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WASHINGTON - Connie Remlinger Trounstine found the inspiration for her new children's book in a place she knows well: the front page of a newspaper.
A former reporter for The Kentucky Post, Trounstine was reading an article about the signing of a Middle East peace treaty when a reference to a walnut conference table at the White House caught her eye.
The table, the article noted, was brought to the presidential mansion in 1869 by Ulysses S. Grant and had been used for numerous historic occasions, beginning with the signing of the peace accord that ended the Spanish-American War and leading up to the signing of the Middle East treaty in the White House's East Room in 1998.
''Something that has been around for historic events since the Spanish-American War - that's pretty amazing," Trounstine recalls thinking.
Fifteen years and numerous rewrites later, Trounstine is the author of "Fingerprints on the Table: The Story of the White House Treaty Table," a new children's book published by the White House Historical Association, a nonprofit that produces educational literature and films about the presidential mansion.
The 48-page book, with illustrations by Kerry P. Talbott, tells the story of the table from its conception and design to its role in actual historical events involving presidents and their families.
Grant's cabinet met around the table, and each cabinet member had his own drawer for storing private papers. Calvin Coolidge signed a peace treaty on the table with 14 other nations. Barack Obama uses the table as his desk in his private office on the White House's second floor.
In her book, Trounstine, who lives in Cincinnati, notes that many presidents have left their fingerprints on the table while working to bring peace to the world. She also speculates on whether the children of any presidents might have jiggled the table's drawers and left their own fingerprints there.
For Trounstine, the imagery of fingerprints on a table is more than a vehicle for telling the story. It's a metaphor about individuality.
''Your fingerprint is the first, last and the only one," she said. "If I can get that across to kids, maybe they can celebrate their uniqueness."
While the book is based on actual events, many details about the table's beginnings were not recorded. Trounstine filled in the blanks by researching carpentry techniques and the New York furniture trade in the mid-19th century, then taking some artistic license in portraying scenes of the making and delivery of the table. The book does not, however, deviate in any significant ways from known history.
To learn more about the table's history, Trounstine made good use of the skills she perfected for 29 years as a reporter for The Kentucky Post in Covington, Ky.
Trounstine tracked down and visited a carpenter in Evansville, Ind., who told her how a table is made. She traveled to the Museum of the City of New York to learn more about the factory where the table was built.
When a publisher suggested she tell the story through the eyes of the immigrants who would have built the table, she went to the Tenement Museum in New York City to find out where they would have lived. Then, she walked the streets where they would have walked. Eventually, however, she shelved the project when prospective publishers decided the book wasn't "kid friendly."
''A whole year I worked on that," she said. "And then they didn't want it."
After Obama was elected in 2008, Trounstine thought there might be interest in the book since the new president was the father of two young daughters. She pulled the manuscript out of a drawer, changed its focus to the fingerprints theme and contacted the White House Historical Association, which agreed to publish it.
Trounstine never got to see the table herself because it is in a private room that is off-limits to the public. But she hopes the table's story will stir children's curiosity, just as it did hers, and perhaps give them a personal connection to history.
''I love kids -- I love how they think," she said. "If I can help them identify with the White House, with our country, with the people who live there and have lived there, that's what I'm trying to do."
The book is available for purchase through the White House Historical Association ( www.whitehousehistory.org ). All proceeds from the book sales go to the association.
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