These are engaging and accessible books that would read aloud easily and introduce our students to the discourse and vocabulary of “elections.” What I mean by accessible is that a concept such as “voting” or the “electoral college” is introduced in a kid-friendly way and remains a tight focus. Many books on elections cover way too many concepts for students to digest well. I’ve chosen a mix of fiction and nonfiction to discuss because I think both can serve to deepen students’ understanding of the current election and of the election process in general. Just as important, these books also have themes that get at the complexities of elections – the difficulties of being candidates and of being engaged as a voter. I’d tackle helping students understand the concepts and themes in these books by reading each aloud more than once and including these titles in your classroom library or a reading response literacy center for further thinking by your students.
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin (fiction but applicable to discussions of current election events)
You are probably familiar with Click Clack Moo by Cronin when Duck enters our world and strives to make change. Cronin follows a similar theme in Duck for President when Duck gets tired of his chores on the farm and decides he wants a change. He is elected by the other farm animals to run the farm. He decides he doesn’t like this job so he campaigns for governor (which he doesn’t like) and then president (which he doesn’t like). The story ends with Duck applying for a position back on the farm – doing the chores he originally disdained.
Vocabulary introduced that could be explored further – election, vote, voter registration, ballot, recount, politician, campaign trail, town meetings, speeches, governor, president. Just a note – the illustrations are large and clear and support an introductory understanding to these vocabulary words. It would be easy to move into a conversation about how these terms are relevant to real-life elections.
Opportunities for critical thinking:
- The students are introduced to the concept of voter registration requirements and how the mice find the height requirement unfair.
- Duck finds each of the positions he is elected to difficult reminding readers that winning elections is not the point in the end – serving the public, which is hard, is why people run for election (not for the glory).
VOTE! by Eileen Christelow (nonfiction with hypothetical fictional examples)
The author describes the voting process – using an example of a fictional mayoral race. She defines voting as “a way to choose” and gives everyday examples before moving into discussing how we elect officials by voting. She explores important issues like that some people who can – choose not to vote, how minorities and women had to fight to win the vote. She goes on to describe registering to vote and becoming an informed voter, going to the voting location and what happens when there is a recount of the vote. There is a running text and then, on each page, there is a comic panel with the characters elaborating on the concept being described in that section of the book.
Vocabulary: convince, elect, registration, candidates, debate, pollsters, volunteers, campaigns
- voting is a privilege that has been advocated and fought for throughout history and yet some current voters do not actively engage in the political process
- being an informed voter
- elected officials represent everyone – not just those who vote for them
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio (fiction but explores concept of Electoral College in kid-friendly way; great author’s note at end – non-narrative note about Electoral College)
Grace realizes that there’s never been a female U.S. president and decides to run for president (of two classes) at her school. DiPucchio introduces students to the Electoral College as well as the ins and outs of campaigning. Grace wins – by three votes in the Electoral College. While it’s easy to read this aloud and say, “Woohoo! Grace, a girl, won the election,” there are much larger themes revealed that are worthy of being explored. (See below.)
Vocabulary: democracy, electoral votes, campaign promises, candidates, constituents, polls, voters, choices, speeches, rallies,
- In the end, while the other candidate, a boy, decides to try to win by just getting all of the boys to vote for him (there are more electoral votes being cast by boys), it’s the candidate who ran by listening to her constituents to build her agenda for change that wins.
- If the reader looks at the illustrations of the signs listing both candidate’s agendas for change, they might consider the worthiness of the candidates’ agendas. Grace’s issues for change includ “a peaceful school – no bullies, a cleaner school…better hot lunches – no more fish stick tacos” and Thomas’s issues (“free tutoring,” “free soccer lessons,” “fish-stick tacos every week!” This might lead to a discussion with students about the being an informed voter and what makes for a substantive issue.
A closing thought. My daughter Anna (10 years old) is in tune to what’s happening in this presidential election – which can feel very toxic sometimes. She’s fully aware when my husband and I are talking about what’s happening and feels the tension as we discuss how the candidates are approaching particular issues. She has watched the presidential and vice presidential debates. We are going to a rally for a candidate tomorrow where our state governor is appearing and we are visiting another state next weekend to canvass for a presidential candidate. We are reading these books together at home as a way to make “adult” conversations more accessible to her.
In an era where social studies instruction has been marginalized in many schools (luckily not at my daughter’s school, though), this is an important time to rethink how we can help students develop long-term capacity (that is informed by the past and the present) to be active, informed citizens. Maybe simply reading aloud these books and engaging students in conversations around important themes – that are also relevant during the this election period – could be a start. I just think we have to move beyond the simple facts of the election process and tackle the tensions present when there is an election. All three of these books could help us engage students in these kinds of conversations.
Would love to hear what other books you recommend and about your success engaging students in thinking critically about elections.