Take the edge off the election with books for kids

For The Baltimore Sun
Focus on the positive: Books that teach kids what elections are supposed to be about.

Our kids are hearing a lot about the presidential election — and a lot of what they're hearing is negative and divisive. Focus on the positive with great books full of fun facts and thought-provoking insight about the election process and the history of the presidency.

In "Grace for President" by Kelly diPucchio, with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, the kids at Woodrow Wilson Elementary are having an election. Every student represents a state and holds that state's number of electoral ballots. The candidates, Grace and Thomas, write slogans, put up posters, and decide on their campaign platforms. Grace begins to make good on her campaign promises even before the election — but Thomas has figured out that the boys hold more electoral votes than the girls. If everyone votes along gender lines, Thomas is sure to win!

I freely acknowledge that I never completely understood the electoral college until reading this book. I recommend it constantly for its easy-to-grasp demonstration of how a two-party electoral process works. Doesn't hurt that the art is peppy and the protagonist is an African-American girl. In a sweet detail, it is a boy named Sam, representing Wyoming, the first state to give women the right to vote, who crosses gender lines to vote for Grace.

A century ago, long before a female candidate could even be contemplated, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke took off on a road trip in a little yellow car to campaign for women's voting rights. This was big news in 1916, when road maps were few, gas stations were even fewer, and women were generally expected to stay home. "Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles" by Mara Rockliff, and illustrated by Hadley Hooper, tells their story.

Despite bad weather and worse roads, these two women spoke to crowds in 26 states. They rode in a circus parade, won a medal at the California State Fair and attended picnics and receptions. In Baltimore, suffrage organizations threw them a fancy party. This great story is an upbeat reminder of what grit and determination can accomplish.

An old woman walks up a hill to vote at the courthouse in "Lillian's Right to Vote" by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans. As she walks, she thinks about all the generations of her family, from slaves who had no rights at all, to her great-grandfather, who gained the right to vote in 1870 thanks to the 15th Amendment. She recalls poll taxes, voting "texts" and the persecution her own mother faced when trying to register to vote after the 19th Amendment gave women voting rights in 1920. Lillian's walk culminates in her memory of the civil rights marches and demonstrations that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This beautiful, sun-drenched book conveys an optimistic message while reminding readers how precious and hard-won our voting rights are.

Which U.S. presidents were the fiercest fighters? The sharpest strategizers? The most reckless risk-takers? Find out as you put together "Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team." This book, written by Daniel O'Brien, is a family-friendly version of the very funny adult book "How to Fight Presidents." It delivers on the promise that "history is much cooler than they tell you it is in school."

And what were the presidents of the United States like as kids? Author David Stabler has a few anecdotes about each of them in "Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America's Presidents." Learn about the young Richard Nixon's passion for acting, Herbert Hoover's childhood among the Osage Indians and the teasing little Barry Obama endured when he and his mom moved to Indonesia. Large type and funny color illustrations make this and other books in this series a hit with kids.

Given her decades of public service and many groundbreaking achievements, there are several biographies of Hillary Clinton written for young readers. I like "Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead" by Michelle Markel, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, for its spare, high-impact text and colorful illustrations with lots of real-life detail.

This book highlights Clinton's accomplishments and early commitment to social justice and women's rights. We also see how she has been hounded by criticism, much of it gender-based, for the majority of her career. The same taunts that Nell Richardson and Alice Burke heard on their 1916 women's suffrage road trip — about their clothes and demeanor — echo in Hillary Clinton's ears 100 years later.

There have been no serious biographies of Donald Trump written for children that cover his candidacy. One decidedly unserious title is "A Child's First Book of Trump," written by comedian Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. In it, Black explains the appearance and habits of the American Trump, an orange beast that thrives on attention. This picture book is for those readers old enough to recognize satire when they see it.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children's and teen literature for various national publications and online at unadulterated.us. She can be reached at pinkme@gmx.com.

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