|In this Article|
|Presidents Are People Too|
|You Don’t Have to Be President to Get Involved|
|Politics in Action|
|On the Web|
If the pundits and talking heads are to be believed, politics in America is dirty business. Lobbying, partisanship, pork-barrel spending, and mudslinging make up no small part of it. There is much more to politics, though. Beneath the necrotic layers of scandal and corruption are the birth-bright essentials of policy, governance, civics, and people. This collection of books, websites, and films attests to that with content, style, and format that are ideal for children and teens.
Using poetry, humor, history, science, fact, and fancy, these titles engage, enlighten, entertain, and inspire. In addition, new and archival photographs and stylistically diverse original paintings and drawings interpret and complement the texts with flair and vitality. Among these materials, a long-dead president enjoys a new sort of life thanks to a committed and creative group of scientists and historians; a camping trip inspires new laws, and a set of dusty paper dolls rekindles memories of White House life long ago. In short, politics is fleshed out in details that make it human and personal.
CALKHOVEN, Laurie. I Grew Up to Be President. illus. by Rebecca Zomchek. Scholastic. 2011. pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-545-33152-4.
K-Gr 5–In this Washington-to-Obama collective biography, Calkhoven provides readers with succinct, cheerful accounts of presidential lives. The vital stats are here as well as facts that are strange, humorous, and, most of all, humanizing. Zomchek’s stylish presentation juxtaposes presidential portraits with clever drawings of the presidents as boys. Informative and engaging.
JURMAIN, Suzanne Tripp. Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud. illus. by Larry Day. Dutton. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-525-47903-1.
Gr 2-5–“Different as pickles and ice cream,” Adams and Jefferson were America’s original odd couple. Keeping the tone light, Jurmain explains why these close friends became enemies over the Constitution. Finely detailed watercolor illustrations are historically accurate with a little fun thrown in. 99 percent history + 1 percent whimsy = 100 percent awesomeness. Audio version available from Recorded Books.
KALMAN, Maira. Looking at Lincoln. illus. by author. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24039-3.
Gr 2-5–Bold, emotionally resonant paintings flesh out the bare-bones account of Lincoln’s life in this unusual and lovely homage. Kalman pairs facts with kindly guesses about Lincoln’s thoughts on nicknames, dessert, and birthday presents. Somber reflections on war, slavery, and death are also included.
KATZ, Susan. The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems about the Presidents. illus. by Robert Neubecker. Clarion. 2012. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-547-18221-6; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-547-67783-5.
Gr 1-4–All 43 commanders-in-chief receive an individual poetic dousing in this lighthearted romp through our leaders’ foibles, gaffes, embarrassments, and other unusual biographical details. Colorful, kinetic illustrations complement the spunky collection, and a brief explanatory note is appended to each poem. A fun supplement or lead-in to presidential biographies.
KERLEY, Barbara. Those Rebels, John and Tom. illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-22268-6.
Gr 2-5–This playful account shows how Adams’s and Jefferson’s opposing temperaments and talents were the winning combination to spur a recalcitrant congress into action and an ornery king into acquiescence. The illustrator toys with proportion and realism, filling the book with sight gags that interpret the text with wit and flair.
KRULL, Kathleen & Paul Brewer. Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country). illus. by Stacy Innerst. Harcourt. 2010. RTE. $17.ISBN 978-0-15-206639-0; ebook $17. ISBN 978-0-54-777019-2.
Gr 2-4–Lincoln faced enormous challenges personally and politically. In this readable biography, the authors complement key events with quips that demonstrate his keen sense of humor and love of language. Exaggerated acrylic illustrations match the folksy tone, while thick, slightly uneven brushstrokes add a timeworn appearance.
MCCLAFFERTY, Carla Killough. The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon. Carolrhoda. 2011. RTE $20.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-5608-0; ebook $15.71. ISBN 978-0-7613-7157-1.
Gr 6 Up–Blending science and history, McClafferty describes how professionals from several fields created three life-size models of Washington as he looked when he was a surveyor (age 19), an army general (age 45), and U.S. President (age 57). Dozens of color photographs document the process. Corresponding facts about Washington’s life flesh out the illuminating narrative.
MCNAMARA, Margaret. George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale. illus. by Barry Blitt. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks, 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84499-7; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94458-1.
Gr 1-4–Young George wakes up on the morning of his seventh birthday expecting but receiving no special notice from his family. As the tall tale plays out, McNamara includes elegantly trimmed sidebars with information confirming or supplanting events presented in the story. The watercolor illustrations, a blend of whimsy and realism, provide a perfect balance.
NATIONAL CHILDREN’S BOOK AND LITERACY ALLIANCE. Our White House: Looking in, Looking Out. illus. Candlewick. 2008. RTE $29.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-2067-7; pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4609-7.
Gr 3-8–More than 100 children’s and YA authors and illustrators add their voices to those of presidents and First Ladies to illuminate the history of the White House, past and present. Through poems, stories, memoirs, conversations, and colorful full-page illustrations, everyday life and special occasions are made vivid and compelling.
RHATIGAN, Joe. White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children. illus. by Jay Shinn. Charlesbridge. 2012. Tr $14.95. ISBN 978-1-936140-80-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-60734-472-8.
Gr 4-5–Iconic red, white, and blue graphics—archival photos and colorful original drawings—combine with anecdotes that recount life in the spotlight, the White House as a playground, and the pros and cons of growing up there. Impeccably researched, informative, and fun.
SMITH, Lane. John, Paul, George, & Ben. illus. by author. Hyperion. 2006. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-4893-5.
Gr 2-5–Smith spins a few outlandish backstories for some of America’s founding fathers. Why was Paul Revere so good at yelling? What did Ben Franklin’s friends think of his pithy sayings? Pen-and-ink drawings combine with collage to create appropriately zany illustrations. DVD and audio version available from Weston Woods.
TOWNSEND, Michael. Where Do Presidents Come From? And Other Presidential Stuff of Super Great Importance. Dial. Sept. 2012. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-803-73748-8.
Gr 2-5–Vibrant cartoons and a steady stream of visual and verbal jokes enliven the text in this graphic novel that describes the origin of the American presidency, how the president is elected, what the job entails, the function of the White House, and life for the men once their terms are up.
WALTON, Rick. Mr. President Goes to School. illus. by Brad Sneed. Peachtree. 2010. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-1-56145-538-6.
K-Gr 3–Feeling beleaguered, Mr. President sneaks into his old kindergarten teacher’s class for a break where he plays, sings, and enjoys a snack of milk and cookies. Could these rediscovered joys be the key to negotiating a meeting between feuding world leaders? Colorful pencil and watercolor illustrations are fittingly buoyant.
ARETHA, David. No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk. Morgan Reynolds. 2009. PLB $28.95. ISBN 978-1-59935-129-2.
Gr 7 Up–Concise and unbiased, this biography describes how Milk’s early discomfiture about his homosexuality shaped his ultimate leadership in civil rights and politics. Photos, mostly black-and-white, complement the text as they show Milk’s transformation from an awkward kid to an influential and controversial activist and politician.
BLUMENTHAL, Karen. Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America. S & S/Atheneum. 2005. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-689-85957-1.
Gr 7 Up–A lively history recounts the fight for and subsequent passage of the law that made it officially okay for girls to play organized sports. Well-researched and engaging, this account demonstrates what can happen when enough people work together to incite political and social change, even if it means plowing under centuries of entrenched status quo. Audio version available from Recorded Books.
BRUEL, Nick. Bad Kitty for President. illus. by author. Roaring Book. 2012. Tr $13.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-669-5; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-2500-101-6-2.
Gr 2-4–Bad Kitty is running for president of the Neighborhood Cat Club. It’s up to the narrator to educate the candidate about primaries, endorsements, campaigning, ethics, ads, debates, and voting. Bruel squeezes in lots of sound facts as Bad Kitty turns every election expectation on its head, while his integral black-and-white drawings are wittily expressive.
CLARK, Catherine. How Not to Run for President. Egmont USA. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-60684-101-3; ebook $15.99. ISBN 978-1-60684-302-4.
Gr 5-8–When a 12-year-old kid from Ohio saves the life of a presidential candidate, he finds himself swept up in a political blitz of campaigning and TV appearances. Events take an even more interesting turn when Aaron is asked to run as vice president. An entertaining and plausible read about national and local politics from a child’s point of view.
DIPUCCHIO, Kelly. Grace for President. illus. by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion. 2008. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-3919-3.
Gr 2-5–When eager Grace Campbell vies with super-student Thomas Cobb for class president, the children learn how the electoral college works. While Thomas does little during the campaign, Grace embarks on a school-wide tour winning over voters with her can-do attitude and kindness. Full-color, animated illustrations add polish and pep.
FITZGERALD, Dawn. Soccer Chick Rules. Roaring Brook. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-596-43137-9; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-312-37662-8.
Gr 5-8–Middle-school student Tess is passionate about soccer. When budget cuts threaten her school’s sports program, she spearheads a movement to encourage voters to support a levy that would provide funding. Adolescent high jinks, sibling antagonism, and soccer details will resonate with young readers, while political activism adds an ennobling, but never preachy, dimension.
FRITZ, Jean. Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider. illus. by Ian Schoenherr. Putnam. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25546-5; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-142-41986-1; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-1-101-47535-5.
Gr 5-9–Ambitious and intelligent, Hamilton lived under a cloud of suspicion due in large part to his irregular, turbulent youth. In this riveting biography, details of his military and political prowess blend with descriptions of colonial culture. Occasional, visually engaging black-and-white images enhance the text.
LUBLIN, Nancy, Vanessa Martir & Julia Steers. Do Something! A Handbook for Young Activists. Workman. 2010. ebook $13.95. ISBN 978-0-761-15747-2.
Gr 9 Up–Young readers are encouraged to pick a passion and act on it. Suggested causes include poverty, disaster relief, and health. Project ideas, checklists, and advice help teens figure out their areas of interest and strengths; fill-in-the-blanks should not deter purchase. Activism now is the front door to politics (and policy change) later on.
MALASPINA, Ann. Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President. illus. by Steve James. Albert Whitman. Sept. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-3188-4.
Gr 2-5–“Outrageous. Unbelievable. True.” is the refrain in this stunning picture book about the uproar caused when Susan B. Anthony registered to vote and then actually voted. Word and image evoke the frisson of witnessing absurd injustice in a society that is veiled in modernity and culture. Incisive storytelling and luminous oil paintings make for a memorable, important read.
SMITH, Lane. Madam President. illus. by author. Hyperion. 2008. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-0846-7.
Gr 2-5–An ambitious little girl imagines what it would be like to be president of the United States. Her imperfect, egotistical understanding of presidential privilege is at once lightly educational and hilarious. Stylized collage illustrations offer detailed insight into the girl’s life and imagination. Audio version available from Weston Woods.
WINSTON, Sherri. President of the Whole Fifth Grade. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-11432-5; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-316-11433-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-316-12298-6.
Gr 3-5–Bright and friendly Brianna is a shoo-in for the office of president of the fifth grade until self-assured Jasmine moves to town. When she tries to undermine Brianna, Brianna must decide whether or not to respond in kind. The message is clear but not preachy. A light look at elementary-school shenanigans and politics.
WONG, Janet. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. CreateSpace. 2012. pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-1-468-19191-2.
Gr 6 Up–These 20 poems cover an election year from the viewpoint of a teen who is not old enough to vote. The lean, incisive verses explore tolerance, free speech, campaign ads, winning and losing, equality, and more. The authentic voice and evocative insight make this collection a great choice for readers’ theater.
BURGAN, Michael. Political Parties. illus. by Charles Barnett III. (Cartoon Nation Series). Capstone. 2008. PLB $29.99. ISBN 978-1-4296-1334-7; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-4296-1782-6.
Gr 2-5–Tongue ensconced firmly in cheek, this book explains the formation and evolution of the major political parties in America. Dynamic comic-book art enlivens descriptions of the spoils system, the electoral college, party presses, and much more. Lively, funny, and accurate.
CLANTON, Ben. Vote for Me! illus. by author. Kids Can. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-55453-822-5.
K-Gr 2–Expressive line drawings and eye-catching red, white, and blue colors are the heart of this story. Elephant and Donkey (no actual mention of Republicans or Democrats) both want to win the election. Initially they woo readers with over-the-top compliments but descend quickly into juvenile mudslinging: “Booger Breath!” “Smellypants!” A surprise ending is just and satisfying.
FORD, Lynne E. Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics. (Library of American History Series). Facts On File. 2008. PLB $85. ISBN 978-0-8160-5491-6.
Gr 9 Up–More than 500 thorough, readable accounts introduce the women and issues that have shaped political life in America. Suffrage, law, health, and education are all discused in this one-volume wonder. Biographical sketches cover a wide range of women, from First Ladies to political activists to Supreme Court justices. Alphabetically arranged and easy to use.
HENNESSEY, Jonathan. The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. illus. by Aaron McConnell. Farrar. 2008. pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-0-809-09470-7.
Gr 5 Up–Hennessey explains each article and amendment in laypeople’s terms. The shadowy, surreal art depicts key moments in Constitutional history (trial of the Scottsboro boys, the Seneca Falls convention, etc.) and gives emotional weight to the straightforward analysis. Readers will want to have a copy of the full text of the Constitution handy.
HUDSON, David L. The Handy President’s Answer Book. 2nd. ed. (The Handy Answer Book Series). Visible Ink. 2011. pap. $21.95. ISBN 978-1-578-59317-0; ebook $18.95. ISBN 978-1-578-59360-6.
Gr 7 Up–Copious information is presented in a succinct question-and-answer format. Each president’s 7- to 10-page entry covers early life and family, career and political offices, administration and post presidency. A section on disputes and anomalies and another on presidential trivia round out this solid reference.
JULES, Jacqueline. Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation. illus. by Jef Czekaj. Charlesbridge. 2009. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-58089-189-9; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-58089-190-5.
Gr 2-5–Brimming with colorful, cartoon illustrations and simple text, this book uses the ubiquitous school play to describe the development of the U.S. Constitution. In a lighthearted but factual skit, kids act out the Convention’s high-stakes bid to govern 13 recalcitrant states. Historically sound, easy to understand, and fun.
MORRIS-LIPPMAN, Arlene. Presidential Races: Campaigning for the White House. (People’s History Series). Twenty-First Century. 2012. PLB $33.26. ISBN 978-0-7613-7395-7.
Gr 6-8–A revision of Presidential Races: The Battle for Power in the United States (2008), this title ushers readers through the most dramatic, influential, and pivotal elections. Political cartoons and photos complement the text. The most substantive revision is the inclusion of the race between McCain and Obama. That addition alone warrants purchase.
ROSENSTOCK, Barb. The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks. illus. by Mordecai Gerstein. Dial. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3710-5.
Gr 1-4–Brimming with fun and fact, this book recounts a 1903 camping trip in which Roosevelt asked Muir to convince him that conservation mattered. Soon after the trip, Roosevelt enacted legislation that marked the nascency of America’s national park system. Ink and watercolor illustrations, with a studied messiness, match the folksy tone of the text.
SCHANZER, Rosalyn. George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides. illus. by author. National Geographic. 2004. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-7349-3; PLB $25.90. ISBN 978-0-7922-6999-1; pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0042-4.
Gr 4-8–To George Washington, King George III was a tyrant. To King George III, George Washington was a traitor. Gleaning from hundreds of sources to flesh out text and illustrations, Schanzer presents a vivid example of how there are two sides to every story—a fact that is easy to overlook in politics. Well told and gorgeously illustrated.
TROY, Gil, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. & Fred L. Israel, eds. 3 vols. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008. 4th ed. Facts On File. 2011. PLB $225. ISBN 978-0-8160-8220-9.
Gr 10 Up–Accurate, thorough, and organized, this three-volume set provides overview, analysis, and a time line for every presidential election in America. Included are candidates, results, campaign methods, key issues and events, legacy of campaign, and more. Designed for the layperson with a deep interest in presidential politics, this is a first-rate reference.
Kids Voting USA. kidsvotingusa.org. Kids Voting USA. Topeka, KS. (Accessed 7/25/12).
Free and easy registration allows educators of grades K-12 access to a range of civically and politically themed activities. The lesson objective, list of materials needed, detailed instructions, and time required are provided for each activity.
Annenberg Classroom: Resources for Excellent Civics Education. www.annenbergclassroom.org. The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics. Philadelphia, PA. (Accessed 7/25/12).
Gr 5 Up–A wealth of well-conceived podcasts, lesson plans, time lines, and videos on the Constitution and branches of government is easily accessible here. Of particular note is Key Constitutional Concepts, a 60-minute, 3-part video presented with a snappy narrative, dynamic montages, and dashes of humor. Accompanying teaching guides are an added bonus.
Congress for Kids. congressforkids.net. The Dirksen Congressional Center. Pekin, IL. (Accessed 7/25/12).
Gr 4-8–With Uncle Sam leading the way, students journey through colorful, engaging, and interactive presentations about the history of the federal government. Includes games and quizzes.
Do Something. www.dosomething.org. Do Something. (Accessed 7/25/12).
Gr 7 Up–Geared for the 25 and under set, this organization provides participants with ideas on how to become involved with social change in a meaningful way. Many of the suggestions do not require a car or an adult. Membership is free and optional.
Kids.gov. kids.usa.gov. USA.gov. (Accessed 7/25/12).
K-Gr 8–A finely curated portal to .edu and .gov websites featuring games, quizzes, and colorful presentations about a wide variety of topics, including government, social studies, and history, this site offers an informative (and free) “How to Become President of the United States” poster.
American Government for Children (Series). 6 DVDs. 23 min. ea. with tchr’s. guide. Prod. by Schlessinger Media. Dist. by Library Video Co. 2001. $179.70 ser., $29.95 ea. Includes: American Citizenship; The History of American Government; Federal, State & Local Government; A History of the Presidency; The Three Branches of Government; What Is Government?
K-Gr 4–The series begins by answering the question, “What Is Government?” Various types of governments are discussed and contrasted with democracies. There’s an overview Federal, State, & Local Government. Two programs concentrate on the history of the presidency and our government. American Citizenship explains our rights and responsibilities. In each video, a group of young people conduct research on the general topic. Interviews with government officials and others bring the concepts to life. Historical documents, photos, and video clips are included.
The American Presidents 1890-1945: The Emergence of Modern America/The Great Depression & WWII. DVD. approx. 45 min. with tchr’s. guide. Disney Educational. 2010. ISBN 1-59753-253-3. $29.99.
The American Presidents 1945-2010: Postwar & Contemporary United States. DVD. approx. 80 min. with tchr’s guide. Disney Educational. 2010. ISBN 1-59753-254-1. $29.99.
Gr 3-8–The presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt through Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman through Barack Obama are covered. Short biographies present defining characteristics of each president as well as his challenges and accomplishments. Major issues are addressed in successive presidencies. Diverse viewpoints are articulated by professors, politicians, military officers, political commentators, and others.
Duck for President. DVD. 13 min. with tchr’s. guide. Weston Woods. 2004. ISBN 0-78228-532-3. 59.95.
Gr 1-5–In Doreen Cronin’s humorous look at the election process (S & S, 2004), our hero is sick of his farm chores and urges the other animals to “Vote Duck for a kinder, gentler farm.” Victory is sweet, but Duck soon learns that “running a farm is very hard work.” After subsequent elections, he discovers that running a state and a country are also very difficult. Betsy Lewin’s comical illustrations come to life in this animated production. Randy Travis’s Western drawl and background country music add to the down-home flavor.
G etting to Know the U.S. Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. DVD. 22 min. Getting to Know. 2011. ISBN 978-0-9828-8035-7. $39.95.
Gr 1-6–Mike Venezia takes factual information and makes it personal, while tossing in funny asides through hilarious cartoon illustrations in this production based on his book (Childrens Press, 2005). Lincoln narrates the story of his life with warmth and humor. Information about the causes and impact of the Civil War and the issue of slavery is presented. Historical photos and artwork augment content. Other titles focus on Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.
Otto Runs for President. DVD. 12 min. Weston Woods. 2008. ISBN 978-0-545-10650-4: $59.95.
PreS-Gr 4–It’s election time at Barkadelphia School in this story (Scholastic, 2008) by Rosemary Wells. Tiffany, the pretty and popular poodle, and Charles, the bulldog sports star, are getting lots of financial help from their parents as they run a no-holds-barred campaign. Things get ugly as accusations fly and the two try every campaign trick to woo voters. Meanwhile, Otto observes that the candidates are only thinking of themselves, and he decides to run against them.
Jennifer S. Prince is a Youth Services Librarian at Buncombe County Public Libraries, Asheville, NC.