Column published in The Mercury 10-21-12
As expected, a flood of presidential-themed children’s books came out this fall. Here are some fun books that allow kids to take a more light-hearted approach to learning about our presidents and the election process:
Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel makes kids laugh out loud, and they won’t even notice they are learning about ballots, caucuses, grassroots campaigns and more. Luckily, recurring character Edna Prunelove provides a “Lovely Little Glossary of Election Terms,” and footnotes abound with election trivia and hilarious asides. This installment begins with “Old Kitty” who has served two full terms as president of the Neighborhood Cat Club. Now is Bad Kitty’s opportunity to take charge, make up the rules and get rid of those irritating alley cats once and for all. But first, he has to get elected. There are skills involved that he did not count on – kissing babies (“Blek! Sputter!”), door-to-door campaigning, and lots of hissing and screeching at the debate. Readers can put in their own votes at www.voteforbadkitty.com.
Looking for more laughs? Babymouse, one of my all-time favorite characters, has big dreams when she runs for office in Jennifer & Matthew Holm’s newest graphic novel, Babymouse for President. Both Bad Kitty and Babymouse are filled with amusing illustrations that will appeal to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Geronimo Stilton, Captain Underpants or Garfield.
In How Not to Run for President by Catherine Clark, sixthgrader Aiden Schroeckenbauer is simply playing clarinet with the marching band when a chance encounter draws him into the presidential race. He hits the campaign trail with Governor Bettina Brandon of the FIP (Fresh Idea Party) and her stuck-up daughter, but the “clarinet hero” might not be exactly what the campaign was hoping for.
Election Madness by Karen English is a more typical chapter book in the “Nikki & Deja” series. As soon as Ms. Shelby announces that third graders can nominate someone to run for student body president, Deja knows she is going to win. Of course, it isn’t as easy as she thinks. First, she has to get nominated in her class, give a speech to the entire school, and then make 140 cookies to give out saying “Vote 4 Deja.” English’s writing is above par for children’s chapter books, and the realistic situations come straight from English’s experiences as an elementary school teacher in urban communities.
This is a fun time to look more closely at past presidents as well. Susan Katz’s new book of poetry, The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub, is a young trivia lover’s dream. Each president gets his own poem focusing on some odd aspect of his life, along with a delightfully absurd illustration by Robert Neubecker. President Buchanan’s poem is about his strange habit of tilting his head so he could focus with one eye. The historical note at the bottom explains that Buchanan’s dog, Lara, had similar behavior of “lying for hours with one eye closed and one eye open.” The poem “Liking Ike” describes Eisenhower’s “terrible plight”:
He and five brothers were nicknamed alike.
(Dwight hadn’t applied for a copyright.)
So I have a question – I hope it’s polite –
How did the voters know which one to like,
Ike, Ike, Ike, Ike, Ike, or Ike?
Speaking of Ike, since he’s somewhat popular around here, check out Kansas author Roy Bird’s book, Little Ike: Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Abilene Boyhood. Bird replays a number of interesting moments from Eisenhower’s childhood, from floating down Buckeye Street during a flood to fighting boys from the nice side of the tracks, and finally leaving home for West Point, where this story ends.
On the other end of the spectrum, Lane Smith’s picture book Abe Lincoln’s Dream stars President Lincoln after his death — as a ghost in the White House. A little girl touring the mansion can see and converse with him, and helps soothe his anxieties. “Are the States united? Did that work out?” “Yes, that worked out fine,” she tells him. Together they even fly to the moon so Lincoln can be amazed by the American flag on its surface. Lincoln’s restlessness now relieved, he is able to sail away on the vessel he dreamed of the day of his assassination. Award-winning author/illustrator Smith lives up to his reputation, turning this surreal idea into a truly beautiful storybook.
Reviewed by Jennifer