Lynn and Cindy: Unless your pandemic shutdown has included no access to electronic media, you will have noticed that the U.S is fast approaching an important election. Adults everywhere are talking about politics, candidates, and elections and for children, it can all seem mystifying. Happily, authors and publishers have stepped up and there are a lot of picture books currently being published on the subject. Here’s a round-up of a few that we think will help kids make sense of this important topic.
I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference (Holiday House/Neal Porter, 2020) by Mark Shulman.
This book focuses on the idea of making a choice. It starts with the most basic of choices by asking what the reader likes best: ice cream or onions and apples or oranges? The concept slowly broadens by asking the reader to imagine a choice being made by more people such as choosing a class pet. In the simplest of terms that kids can easily understand, the book discusses facts about voting such as sometimes not getting what you want, ways to help people vote for what you want, and how a vote can be held. Broadening more, the topic shifts to grown-ups voting for leaders of their cities, towns, or states, why that is important and how to decide who to vote for. Kid-friendly and very accessible, this is a terrific vehicle for introducing the concept. Back matter includes Five Easy Steps for Voting and information on How Our Government Works. Serge Bloch’s cartoon illustrations make the book very appealing.
Natasha Wing’s The Night Before Election Day (Grosset & Dunlap, 2020) by Natasha Wing
This cheerful book is part of an extensive series told in the tradition of Clement Moore’s Night Before Christmas poem. Each book in the series tells the story of the night before a special event or festival. Here the event is Election Day and the children in the family are reminding their parents that school will be closed the next day so people can vote. Their classes have been decorating, everyone has been getting ready for months, and now the election is here. The basics of what is an election and the voting day process are covered here. Clearly stated yet retaining a child’s perspective, one of the chief joys of the book is the well-conveyed sense of excitement and importance of an election. This will be great to use in the classroom or at home in the fall as election time draws near. Extra nice to have a family of color at the center of the story. We love the idea of helping kids to understand how important AND exciting elections should be.
Vote for Our Future! (Schwartz & Wade, 2020) by Margaret McNamara
A diverse cast of children (and teaching staff) have the day off school in order for their elementary school to transform into a polling station. The children aren’t old enough to vote, but they figure out ways to perform other civic duties in this Get Out the Vote story. Their actions leading up to election day explain voting practices like registration, making a plan for election day, voting early or by mail, and the importance of voting. A gatefold shows a large crowd of people heading to the school to cast their votes in an effort to affect change. In addition to Micah Player’s colorful and lively illustrations throughout, the endpapers include images of political buttons encouraging voting. The end matter includes a list of Acts of Congress that improved life in the United States starting with the 1792 Postal Service Act signed into law by George Washington, and acts to protect national parks, Indian citizens, control air pollution, and protect civil rights, provide protection for Americans with disabilities, and access to affordable health care.
Grace Goes to Washington (Disney/Hyperion, 2019) by Kelly DiPucchio
The first book in this series, Grace for President (Little, Brown, 2008), explained the Electoral College as Grace tried to become the first female US president in her class’ mock election. This second book takes on the three branches of government as Grace’s student council struggles with deciding how to spend their fundraiser profits to best benefit their school. Everyone has a special interest (sports equipment, library books, or musical instruments). We all know how many adults in charge deal with these issues, but perhaps the kids can teach us something? Illustrated by the talented LeUyen Pham and including a field trip to Washington, D.C., an author’s note explaining the branches further, and a list of ideas for becoming an involved citizen, this book has a lot to offer an elementary classroom.
The Next President (Chronicle, 2020) by Kate Messner
And, while we wait to learn who our next president will be, take a stroll through presidential history with Kate Messner and Adam Rex. At any one time, we have approximately ten people alive who will become one of our next presidents, some who are still children and have no idea it will be them one day. Starting with George Washington, there were nine future presidents in the wing. In 1961 there were ten also, four of them just children (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, newly born Barack Obama, and teenager Donald Trump). The following page has stirred some controversy, but careful readers will understand that Kennedy and Obama, and on another wall in the illustration, Hillary Clinton, are representing this text:
“The truth is America’s earliest presidents weren’t all that different from one another. Most were wealthy, white, Protestant men who might have been surprised if they’d been around to see a Catholic or an African American man elected president…or a woman nominated by a major party for the highest office in the land.”
An empty frame labeled “46” awaits the “next” president either this November or another four years from now. Adam Rex’s illustrations are magnificent and complement the interesting details and timelines that Messner researched and threaded together about what each president was doing earlier in their life before becoming America’s Commander in Chief. It’s an inspiring collection for children who wonder what their futures might hold.