I’m really not the most observant of people, so I have no idea if there are political picture books published all the time, or if there seem to be a lot of them out recently (and forthcoming) because 2020 is an election year. This post is also somewhat well-timed because tomorrow is Election Day in California! For some things. But not all things. Politics in America is extremely confusing and I still don’t entirely understand it despite moving here four years ago. These are the picture books that I needed to read.
Below are some political-ish picture books I especially like (plus a new board book series!), and they can be roughly divided into two categories: books that explain one particular moment or element of political history, and books that kind of explain how politics work. (To be honest, a picture book that really explains how politics works in the US in 2020 would just be a picture book about how extremely rich people and lobby groups can buy whatever they want, including whatever laws they want passed in Congress. So ‘democracy’, ‘by the people’, and ‘for the people’ is mostly complete bollocks because it seems that America is controlled by the super rich and conservative right. But I don’t think that’s the message we are trying to teach five-year-olds, so instead we get picture books about how co-operation is what gets things done and every vote counts. Anyway. I digress. You came here for the books. Here they are!)
How politics kind of works
The President of the Jungle by Andre Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun
Lion is the king/president of the jungle but the other animals are getting sick of him and he’s become a bit of an arse. So the animals decide to hold an election. Some animals run for president, they have campaigns, they have rallies, they try to convince all the animals why their platform is the best and why they should be the president. On election day, everyone votes and the candidate with the most votes is declared the president. This is a surprisingly funny book that is also informative. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, and an excellent introduction to how elections work — albeit a much simplified version of what happens in the US (no electoral colleges in this book).
Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park (5 May, 2020)
This is another picture book featuring a group of animals. It’s a great book about co-operation and friendship but it is also a little silly and fun to read aloud. The politics component of the book comes towards the end, when the animals enlist the help of the president and Congress to help them in their mission to protect the lakefront from being destroyed by developers. So, you know, a somewhat idealistic and hopeful view of how politics works (I think I am too cynical to be reviewing children’s books). But still a great book to read for fun and use as a launchpad for discussions about how we can make a difference.
Citizen Baby: My Vote by Megan E. Bryant and Daniel Prosterman, illustrated by Micah Player (5 May, 2020)
This is part of a new board book series, Citizen Baby, whose other titles include My President, My Congress, and My Supreme Court. These board books explain various concepts of American politics in simple terms for its youngest citizens. These books remind me a lot of the Baby Loves Science series, which I love, so this is high praise — only instead of being about scientific concepts, these books are about political concepts. This is a series great for small children and arguably also very good for grown-ups who need a refresher about what American democracy and politics should be about.
Flight for Freedom by Kristen Fulton, illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann (3 March, 2020)
This is a book I liked a lot more than I expected to. I’m not really one for biographies or history in picture books, and this one is both of those AND it’s a book I adored. It tells the story the Wetzel family and how they escaped from East Germany in 1979 in a hot air balloon that they constructed themselves. It’s a compelling story, and told very well in this book. The text is simple, flows easily, and the illustrations are vivid and detailed.
The Only Woman in the Photo by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye
A biographical picture book about Frances Perkins. Reading this book was the first time I had ever heard of Frances Perkins and wow, what a remarkable woman she was: the first female Secretary of Labor and one of the most powerful people in government at the time. We have her to thank for things like workplace regulations, fire safety, and Social Security, and a host of laws that made America a better and safer country for many people. This is a great book with some gorgeous illustrations and graphics throughout.
The Next President by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex (24 March, 2020)
I love this book! This is a fun book that starts with the premise: what are the presidents of the future doing RIGHT NOW? Messner asked the question, ‘When X was president, Y-future president was already alive. What was he doing?’ (sub in variables for actual presidents, of course), did a lot of research, and the result was this book. When George Washington became the first president of the US, there were nine future presidents already alive. Some were already in Washington, some were lawyers, others were children. In 1961, when President 35, JFK, was sworn into office, the next ten presidents were alive then, doing various things across the country (President 44, Obama, was born that year). This is an interesting take on history and politics, and a fun question to ponder, especially for kids: what are all the future presidents of the United States doing right now?
Bones in the White House by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Another book where I learnt things! This is a book about Thomas Jefferson’s mammoth, and his (what seems to be) obsession with finding enormous animal skeletons as a way to satiate his own scientific curiosity and put young America on the map. A fascinating tale of exploration, science, and a bit of American history that I don’t think is commonly known. So not really a book about politics, but it is about one interesting bit of one of the country’s previous presidents.