Written by Kelly DiPucchio, Pictures by LeUyen Pham, Disney Books, 2008, revised 2012 and 2019
These books are not brand new, but I wanted to write about them because they are books that have seeped into our family’s consciousness. And not just the parents. I refer back to them, but my daughter has transformed Grace’s question – ‘Where are the GIRLS?’ – into an interrogation of every book, programme or activity. ‘Are there any girls in it?’
Grace, a young Black girl in elementary school, learns that there has never been a female President of the United States – and immediately decides to change that. She runs for President of her school, and the book takes us through her electoral campaign and cleverly explains the Electoral College to the children, and the adults. In the sequel, the student council are trying to decide how to spend the money from their bake-sale. Grace gets some inspiration from the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial during the class field-trip to Washington – and we get to learn about the three branches of government.
We started reading these before the US election last year, but these books aren’t just helpful in understanding the US system. Grace for President in particular is a book that we refer back to whenever our son has questions about votes and voting, government or democracy. And it’s full of details – Grace’s campaign, her promises, her strategy – as well as illustrating a supportive, diverse community at the school. Through the books, we don’t just get to know Grace, but a number of the other children as well. Sam, who casts the final vote in the first book, returns as a council member in book 2. Thomas, Grace’s opponent in book 1, has grown by book 2, and becomes an ally. And with the election result last year, maybe Grace’s dream is a step closer.
These books have given us reference points and ways to explain as well as being fun stories to read, for both the 3 year old and the 7 year old. It’s quite a skill, to turn something so informative into something so entertaining. The character of Grace carries the stories along. It makes me wish for more books to explain complex ideas – books with the knowledge built into the story. Rajani LaRocca achieves it with her lovely Seven Golden Rings (reviewed here) which brings binary counting to children. I know that literary agents have their manuscript wish list or #mswl of books they wish writers would bring to them. As a book-buyer and reader, my wish list includes books that explain as well as entertain – if anyone has written a storybook explaining how law is made, or how voting works in the UK, or some other aspect of civic life – juries anyone? – I would love to know!