Sep 9, 2012

Election Cycles... and Cynics

The two weeks of Olympic events and celebrations were entertaining and uplifting. I can't say I had the same reaction to the two weeks of political conventions. Despite my genuine respect for and commitment to the American political process, watching it play out in recent months and particularly at the conventions left me feeling somewhat jaded and cynical.

But the process is all new and fresh to kids, and sharing this season's excitment over elections with them is a sure way to dispel frustration and restore faith in our country's future. Here are some titles to get you started.

Margaret K. McElderry, 2007

HOW TO BAKE AN AMERICAN PIE, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Raul Colon works for any age.  The tightly metered and rhymed text has a lilting pace. The humorous images of the dog and cat throughout and splashes of familiar words and elements make it an effective read aloud for young children. Both the illustrations and the text contain details, references, and vocabulary suitable for exploration and discussion with older readers, too.

Kirkus review says "From page to shining page, this should be a tasty treat for young patriots."

Dutton, 2004

When it comes to explaining what it takes to be a president, you can't beat MY TEACHER FOR PRESIDENT, by Kay Winters, illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Parallel pages depict presidential and classroom responsibilities in ways that are both recognizable and amusing.
"Winters ups the ante: this gray-haired, bespeckled wise soul also knows first-hand how to react to emergencies, handle health-care issues, is interested in finding people jobs, keeping the Earth clean, and knows—here’s the kicker—how to listen." (Kirkus Reviews)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004

Having a basic understanding of what a president does, as described above, will make DUCK FOR PRESIDENT by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin doubly funny and ironic. Fans of CLICK CLACK MOO: COWS THAT TYPE and related titles will recognize Duck and friends and welcome this adventurous effort to escape the annoying responsibilities of farm life.

If a teacher can be president, and a duck can be president, why not a kid? The patterns and vocabulary in this offering provide excellent mentor text for writing activities.

Albert Whitman & Co. 200
Apparently I'm not alone in imagining kids as candidates. IF I RAN FOR PRESIDENT by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Lynne Avril does just that, and offers plenty of insight along the way. This story suits even young audiences, but the content could serve well through middle school for vocabulary development, examining political processes, and as a conversation starter, especially during the election season.

The author's website provides downloads for teaching activities and related materials for this title.

Bloomsbury, USA Updated for 2012
When it comes to a blend of humor, visual appeal, and a wealth of complex content made comprehensible, you can't beat 
SEE HOW THEY RUN by Susan Goodman, illustrated by Elwood H. Smith.
This jam-packed 96 pages of well-researched content about elections and politics in America is presented with a well-designed combination of photos, humorous illustrations, and sidebars to supplement Goodman's always accessible narration. With traditional elements (table of contents, index, additional resources, glossary, and presidential facts) this combines the best of "textbook" elements with the highest qualities of picture books.

Goodman's website is well organized and offers teaching materials for each of her equally thorough, entertaining, and well-researched titles, including THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP. (Come to think of it, that title probably belongs in a post about elections, too- or is that the cynic speaking?)

These suggestions barely scratch the surface of available titles, but they're a great way to start. Chime in with suggestions of your own.

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