Sunday, November 4, 2018

🗽Books for Kids About Civics and Citizenship

Without a doubt, this has been one of the most active midterm campaign years I've ever seen. So it only stands to reason that many of our young readers have probably noticed what is going on and may even be wondering what its all about - especially now that they don't teach civics in school anymore. In fact, we live in an age when 2/3 of the people in the United States cannot name the three branches of our federal government, let alone what they do. Luckily, there are some kid-friendly books that can help fill the civics gap. These are the ones I used this year, beginning with

When You Grow Up To Vote: How Our Government Works For Your 
by Eleanor Roosevelt with Michelle Markel, illustrated by Grace Lin
Roaring Brook Press, 2018, 96 pages
Originally written in 1932, this book has been updated for today's world. Using simple, objective language, Mrs. Roosevelt deconstructs the different levels of government that exist in a democracy and how they operate, beginning at the local (town, city) level, then on to the state government, and finally the federal government. Each level covers the different jobs to which people are elected, the services they are expected to perform, and the importance of their jobs in the lives of their constituency.  The importance of voting and what happens when a person goes to the polls is very nicely explained (and without any partisanship). In the end, young readers will understand just how elections impacts their lives, the life of their community, and of democracy as a whole. Admittedly, civics isn't always the most exciting subject for kids, but if you plan on teaching it, this is by far one of the best books on the rights and duties of citizenship I've ever used to teach kids. Grace Lin's colorful illustrations are simple, informative and reflect the diverse nation we are. My personal feeling is that to be a responsible voter, you need to be a responsible citizen and part of that is knowing and understanding how the government works and why your vote matters. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in 1932: " are going to vote. You will help choose men and women to govern the country. But to vote well you will need to know about a great many things, interesting things."

What's the Big Deal About Elections by Ruby Shamir, 
illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Philomel Books, 2018, 32 pages
Once your kiddos have mastered the basics of democracy, elections and voting, they might get a kick out of this book, and you might find it helpful for broadening your civics discussions. This is a book that is filled with information - some trivial, some important, all interesting - about the history of elections and voting. It asks a series of questions like What are elections? Who Votes? Why does government matter? These questions and more are all answered on double page spreads, with wonderfully detailed, often amusing illustrations, plus small text boxes with lots of trivia on each topic. Anecdotes about some often (questionable) historical political figures add to the fun, while helping young readers understand how they can make a difference. I found the section on How do we elect these leaders? especially helpful for understanding why we have a popular vote and an electoral college, and why each vote matters. This has always been the most difficult part of explaining government to kids, but it is nicely explained here and Faulkner's illustration really brought it all together. My kids were very interested in the answers to the "But I'm a Kid, I Can't Vote. Why Does Any of This Matter for Me? Not only did they learn some history, but they also learned that they can still make change through their actions. While Shamir included the children's protests during the Civil Rights Movement, we talked about the brave kids who survived the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and became gun sense activists. Shamir includes a Timeline of voting in this country and an helpful Author's Note. This is a definite must for anyone interested in studying democracy.

Vote! written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
Clarion Books, 2003, 48 pages 
This has been a favorite book to use when teaching young kids about how an election works since it first came out. What makes it so wonderful is that it takes an election campaign at the local level for mayor and follows one candidate, Chris Smith, from the beginning and right through to the winner's swearing in. This primer on what voting is and how it works is told from the point of view of two dogs, with the older dog schooling the younger puppy, both owned by candidate Smith. Christelow covers everything from voter registrations, to who gets to vote, the use of polls, the use of opponent's misleading ads, why people don't vote, and what happens when the losing candidate demands a recount. Much of what is included is covered in most books, but there is some very useful new information here and it is told in a linear manner as the mayoral campaign progresses. What makes this such a useful book is that it can easily be applied to other kinds of races - senate, house, even presidential races - since the process is essentially the same. The illustrations are lively as is most of the text, thanks to the use of the dogs, who really add some humor to an otherwise not terribly exciting subject. There is lots of back matter, including a glossary, and you can find a very helpful readers's guide courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (publisher of the paperback copy of Vote!) HERE

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
Chronicle Books, 2018, 40 pages
Now that your kiddos know all about democracy, voting, government, and that they can also be active in making the world a better place, this is the book to show them how they can do that and empower themselves. Told in a simple rhyme that, I'm sorry to say, doesn't always hold up, readers are introduced to a diverse group of children who are ready to show them just how they too can become activists. The children slowly transform an island with just a tree into a  wonderful tree house that is open and welcoming to all people. Even the new kid in town is invited to join the other tree house occupants and to make his own contribution to the group. With supporting paper cut illustrations, the text describes all the ways a person can be a good citizen and why: "We're part of a society/One full of joy and pain/A land of latticed people/None of us the same/And if we help just one/hep one lonely soul/We open doors, we bring in light/We bind us all and make us whole."

If you are looking to build a library of books about citizenship, whether in a classroom or at home, these are four books you might want to include. 

1 comment:

  1. These books are desperately needed because they are missing from the modern education system.


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