December 12, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Demystifying an Election Year | From Special Interests to the Candidates

The 2016 presidential election has been front and center in the news for months. Every journalist, newscaster, pundit, pollster, and talking head has information or an opinion to share. News updates scroll across the bottom of TV screens, and headlines gain height as tensions escalate. Few information venues target children or teens, but they are watching and listening. If it is a challenge for adults to make sense of this year’s election, how much more so is it for a younger audience?

The titles presented here will make election season relevant and comprehensible to children and teens, and each book has a place in school and public libraries. New resources on the history of our capital city and past and present candidates are included, as well as historical and modern-day election practices. Readers will discover that participation in elections has not always been open to African Americans and women and learn that it took the courage, tenacity, and creativity of many people over many years to change that.

Where It Begins and Ends: Washington, DC

my washingtonJakobsen, Kathy. My Washington, DC. illus. by author. Little, Brown. Sept.. 2016. $18.99. ISBN 9780316126120.
Gr K-3–A young girl serves as a tour guide for a friend when they visit our nation’s capital. At each site that the duo visit, the girl shares a number of fascinating tidbits. For instance, ascending Capitol Hill, the child relates that George Washington selected the site for the capital, approved the design for the Capitol Building (praising it as “grand, convenient, and simple”), and laid the first stone. Kids will be drawn to the accessible text filled with noteworthy facts, but it’s the artwork that will captivate them. Intensely colored and marvelously detailed, Jakobsen’s paintings demand attention. Every marble tile on the floor of the Library of Congress and every brick in the Washington Monument is delineated, and the statues in National Statuary Hall are all identifiable, even though they are only about two inches tall.

washingtonPanchyk, Richard. Washington, DC: History for Kids: The Making of a Capital City with 21 Activities. Chicago Review. 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9781613730065.
Gr 5-8–By the time they reach middle school, most students have an idea of what Washington, DC, looks like: grand marble monuments, stately museums, and streets bustling with activity. Introducing them to what the city once was—a swampland—will encourage them to find out how it became what it is today. The author describes the geography of the site and explains that it was home to Native Americans more than 2,000 years ago. He relates information about the planning of the city, why it came under attack in the early 1800s, and the importance of various landmarks such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Capitol building, and the Washington Monument. Woven into the narrative are excerpts from primary sources such as period diaries and letters, including a poignant fragment of a letter Martha Washington wrote to John Adams regarding the proposed burial of her husband. Kids are likely to find the suggested activities both stimulating and fun, but a number will require adult assistance and/or supervision (for example, digging 12” deep into the ground for an “archaeological” adventure).

Who Makes It Work: Politicians and Everyday People

Markel, Michelle. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born To Lead. illus. by LeUyen Pham. HarperCollins. 2016. $17.99. ISBN 978-0062381224.
K-Gr 4–Executing a picture book biography about someone who is alive, and whose accomplishments and failures are very much in the public consciousness, can be daunting; Markel and Pham accomplish this task with delicacy and tact. Their book focuses on two aspects of Clinton’s life and career. The first is the candidate’s passion for helping others, from her childhood when she organized “sports events to raise money for the poor” to her tenure as senator of New York, when she fought for funding to help firefighters and first responders who became ill after 9/11 rescue and clean-up missions. The second is Clinton’s courage and perseverance amid the endless criticism that no male in the political arena has had to endure: “her age, her laugh, her legs, her ambition.” Pham’s colorful, stylized illustrations mirror Clinton’s active life, often showing her in motion, whether she is riding a bicycle, waving, dancing, or striding.  A positive look at one of the most influential women of the 21st century.

groverBurns, Ken. Grover Cleveland, Again!: A Treasury of American Presidents. illus. by Gerald Kelly. Knopf. 2016. $25.00. ISBN 978-038539209.
Gr 2-4–Beyond the somewhat campy cover that depicts FDR, Lincoln, Cleveland, Washington, and Obama sharing a laugh in the Oval Office, this book has much to offer. Each past and present president receives a two-page profile that puts the salient facts surrounding their time in office in perspective for young readers. For example, in discussing the presidency during the critical Civil War years, Burns states, “More than 750,000 soldiers died—as many as died in all the other wars combined.  Biographical content is evenhanded; for instance, John Adams is noted for his role in authoring the Declaration of Independence, but also observed is that he “secretly figured out how to make a deal with the French dictator, Napoleon,” an action so unpopular with the American people that it ended up costing Adams his reelection. Sidebars list birth and death dates, marital status, other professions, etc. Distinguished pencil-and-watercolor illustrations render each president easily recognizable. In addition to Kelly’s art, spreads showcase an official portrait of the featured president. Burns’s obvious enthusiasm for his subject makes for compelling and informative reading. (“I hope someday you take the time to learn as much about [Lincoln] as you can, because his life and words tell us so much about what makes this country special.”)  A fine addition to classroom and library bookshelves.

Hillary HarnessHARNESS, Cheryl. Hillary Clinton: American Woman of the World. Aladdin/S. & S., 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781481460576.
Gr 4-8This “Real-Life Story” series addition provides readers with standard biographical information such as education, marriage, and early professional years. What sets it above others is that it does so while illuminating the turbulent, transformative times in which Hillary Clinton grew up and in which she continues to work. For instance, the author recounts how early in Clinton’s career, a project she was working on drew Congress’s attention to the fact that children with physical and intellectual disabilities were denied public schooling. Clinton’s project influenced the passage of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act. On a couple of occasions, the narrative loses focus, such as when Harness writes about Chelsea Clinton’s accomplishments and the publication of her 2015 book, It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going! An eight-page black-and-white photo insert consists of images that relate to Clinton directly, such as a photo showing her at a protest at Wellesley in the late 1960s, and others that are more tangential, such as a portrait of Belva Ann Lockwood, activist, lawyer, and the first woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. Overall, this is an evenhanded, captivating biography about this year’s most talked about woman.

Krasner, Barbara. A Timeline of Presidential Elections. Capstone. 2016. $29.32. ISBN 9781491482391.
Gr 4-8 –Terrific organization and thoughtful presentation place each U.S. presidential election in the context of the era in which it took place. Each chapter covers a specific period in our history such as the Western Expansion, the Civil War and Reconstruction, or the Gilded Age, and each opens with a brief description of those years, followed by a two- to four-page annotated and illustrated time line of the elections that took place within them. The writing is succinct and substantive, balancing the crucial with the curious. For instance, the author describes how in 1800, after 36 rounds of voting, the Electoral College broke the tie between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson. The same page contains this fascinating nugget: “[Jefferson and Adams] died within five hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”  A balance of archival images, soft-focus stars and bars backgrounds, and clearly delineated boxes of text characterize the layout.

What Makes It Work: The Vote

every vote mattersJacobs, Thomas A. and Natalie Jacobs. Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice, From Student Elections to the Supreme Court. Free Spirit. 2016. $15.99. ISBN 9781631980695.
Gr 7 Up–The authors explain how 15 Supreme Court cases—all involving children, teens, or young adults—came to be decided on by one vote and how their outcomes have affected the lives of young people across the country. For example, the authors point out how if the court had not decided in Board of Education v. Pico (1982) that a public school cannot ban books for their content, school libraries across the country might be a lot skimpier today. “In Other Words” sidebars summarize the court’s decisions, while information on each case concludes with a “Talk, Think, Take Action” section in which questions and scenarios are presented to engage readers in a critical analysis of the issues: “Do you think the city of Jackson, Mississippi, would have closed all the pools if keeping them open on a segregated basis had not been challenged?” The book’s clear organization makes it a cinch to use. With the exception of an occasional thumbnail sketch of a gavel or the iconic scales of justice, there are no illustrations. Great for classroom use.

around americaRockliff, Mara. Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, A Kitten, and 10,000 Miles. illus. by Hadley Hooper. Candlewick. Aug., 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9780763678937.
K-Gr 3–The derring-do of two suffragists receives upbeat, respectful treatment in this delightful picture book. In the syntax of a born storyteller, Rockcliff recounts what happened when Nell Richardson and Alice Burke drove across the country in 1916 to encourage others to support women’s voting rights. The story’s rhythm is sustained by repetitive use of phrases such as “VOTES FOR WOMEN!” and “little yellow car” and by parenthetical inclusion of details “(and a kitten).” The book’s lighthearted tone will win over young readers without diminishing the importance of its message. With copious amounts of yellow and dashes of gray and blue, Hooper’s illustrations convey the energy and enthusiasm with which Richardson and Burke met their adventures. In an author’s note, Rockcliff comments on her research. A fun and informative book with loads of read-aloud appeal.

miss paulRobbins, Dean. Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Rights to Vote. illus. by Nancy Zhang. Knopf . Sept., 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781101937204.
K-Gr 2–A search for an image of suffragist Alice Paul yields photos of a pale, serious young woman. Such pictures convey little of Paul’s energy or her passion for justice. In accessible language, Robbins explains how Paul drew attention to women’s suffrage by staging an elaborate parade in front of the White House, going to prison for the cause, and meeting with  President Wilson to garner his support. While the focus of the narrative is on Paul’s work, Robbins weaves in illuminating vignettes about her childhood, including how watching her father go off to vote while her mother stayed at home fed Paul’s growing sense of injustice. As a child Paul wondered, “Weren’t women people, too? Shouldn’t they be able to vote as citizens of the United States of America?” Zhang creates a picture of early 1900s America that is both stylized and elegant, featuring elongated lines and curves and bold colors. A perfect introduction to a notable woman and her fight for a woman’s right to vote.

Turning 15LOWERY, Lynda Blackmon. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March. illus. by PJ Loughran. Dial. 2015. $19.99. ISBN 9780803741232.
Gr 6 UpLowery begins her book with this stunning statement: “By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times.” What follows is her account of what life was like for her and other African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, and why, upon hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, she was inspired to participate in marches. Lowery also details her time in jail. Despite the treatment she endured and challenges she faced, what shines through in this remarkable narrative is her faith in people and her optimism: “We were determined to do something and we did it. If you are determined, you can overcome your fears, and then you change the world”. The book is profusely illustrated and Loughran’s sketches combined with archival photos are powerful adjuncts to this important voice.

hamerWEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.  illus. by Ekuka Holmes. Candlewick, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780763665319.
Gr 6 Up–Fannie Lou Hamer was the child of sharecroppers, who, by the age of six, was working in the fields of her home state of Mississippi. It wasn’t until she was 44 that she learned African Americans had the right to vote. This information motivated Hamer to exercise her rights, and despite repeated threats, humiliations, and police beatings, nothing would stop her. Hamer’s efforts to educate others and her testimony in front of the Credential Committee at the 1964 Democratic National Convention were instrumental to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In Voice of Freedom, Weatherford offers a stunning, poetic tribute to the life of this courageous activist. Stirring mixed-media illustrations in bold colors illustrate the poems.

How It Works: Money, Money, Money

special interestsDonovan, Sandy. Special Interests: From Lobbyists to Campaign Funding. Lerner . 2015. $25.65. ISBN 9781467779128.
Gr 6-8Donovan makes this complex topic digestible to students by breaking the text into bite-size chunksFr. She begins by explaining why elections are so expensive, which gives way to analysis of campaign funding, including how special interest groups work, how free speech is related to lobbying, and public funding. Each chapter concludes with bullet points on the pros and cons of each moneymaking tactic. The illustrations consist of full-color, high-resolution photographs. The excellent management of a multifaceted subject and the extensive source notes make this a selection teachers and librarians can buy with confidence. Consider other titles in the “Inside Elections” series, including: Media: From News Coverage to Political Advertising, Political Parties: From Nominations to Victory Celebrations, and Voters: From Primaries to Decision Night.

pacsPetechuk, David. PACs, Super-PACs, and Fundraising. Eldorado Ink. 2016. $16.95. ISBN 9781619001015.
Gr 8 UpThe diminutive size of this book belies its bounty of information. In just 60 pages, the author explains how money has influenced political campaigns since George Washington spent $195 on a buffet to encourage people to elect him to the Virginia House of Burgesses. The author differentiates among hard, soft, and dark money and explains why it costs so much to run for office. PACs and Super PACs are contentious topics, but Petechuk offers equal space to various viewpoints, such as whether PACs and Super PACs are good for democracy. In addition, he explains how various court cases related to campaign finance reform affected subsequent campaigns. In one such case, Citizens United v. FEC (2010), Petechuk summarizes its significance this way: “the Supreme Court essentially rules that money was a form of ‘political speech.’” Both layout and organization are well considered. Other titles in this series (“American Politics Today”) cover such topics as The Presidential Election Process, The Modern Democratic Party, and The Modern Republican Party. Informative and well researched.

McCabe, Matthew. 12 Things To Know About Political Parties. 12-Story. 2015. $28.50.  ISBN 9781632350312.
Gr 4-8Each two-page chapter in this “Today’s News” series entry represents one of what the author considers essential talking points on the history of America’s political systems and current practices. Topics covered range from “US Founders Did Not Want Political Parties” to “Political Cooperation is Possible.” In between, issues including the role of third parties and the impact of the Civil War on our political system are considered. The writing is both concise and accessible (for instance, the author defines political party as an organized group that “tries to affect how a government is run. A party uses its political power to influence government policies.”). Sidebars offer statistics, while the illustrations effectively represent the issues under discussion; a period drawing depicts Victoria Woodhull addressing Congress in 1871, and a photo of African American citizens registering to vote in 1966 . Succinct and timely.

Jennifer Prince is a librarian with Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

For related titles on voting rights, see Caitlin Augusta’s “A Voting Rights Bookshelf.”

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Comments

  1. Janine Tuttle-Gassere says:

    Very disappointing to see SLJ is once again so obvious in its political slant. Of the 14 books included in this article, two of them are biographies of Hillary Clinton. The saddest part is that I haven’t been able to trust your reviews for years for political and history books. I have to see ones that your journal recommends before I buy any. I wish your organization would step up to the proverbial plate and get honest about your inability to edit yourselves. Then maybe we could ALL trust you again.

  2. Daryl Grabarek Daryl Grabarek says:

    Dear Janine, Thanks for your response. We always appreciate hearing from our readers. Jennifer Prince sorted through numerous books before selecting those represented on this list. Her objective? To find the best new titles that would help kids make sense of the election process. For all but one of the four presidential candidates likely to be on the ballot this November 8, she found a dearth of titles for children. For Hillary Clinton there were several more than represented here. As stated in the article, this list serves as a guide to the new material; it is the professional’s decision to choose which books to purchase for his/her community. If we missed any children‘s titles about the candidates or the presidential process that you can recommend, please share them with our readers in this feedback section. We welcome your suggestions.