021, there has never been a book created to introduce young children to James Hoban.


Q: What do you think John Hutton’s illustrations add to the book?


A: John Hutton's colorful and lively illustrations add a special dimension to the book. He gives James Hoban an energy and personality that will likely make the book a favorite for many children to read again and again.

Dr. Hutton is also the illustrator for six other books in our children's series, as well as a special workbook that gives children step-by-step instructions on how to draw the presidents. He has a unique talent for making history fun and approachable for children. 


Q: The book's subtitle is “Designed by James Hoban, Built by Many Hands!”. Can you say more about the people who helped build the White House?


A: The book explains that it took many people to build the White House. Some people set the stones and others hammered in the nails, raised the roof, and hung the windows and the doors.


There were many enslaved laborers of African descent who did the sawing and brickmaking, and Scottish stone masons who created beautiful carvings in the sandstone exterior walls, and of course an Irish designer and builder. It was through the labor of all of these people that the White House as we know it came to be.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: One important lesson kids can take away from Hoban's life story is that dreams can be achieved through study and hard work. James Hoban came from humble beginnings in Ireland, but he was so motivated by his interest in building that he studied hard, developed his talent, and took a chance traveling across the ocean to America where he proved himself and succeeded in a most historic way. His story should help inspire young people to go after their ambitions in life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I continue to travel in the U.S. and abroad to share the story of James Hoban and the building of the White House.


And I especially enjoy sharing White House history through conversations with historians and eyewitnesses to history on my monthly podcast, The White House 1600 Sessions. The podcast explores the untold stories and personal accounts of the White House and is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The White House Historical Association recently celebrated 60 years of publishing with the release of The White House an Historic Guide, a project that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy undertook when she founded our organization in 1961. 


Our books are a great resource for people of all ages interested in learning about the history of the White House and life as lived there. For a complete list of all of our books and educational programs, visit


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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