With the Presidential Election around the corner, parents are struggling with how to talk to younger children about it all on a relatable level. Reading Partners, an early literacy nonprofit, has curated a book list for parents to start an engaging and entertaining democracy dialogue with their children.
As part of their#RiseUpForReading2020campaign, the book list below is designed to spark conversations about democracy and inspire young ones to learn about civic engagement, to allay any confusion—and even fear—around what has been a year of uncertainties.
This reSource is one of many that Reading Partners has rolled out mobilizing for elementary school students in under-resourced schools reading below grade level. A number of free, virtual, and even text-rich programs are available viaReading Partners Connectsto all students across the nation to help bridge the opportunity gap. I hope you enjoy the recommendations.
The main character, Grace, is shocked that there has never been a woman president. She decides to enter the school election. Readers are exposed to responsible campaigning practices, election conventions, the electoral college, and voting. In the end, Grace wins the election!
Duck wants to make a change on his farm, so he hosts an election. Once he wins, he sees the work is hard. In an effort to improve work for the “boss” of the farm, he runs for mayor to make bigger changes. Again he wins, and again he learns leading is even harder at this level. And so it goes until he is president and learns a true appreciation for how much work goes into being a leader.
A great informational text that shares fun and important facts about elections at a digestible level. Think; everything from why elections are held on certain days, who was able to vote and when, and the formation of political parties.
This book is a historical account of the struggles of African Americans throughout history, celebrating the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Readers learn about the different policies in place that kept their vote silenced through discrimination and tests. Follow 100-year-old Lillian on her walk to the ballot box as she votes for the very first time.
This book dives into what it takes to be president including understanding all of the challenges facing the country and the people you represent. Your child will learn the vocabulary of the election process and understand the weight of responsibility for the president.
Originally published in 1932, this book written by our late first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, explains what our elected officials do as well as each citizen’s role in a democracy. Updates by Michelle Markel and Grace Lin have been made in the rerelease to make it more inclusive through back matter and illustrations. The book also talks about all civil servant roles, not just elected officials. Firefighters, teachers, and garbage men are all highlighted and connected to why voting matters in their chosen field.
In What Can a Citizen Do?Eggers explores what it means to be a citizen—that as a member of society we have a responsibility to be active and involved. Empowering messages about joining a cause, speaking up, or writing letters show how citizens have the chance to change the world.
This book introduces young readers to ten American women who worked tirelessly for women’s rights. It focuses on the work of bold, brave activists and suffragists across history and, ultimately, looks optimistically to the future.
St. George’s book offers a historical look at the first 41 presidents of the United States. Readers will have fun looking at who they were personally as well as what they contributed to our national story.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS FROM GOOD READS WITH RONNA
This picture book highlights budding activist, Sofia Valdez, who’s determined to turn a dirty, dismal plot into a park. When she’s told she cannot, she perseveres proving it’s powerful to stand up for what you believe in. Also of interest is The Questioneers chapter book series including Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote, a timely new read about a class election to choose a pet. “But when the votes are counted, there’s a tie, and one vote is missing. How will the class break the tie? And what happened to the vanishing vote? It’s up to Sofia Valdez and the Questioneers to restore democracy!“
In August of 1920, if the Tennessee legislature approved it, the 19th amendment would be ratified, giving all American women the right to vote. One vote by Harry Burn could sway the election in women’s favor. And indeed that happened because of a powerful letter his mother, Febb Burn, had written him urging him to “Vote for suffrage and don’t forget to be a good boy.” The Voice That Won the Voteis the story of Febb, her son Harry, his tie-breaking vote, and the letter that gave all American women a voice and changed history.
In Leading the Way, readers meet some of the most influential leaders in America, including Jeannette Rankin, who, in 1916, became the first woman elected to Congress; Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress; Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court; and Bella Abzug, who famously declared, “This woman’s place is in the House . . . the House of Representatives!” This engaging and wide-ranging collection of biographies highlights the actions, struggles, and accomplishments of more than fifty of the most influential leaders in American political history—leaders who have stood up, blazed trails and led the way.
This modern and progressive approach uses the ABCs to highlight voting and social justice issues is for those who believe that every vote counts. V is For Votingis an ideal and easy way to convey the tenets of democracy to America’s future leaders.
A is for active participation. B is for building a more equal nation. C is for citizens’ rights and our duty. D is for difference, our strength and our beauty.
The powerhouse pairing of Mark Shulman and Serge Bloch means readers will get an engaging look at why voting matters, offering a fun and meaningful perspective. “This nonpartisan book will help explain the concept of voting to the youngest readers.
I Votedexplains the concept of choosing, individually, and as a group, from making a simple choice: “Which do you like better, apples or oranges?” to selecting a class pet, to even more complicated decisions, like electing community representatives.” Visit the publisher’s website for bonus material including an activity sheet, an educator’s guide and more.
The selection of books here, while not necessarily being about July 4th or the Revolutionary War, all have to do with our country, and what it means to have gained our independence and become a democracy. I hope the books inspire children to read more on the topics covered, and to think about how they can make a difference, no matter how small, in their own communities.
When at last America declared itself free from British rule, the Constitution was written “with rules for every institution.” However, something more was needed to guarantee five “of the most fundamental American freedoms,” and so the First Amendment, along with nine others (and making up the Bill of Rights) was drafted.
Using verse, occasional speech bubbles, and bright, diverse, kid-centric illustrations, Free for You and Me explains in easily understandable language just what these powerful 45 words represent. Kids will enjoy seeing other kids on the pages debating the meaning of the expression, “It’s a free country” making this picture book ideal for classroom discussion or for any budding historians and legal scholars.
Mihaly explains how our First Amendment means “we the people of the United States have five important freedoms,” many of which we see at work on a daily basis. Americans are guaranteed “freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to gather in a peaceful rally or protest, and the freedom to tell our leaders what we want them to do.” If your child has recently marched with you in a protest, that’s due to our First Amendment rights.
In this book, kids learn the importance of the First Amendment through the example of a mayor who wants to shut down their playground. They organize a rally and get signatures on a petition in an effort to save it. Other good examples are presented as in the case of Freedom of Speech. Readers find out about Congressman Matthew Lyon who was arrested and spent four months in jail in 1798 for criticizing President John Adams. This would never have happened were it not for a law Adams and his Federalist government passed called the Sedition Act. Once Jefferson was elected, the Sedition Act expired. I had never heard about this before, but my 19-year-old son had so a lively conversation ensued.
The timeliness of this educational picture book will not be lost on those who support a free press, the right to free speech and to assemble peacefully, as well as the freedom of religion and freedom to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Mihaly, a former lawyer, understands the principles upon which our democracy was established. With her knowledge of the First Amendment, she succeeds in conveying the freedoms it entails in an engaging and accessible way for young readers. We can never take these hard-fought for liberties for granted. Four pages of back matter go into more detail. •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
The students of Stanton Elementary School aren’t old enough to vote when their school closes every two years on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. That’s when it turns into a polling station. They are, however, are old enough to spread the word in Vote for Our Future!
The diverse cast of characters, energetically represented in bold and vivid illustrations, introduce a topic that is timely for all ages. McNamara’s sweet and intuitive children first ask “what’s a polling station?” The children’s eyes widen as they learn that “the reason people vote is to choose who makes the laws of the country.” LaToya with her big pink glasses raises her hand and says, “we should all vote to make the future better.” But Lizzy reminds her that they just aren’t old enough.
So what are they old enough to do? Player illustrates boys and girls from all backgrounds looking through books and “searching online to find all kinds of information. They even took a trip to their local election office and picked up forms.” The research shows that “kids have to live with adult choices. The kids of Stanton Elementary School were ready to spread the word.”
McNamara takes the reader through the small town where Cady and her mom make flyers. They pass them out to a busy dad, who didn’t even know there was an election, to Nadiya and her auntie, wearing hijabs on their heads, who go door to door telling neighbors that “voting is a right.” Player’s vibrant and colorful art of people from various ethnic groups shows the reader that all people have the right to vote.
With each excuse from adults that the children are given, an even better comeback is heard in return. “I don’t like standing in lines,” one lady tells Nadiya. Nadiya’s auntie doesn’t like standing in lines either, but Nadiya says if you can stand in line for coffee you can stand in line to vote. I love how fearless the kids are when the adults come up with excuses for why they aren’t voting and how the kids don’t take no for an answer.
Player shows “people voting for the first time, and the fiftieth time, with their sons and daughters, their nieces and nephews, their brothers and sisters, their cousins and friends.” When voting was complete and the ballots were counted, Stanton Elementary went back to being a school and “the future began to change.”
McNamara writes in the back matter titled Get Out The Vote! that when adults vote for people and causes they believe in, they speak for us and make laws that are good for everyone in the country. She lists various Acts that have been signed to prompt further discussions between adults and kids. Player’s drawings of stickers such as Yes, I Voted help to get the message across that voting does matter and that every vote really can make a difference. Have the primaries happened in your state? If not, get out and vote! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
I loved getting to know the origin story for the beloved song so many people think is our national anthem, but isn’t. I also learned that not only was the poem that was later turned into a song, written by a woman, but a very independent one at that.
Katharine Lee Bates was raised by her widowed mother who “grew and sold vegetables to help Katharine go to school.” Katharine’s smarts led to higher education and her passion for the written word led to her career as an author and professor at a time when young women were encouraged to pursue marriage and homemaking. She was also a reformer. In addition to teaching, Katharine worked hard to improve the lives of those most vulnerable in society, while also using her talents to help the suffrage movement.
A summer teaching job took her across the country by train from Boston to Colorado where she first glimpsed America’s boundless beauty. On July 4, 1893 Katharine’s mind was flooded with “memories of the ocean” as she set eyes on amber stalks of wheat swaying in the Kansas fields. A trip up to Pike’s Peak and its majestic views clearly inspired her to compose the poem we know and love. It was first published on July 4, 1895 and, with each additional publication, underwent several revisions. In 1910 it was paired with the famous melody by composer Samuel A. Ward we still sing today. This terrific and inspiring biography with its glorious Grandma Moses-esque illustrations perfectly blends the story of Katharine Lee Bates’s life and career, and country with the poem that celebrates its expansive splendor. Back matter and a timeline round out this recommended read. •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
WE THE PEOPLE: The United States Constitution Explored and Explained Written by Aura Lewis and Evan Sargent Illustrated by Aura Lewis (Wide Eyed Editions; $24.99, Ages 10-14)
Even adults can take advantage of this comprehensive look at our Constitution because of the colorful and inviting picture book format designed with middle grade readers in mind. Plus it’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on hand to refer to, especially when kids ask questions you may be unable to answer.
This quote from the authors on the intro page speaks volumes about what you can expect when you pick up a copy of We the People: “… we believe that having a deeper understanding of our Constitution can inspire change. Anyone can understand how the government works, and every single person has the power to get involved and make a difference.”
The 128 pages of the book are divided up into brief, digestible chapters, with plenty of white space so that your eye can travel to the most important parts quickly. The authors have included excerpts from the Constitution which have been paraphrased in kid-friendly English so they’re easily understood especially when presented as they relate to our daily lives.
One of my favorite sections was about the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, intended to guarantee that “no one can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.” The chapter features a bottom border illustration of both the suffragettes on the left holding signs and modern day protestors on the right also carrying signs. The spread (like those throughout the book) has interesting factoids such as the one about young conservative Tennessee politician, Harry Burns, whose mother influenced his decision “that tipped the scales in favor of the 19th Amendment.” On the four pages devoted to this amendment there are also thought provoking questions that a teacher or librarian can pose to their students.
There is so much wonderful information to absorb that I recommend readers take in a few chapters at a time to let the facts sink in. One particular chapter that, leading up to this year’s presidential election, might prompt discussion is about the 12th Amendment and the electoral college. Everyone who reads We the People will likely find something covered that will resonate with them whether it’s about the rights of the accused, term limits, or D.C.’s residents (now looking for statehood) being given the right to vote for president. Get this book today and you’ll get the picture! •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
STAR-SPANGLED: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem Written by Tim Grove (Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 10-14)
★Starred Review – Kirkus
Okay, I’m going to embarrass myself here and admit I did not know the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem, was about a battle against the British over a fort in Baltimore. I mean I knew it was about a battle based on the lyrics and I knew the battle fought was with the British, and that’s it. I’m not even sure I was taught the anthem’s history in school. Now, thanks to Tim Grove’s well-researched historical nonfiction novel, I’ve been educated and kids can be, too. Oh and by the way, this occurred during the War of 1812 (which incidentally lasted until 1815).
Told from various perspectives, because what better way to convey the complexity of history than from more than one angle, Grove’s book introduces readers to a host of British and American characters. We meet Mary Pickersgill, (a sewing business owner specializing in flags or colors), Thomas Kemp (a Baltimore shipyard owner), Francis Scott Key, (a thirty-five-year-old lawyer with six children), Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (a top British military officer in the Chesapeake Bay region), and 10 others whose stories are woven together to bring the full picture of the intense battle to light. Star-Spangled also addresses the background of the war and events leading up to battle to help put its significance in context. If America lost Baltimore, our young country’s independence could be at stake. Grove notes that Pickersgill, Kemp, and Key were all slave owners and that Key, was a “tireless opponent of the slave trade” yet in his role as a U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., opposed abolitionists. He was also “a leading proponent” of the colonization movement, something I definitely did not know about.
As we meet each person, we learn the role they played in the the book’s subheading, The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem. In fact, Star-Spangled reads like an Erik Larson novel where all the events are building up to the major one so anticipation is high despite knowing the outcome. And don’t be surprised if you become so engrossed that you finish the book in one go!
I had an advance review copy so I was unable to see the full-color photographs from the final edition, but my copy did contain the fascinating archival material interspersed throughout the book. There’s actually a photo of the “flag that Key saw. Over the years, before the flag came to the Smithsonian Institution, people cut various pieces off for souvenirs.” There’s also a photo of Francis Key’s “original draft of his poem.” This contains four verses and is preserved at the Maryland Historical Society.
Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, a glossary, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Don’t miss your chance to get a copy of this enlightening book. I hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in classrooms and libraries around the country so our rich history can be better understood and discussed. •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
A HUG IS FOR HOLDING ME Written byLisa Wheeler Illustrated by Lisk Feng ($14.99; Abrams Appleseed, Ages 3-5)
Written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisk Feng, A Hug is for Holding Me highlights how the natural world quietly and profoundly speaks to us about love.
Exploring the wilderness, a father and daughter take note of speckled eggs “nestled in a tree” and “eggs hold[ing] hatchlings warm and snug.” In plain language, the little girl also expresses the restorative and nurturing power of cocoons and seashells. It’s as if everything in nature is embraced in an eternal hug, kept safe from harm. And from this fact, she knows she too can feel the same love and protection from the simple act of giving and receiving a hug.
I also admire the illustrator’s techniques in further drawing us into the little girl’s perspective. We readers (of all ages) are like children, looking up at the big, wide world. Each page in this 24 page book is a wide-angled, double page spread. The leaves of trees are drawn in big, sweeping shades of blue and green, objects are defined by their general shape and color, and Dad appears towering-almost giant sized. Visual details are absent but not because they’re lacking. While the world is big, creation is hard-wired to nurture and care. On land, in the sea, and in our hearts, we can rest assured of this truth, which is the one detail that really matters. We just need childlike faith to see it.
A great read especially for Valentine’s Day, A Hug is for Holding Me is a book preschoolers will love to cuddle up with.
The best Valentine’s Day gifts are the simple pleasures of food, fun, and friendship as author Jonathan London and illustrator Andrew Joyner show in Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and Duck is distressed she may not have a valentine. Taking a hint from her feathered friends nearby, she decides to send invitations-in secret to Hippo, Turtle, Pig, and Elephant, asking each to meet at the park at 4pm and to “bring something for [his/her] Valentine.” Every card is decorated with a “big red heart on it,” though it’s clear Hippo holds an extra special place in Duck’s heart because his card is the only one that has a “red rose … above a big red heart.”
And so the fun begins! Every time a friend receives a card, she or he begins wondering just who that valentine might be. Each hopes for someone specific. Turtle, for example, sees the picture of the “big red heart” on the card as a pizza that’s missing a slice. This makes sense, of course, because his special friend is Pig who works at the local pizzeria, Pig’s Pizza.
As the anticipation builds, kids will no doubt love being “in” on the secret, and they will roar with laughter watching Duck stealthily drop off the cards to avoid detection. Well … while the characters may not see Duck, little wandering eyes will most definitely notice a feathery behind sticking out of a bush or two!
The onomatopoeia popular in London’s beloved “Froggy” series is thankfully present here as well, helping preschoolers and early elementary children “read” the story. And even if readers are new to the “Duck and Hippo” series, they can sense the strong friendship between the characters and learn important values of sharing and kindness. I also like the hidden “lesson” of time-telling. Whenever the time of day is mentioned in the story, Joyner cleverly includes a clock to indicate the time, with the hour and minute hands in contrasting colors. From illustrating a grandfather clock to an alarm clock to a pocket watch, Joyner invites readers to discover all the fun and different ways of telling time—there’s even a sundial in Turtle’s yard!
By 4:00 the secret is finally out, though Duck’s love for her friends is evident from the start. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to create an opportunity for everyone to gather and express their gratitude for each other.
In What is Given from the Heart, celebrated author Patricia McKissack and debut picture book illustrator April Harrison define the true meaning of gift giving.
“Already poor,” little James Otis and his mother “got poorer last April” after the sudden death of his father. Having lost the family farm in June, they move into a “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms.” Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, more loss follows: James’ house floods and his dog Smitty disappears. Yet as long as they have their health and strength, his mother reminds him, they “‘are blessed.’”
Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, James slowly begins to understand his mother’s courageous words. When Reverend Dennis requests the congregation to prepare love boxes for the needy, he includes on his list a mother and daughter who have “‘lost everything in a fire.’”
For the first time in a long time, James begins to change perspective. Thinking about another person’s pain makes him aware of what he does have. Tucked “warm and toasty” under Mama’s quilt, James reviews in his mind all the items he owns that might be useful to Sarah. When he sees Mama repurposing the “‘only nice thing’” she has to make a handmade gift for Mrs. Temple, he reflects on how he, too, can sacrifice a beloved belonging to the benefit of someone else’s happiness.
McKissack’s themes of compassion, kindness, and empathy are carried through Harrison’s soft color palette and endearing mixed media art. Though the items in the house are sparse, we can see the love abiding in James’ home from the family pictures hung on the walls. My favorite illustration is the close up of James and the pensive expression in his eyes, as he ponders what is in Sarah’s heart and the kinds of things she might like to receive.
Despite having very little, James comes up with a beautiful gift that Sarah gratefully accepts. Handmade and straight from the heart, James’ gift helps Sarah know that she is seen and understood. This is a priceless gift every one of us can treasure.
A wonderful read for older elementary children, “What is Given from the Heart” reaches the heart not only on Valentine’s Day but everyday of the year.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
For more Valentine’s Day book suggestions, click here.
Debbie Glade reviews Mario Makes a Move ($16.99, Schwartz and Wade, Ages 3 and up), a story about a little squirrel with a big desire to impress.
Mario spends his days trying to impress everyone with his “amazing” moves – jumping, spinning, flying and twirling. But his friend, Isabelle, isn’t too impressed with Mario’s moves no matter what he does, as she shows him some tricks of her own. Mario gets jealous and accuses Isabelle of stealing his best moves. When she makes him realize all the other animals in town have their own great moves, too, he stops doing tricks and starts collecting sticks, which is, well, kind of boring. It isn’t until Mario and Isabelle put their heads and skills together that truly amazing things start to happen.
Author and illustrator Jill McElmurry subtly teaches the reader that, although it’s normal to want to excel at something, people don’t like a braggart. Even more important, she teaches that cooperation and collaboration can often lead to far better endings than trying to do everything yourself and possibly alienating everyone around you.
This little book for young readers has a big message and delivers it in a charming and entertaining story. The watercolor artwork moves the story along beautifully, and Mario’s moves are even sketched out on graph paper.
Each and every one of us wants to be exceptional at something we do and be recognized for it. And every now and then we need to be reminded that if we work well with others, extraordinary things can happen – just as they do for Mario and Isabelle.