Reading to Lighten Up on Election Day

I take Election Day seriously. I study newspaper editorials, check the candidates’ flyers for endorsements, read the League of Women Voters’ guides, talk with friends about ballot initiatives. Even when there isn’t a presidency at stake.

I don’t know about you, but this election has me as nervous as a fourth grader giving an oral book report. I need to lighten up. But I’ve been doing some phone banking, and occasionally I reach an 18-year-old who isn’t planning to vote.

Not vote? Seriously?!

Young adults who have developed that too-cool attitude should be teleported back to middle school, before ennui and cynicism creep in. (Unfortunately, it’s not just young people—only about 61% of the population votes.) Then they can hear again why voting matters.

My instinct is to speak passionately about suffragettes and disenfranchisement. Fortunately, plenty of authors know that humor is a better way to teach children about voting rights.

My favorite is So You Want to be President? Yes, I know it’s a picture book, but long after my daughters had graduated to novels, they would re-read this classic. It’s just funny, with the inevitable Taft in the bathtub, the number of Jameses who have held office, and cool facts about who could dance and who went to college. You find out what’s good about the job (living in the White House) and bad (“the President has to be polite to everyone”).

For the slightly older reader, there’s the ever popular Babymouse, who runs for President in the 16th book in the series. She finds out about making campaign promises (“cupcakes in every locker!”), fighting the opposition’s meangirl coalition, and learning what it takes to win.

And winning the Sid Fleischman Humor award is Donna Gephart’s As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President! Vanessa has to cope with a high-profile mother, the Democratic National Convention, and the pitfalls of crushing on the cute guy. This is just right for the preteen who wants romance mixed in with her introduction to the political process.

I can’t resist suggesting a few nonfiction titles for those kids ready for a serious conversation. There’s a new book about the founding fathers, a biography of Elizabeth Stanton, and a collection by Ellen Levine of children’s voices during the civil rights movement. It includes memories of marching for the right to vote.

By the time you read this column, it could be all over for this election cycle. The outcome of 2012 will mean a big difference for the future of our country. Through story, let’s make sure children value democracy so when it’s their turn, they won’t ever miss the chance to vote.

On the lighter side

  • As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President! by Donna Gephart (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2008)
  • Babymouse for President by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House, 2012)
  • The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents by Susan Katz (Clarion, 2012)
  • So You Want to be President? by Judith St. George and illustrated by David Small (Philomel, 2004)

More serious

  • Those Rebels, John and Tom by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2012)
  • You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? by Jean Fritz (Putnam, 1995)
  • Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories  by Ellen S. Levine (Puffin, 2000)

Have your own favorite? Leave a comment!

Jennifer Gennari voted. She is the author of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer (Houghton Mifflin 2012). Learn more at jengennari.com or follow her @JenGenn.

6 Responses to Reading to Lighten Up on Election Day

  1. Thanks for including my novel in this great list. May I add the terrific picture book, GRACE FOR PRESIDENT to the rolls? Kelly DiPucchio hits it out of the park with this one.

    Jen Reply:

    @Donna Gephart, yes!

  2. Joan Y. Edwards

    You gave us a great selection of books about the presidency. The election does make me nervous, too. Making a vote after studying the issues and the candidates, is being a responsible voter. I am proud of you.

    Thank you.

    Jen Reply:

    @Joan Y. Edwards, Thanks! Today is an exciting day, and it is a big responsibility.

  3. These sound like good books to read. I write picture books, So You Want to be President? is one I need to check out. And yes, I am voting tomorrow!

  4. Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache is a great middle-grade read about a kid trying to take over his town (and the world). This would fall under “lighter side.”