Diverse KidLit: Grace For President (October 2016)

diverse kidlit

In 2016, I set a goal to read more diversely both to myself and aloud to my kids.  As this year has unfolded, celebrating our differences has become more important than ever.  2016 has brought unspeakable tragedies born out of hate and ignorance – and the best way I know to fight those evils is to read books celebrating love and diversity.  This month’s diverse kidlit choice is Grace for President, by Kelly DiPucchio.

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Grace Campbell is a young political enthusiast who gets a rude surprise one September day in school.

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When her teacher, Mrs. Barrington, displays a poster showing the faces of all of the country’s Presidents, Grace notices a glaring omission, and she’s not pleased.  “Where are the GIRLS?” Grace demands.

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Mrs. Barrington explains that no woman has ever been elected President of the United States.  Grace, naturally, thinks this is ridiculous.  (I agree, Grace.  I agree.)  So she decides, with the impeccable logic of an elementary school student, that she’d like to be President.  Although the rest of the class giggles and snickers at Grace’s declaration (see what I did there?) Mrs. Barrington seizes the opportunity for a hands-on lesson about the electoral process, and immediately declares a school-wide election.  Since nobody else in the class is interested in running for President, Grace figures the election will be a cakewalk.

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Whoops – not so fast, Grace.  “In the name of democracy,” Mrs. Barrington invites another class to participate in the election.  Mr. Waller’s students nominate Thomas Cobb, general extracurricular overachiever, as their candidate.  Grace is disappointed to see her hopes of an unopposed election evaporate.  Mrs. Barrington and Mr. Waller prepare a drawing in which each student – except for Grace and Thomas – randomly selects a state to represent.  Once all of the states are assigned, the teachers explain the Electoral College and the concept of electoral votes.

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Thomas and Grace start their campaigns and before long, they’re in full swing.  In what will sound like familiar language to my American friends, Grace urges her voters to make history.  Thomas, meanwhile, promotes himself as “the best MAN for the job.”

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While Grace takes her campaigning seriously, Thomas slacks.  He’s figured out that the boys hold a slim majority of electoral votes.  Predicting that the boys will all vote for him and the girls for Grace, Thomas figures he’s got the election in the bag.

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On election day, the school gathers in an assembly to watch as the states cast their electoral votes.  The election seems to be going as Thomas predicted – all the boys are voting for him, and all the girls are voting for Grace.  Thomas sits smugly as Grace becomes more and more worried.  Finally, it’s down to the last vote.  Grace has 267 electoral votes, and Thomas has 268.  With the final three votes to cast, the election is up to…

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The Equality State of Wyoming, represented by Sam.  In a turn of events that shocks the entire school, Sam casts Wyoming’s three votes for…

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Grace Campbell!  History… made!  When Grace asks Sam why he voted for her, he replies simply, “I thought you were the best person for the job.”

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The next week, Grace and her classmates make their career day presentations.  Grace stands before the class waving her American flag and declares that when she grows up, she’s going to be President.  The book concludes, “This time, everyone believed that she would.”  Oh, and spoiler alert…

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She does!

When I decided to take on this yearlong project of seeking out and reading diverse books to Peanut, I knew immediately that I wanted to include Grace for President on my list.  I love the empowering message and the fact that it is embodied by not just any little girl, but a little girl of color.  And what better book to read in the weeks leading up to Election Day?

One of my favorite things about Grace for President is how layered its message is.  Peanut is too little to understand the Electoral College or the nuances of the Presidential election process – although for older kids, Grace for President makes for a great introductory lesson.  (It’s a bit simplified, but consider the audience.  I think Grace for President does a pretty good job of explaining an antiquated and nonsensical system to kids, who are notoriously intolerant of things that are antiquated and nonsensical.  Gotta love kids.)  For Peanut’s current age and stage of understanding, we’re mostly talking about Grace for President in the “girls can do anything!” context – and of course, I love the diversity of Grace’s classmates, which I think adds a wonderful visual message to the story.  But I expect we’ll be returning to Grace for President in four years, when Peanut will be eight years old and able to understand more of the complexities of our political system.  I think it’ll be a useful teaching tool at that point, and one that we’ll still enjoy using.  I do, however, hope that one aspect of the story will be outdated in four years.  When Grace places her hands on her hips and indignantly shouts, “No GIRLS?” I’d love to be able to tell Peanut, “That part was true when the book was written, but it’s not true now!”  (Although this isn’t a political blog, I doubt anyone who reads my posts will be surprised to hear that #ImWithHer.)

What diverse books are you reading this month?

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