An election is approaching. Soon, Americans will be voting on local elections all the way up to the office of the President. This is an exciting time, but the mechanics of American elections are sometimes not easy to explain to children. Campaigning, political parties, the electoral college, white male privilege, debates, platforms—can be a little much to teach young minds.
But the team of teachers and librarians at Best Kids’ Books selected picture books to help you teach kids about the elections and why it’s important to participate in our democracy.
It has been sometimes uncomfortably and painfully obvious this year as to what divides us as Americans. But what unites us? What do most of us agree on?
Here are 12 picture books to help you explain to children topics related to elections, voting rights, our courts and our democracy:
‘Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories’ by Dr. Seuss
This classic book by the abundantly talented Dr. Seuss was first published in 1958, making it an oldie but a goodie. In this collection of three equally great short stories, I adore Yertle the Turtle, whose funny storyline masks a very serious moral. Yertle the turtle stacks up all the other turtles to serve as his throne, until one little one named Mack gets fed up. A fantastic entrance to talk to your children about the difference between kings and presidents, authoritarian rule and democratic rule.
‘What Can a Citizen Do?’ by Dave Eggers
Diverse characters engage in compassionate action, making a difference in their community and demonstrating what active citizenry looks like. It’s a great foundation for discussion on what it means to live in a democratic society and why we participate in civic life.
‘Grace for President’ by Kelly DiPucchio
This book lays bare the issues of white male privilege in elections and broaches the topic of the electoral college—giving parents easy on-ramps to attempt to explain these complex concepts.
The main character, Grace, is shocked and disappointed to learn in class that only men have served as president. She decides she wants to be president one day, only to be laughed at by her peers. Grace’s teacher decides to hold an election so she can run. Fittingly, her opponent is a white boy from another class. He barely campaigns, while she works hard on her platform issues. All the boys vote for him, while all the girls vote for Grace. The last boy in line defects and votes for Grace, giving her the win.
‘The President of the Jungle’ by André Rodrigues
Dissatisfied that Lion has rerouted the river to create a pool for himself, the animals of the jungle first protest, then decide to hold an election to replace their self-centered “king.” Good for young children, as it does not explain the electoral college—”the candidate who gets the most votes becomes president”—or can be used to bring up and explain the mechanism of the electoral college with slightly older children. Fun, educational and engaging, this beautifully illustrated book introduces terms like candidate, campaign and debate in an easy-to-digest way.
‘Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965’ by Jonah Winter
This moving, educational story follows 100-year-old Lillian as she climbs a hill to cast her vote, recalling the long path that led her there—starting with the sale of her great-great-grandparents into slavery and continuing on to the passage of the 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote. She recalls the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage, mobs chasing her and her mother from the polls and a Ku Klux Klan cross burning in her yard to intimidate her family. She remembers young men killed for peacefully protesting and the march on Selma, as well as the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed her to vote for the first of many times.
‘Her Right Foot’ by Dave Eggers
If you only read one book on this list, make it this one. Written in a fun, conversational, almost cheeky style and brought to life with vibrant artwork, this book first tells the fascinating story of the Statue of Liberty, its construction and assembly, and then unveils the fact that this symbol of freedom is “on the move.”
It’s poignant message for mamas, too: “Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.”
‘Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote’ by Kirsten Gillibrand
Written by senator Kirstin Gillibrand, this wonderful book is long, packed full of interesting information on the work and lives of important suffragettes, and incredibly detailed—appropriate for older, patient listeners and readers. Gillibrand ends the book telling readers to “be bold and be brave. The future is yours to make.” So powerful!
‘Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box’ by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein
A heartbreaking story of the narrator’s grandfather—a Black man living in the South—as he attempts to vote for the first time and is turned away. The author movingly conveys the disappointment of those barred from their legal rights and the pride of their children and grandchildren who eventually are allowed access to the coveted ballot box. It’s an excellent conversation starter on civil rights and the injustices of this passage of American history.
‘Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx’ by Jonah Winter
This picture book biography details the childhood and young adult years of the first Latinx justice to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court, her supportive Puerto Rican family and her love of learning. An inspiring read for any child with high aspirations. It’s written in both English and Spanish.
‘I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark’ by Debbie Levy
This excellent and timely book, which details the life of the formidable U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, introduces children to the concepts of dissent, legal remedies for prejudice and the interplay of the courts and lawmakers. It does this while offering us an intimate peek into the development of a legal mind who became an icon of American popular culture. A must-read for its clear and concise writing which makes accessible complex topics of American governance.
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