As we enter the final months before Election Day,
and especially as many of you are educating from home this fall,
it’s a perfect time to learn together about voting rights, elections, and American government
as we journey towards a fairer, more representative democracy.
Besides all of that,
we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment this year!
I encourage you not to miss this opportunity to learn with your kids,
and while I’m at it:
in person with your mask or by mail as early as possible
in this critical election.
Find out everything you need to know about voter registration, vote-by-mail, polling locations, and gobs more at Vote.org
League of Women Voters
Today I’m listing scads of titles for a wide range of ages, 5 to adult.
It’s still a bit cumbersome — in Minneapolis at least — to get books from libraries
so I want to give you a lot of choices.
If you’re purchasing books I encourage you to shop at bookshop.org
There are three categories of titles so keep scrolling down to find what you’re looking for.
For titles I’ve previously reviewed, I’ve simply listed a suggested age range and very brief description, and linked to my original review so you can easily find out more.
More complete reviews are here for books new to the blog
Keep in mind that older kids, teens, and adults can learn a lot from a picture book!
I’ve put asterisks on a few of particular benefit to older readers.
Also, any of the middle-grade non-fiction on today’s list makes a fine choice for adults. Believe me!
I learn a great deal every year from middle-grade non-fiction.
Picture books about the struggle for voting rights:
Ages 5 and up: A jaunty, energetic account of two suffragists’ 1916 cross-country trip in a newfangled automobile, campaigning for women’s voting rights.
Ages 5 and up: A teeny bio of the amazingly valiant British woman who led the way in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Ages 5 and up: A stirring story of one boy’s beloved granddad who is turned away at the ballot box by an unfair voting test. It richly illuminates just why we needed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and why it must be restored today.
Ages 5 and up: An upbeat, spirited account of Alice Paul and her unrelenting tactics to convince Woodrow Wilson to support women’s suffrage.
Ages 5 and up: A peek at the friendship between two iconic Americans struggling for civil/voting rights.
The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History, written by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger
published in 2020 by Sleeping Bear Press
Ages 5 and up: This is the story of Febb Burn, who in 1920 wrote a letter to her son Harry, a legislator, imploring him to vote for suffrage. Harry listened to his mom (good job, Harry!) and ended up casting the deciding vote making Tennessee the 36th state — the last required state — to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. A nice little slice of the American pie, perfect for this year’s 19th amendment celebrations.
Ages 6 and up: Ten cameos of diverse women within the suffrage movement, accompanied by Maira Kalman’s knock-your-socks-off portraits.
Ages 6 and up: A lively account of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the many others who campaigned for suffrage with incredible courage and perseverance, accompanied by Matt Faulkner’s punchy illustrations.
Ages 6 and up: Ida B. Wells is one of the most important Black Women who worked for suffrage as well as against the tyranny and violence of lynching. This is an excellent biography, not overly graphic in its discussions of lynching.
Ages 6 and up: Lockwood is a stunning figure who among dozens of other things campaigned for suffrage and women’s rights and was the first woman to appear on the U.S. ballot in her run for the presidency.
Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist
written by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce, illustrated by Gina Capaldi
published in 2011 by Carolrhoda Books
Ages 6 and up: It is very difficult to find accounts in children’s books, or in books for adult readers for that matter, about Native American voting rights. It is a complicated story with efforts to maintain tribal sovereignty and human dignity, and efforts to be represented in the United States government, creating a multi-layered, pain-riddled story. It is encouraging to see recent increased Native representation in Congress and hopefully more of these stories will be told soon.
Zitkala-Sa was an extraordinary Yankton Dakota woman who lived from 1876 to 1938. She received an Anglo education and lived a life crammed with amazing achievements. Among them was her work as an activist campaigning for Native voting rights, a fact briefly mentioned in this vibrant account of her life which was adapted from three semi-autobiographical stories she wrote in the early 1900s.
And speaking of diverse voices within the voting rights arena,
I could not find a single children’s book about Latina/o or Asian-American voting rights,
though these groups faced their own mighty struggles.
I apologize for the absence of those important groups in my post today.
Ages 7 and up: A poignant, succinct survey of the historic struggle for voting rights seen through the eyes of a woman who in 2008, at the age of 100, voted for the first African-American president.
Ages 7 and up: An extraordinary account of a person whose indomitable strength of will, mind, soul led her to work for voting rights among many other important engagements.
How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea
written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Ziyue Chen
published in 2020 by Harper
Ages 8 and up: This book provides a lengthier narrative of the difficult, tumultuous battle for women’s suffrage. The story is carried smoothly, vividly along –no dry-as-bones-facts here — and augmented with colorful, full-page illustration work.
Beginning with their violent arrests in a 1909 London protest, we meet Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, then follow their journey to lead suffrage efforts in America. The account clearly portrays the brutality unleashed against women in the movement and the dogged determination necessary to achieve victory.
While it focuses almost entirely on these two suffragists and their White co-workers, it does briefly highlight a few of the Black women involved in suffrage movements and the racism they encountered from their White counterparts. The most unflinching, spirited account for this age group in terms of portraying the suffering endured by women activists.
Ages 10 and up: A series of riveting free verse poems introduce this incredible, indefatigable Black woman who played a critical role in the campaign for voting rights, Black representation in political conventions, and other civil rights issues.
Picture books about elections and American government
I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference, written by Mark Shulman, illustrated by Serge Bloch
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House
Ages 5 and up: Here is the most straightforward, simplest explanation of the voting process for your youngest civics students.
Defining voting as essentially “[a]ny time you choose one thing instead of another,” Shulman elucidates this with easy choices — say between ice cream and onions — and then harder choices. How do we know what the right choice is? How do we help our particular choice become the winning choice? Crystal clear, stripped down language accompanied by Bloch’s stylish cartoon illustrations and copious white space combine for an engaging, just-enough approach. Help small ones understand what the ruckus is all about this November with this friendly guide.
Vote for Our Future!, written by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Micah Player
published in 2020 by Schwartz & Wade
Ages 5-8: Here’s a vibrant, colorful call to participation in the voting process aimed at kids much too young to vote, but not too young to help get out the vote.
The kids from Stanton Elementary bustle about informing the adults and older teens around them why and how to get with the program and vote! In no uncertain terms! They have got an answer for every objection. Get your young’uns energized about the privilege of voting and perhaps figure out ways they can help get out the vote in 2020!
* The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex
published in 2020 by Chronicle Books
Ages 7 and up: This breezy exploration of the American presidency surprises us by looking at how the present and future collide. That is to say, right now, right this very minute, today, chances are good that at least ten of our future presidents are alive, blissfully unaware that one day they’ll be sitting in the Oval Office.
Some might be adults already, working in government positions, but some are assuredly just kids, learning and growing and playing. Who will those presidents be?!
Messner leads us through time, regaling us with accounts of which presidents-to-be were alive at various key points in American history and just what they were up to.
Adam Rex’s fabulous artwork provides historical context yet adds enough contemporary elements to keep things lively and more diverse. It’s a clever, thought-provoking angle on history that’ll draw kids in and get them thinking about the possibilities ahead of them.
Ages 7 and up: A delightful, whimsical survey of our nation’s presidents. I read the 2000 edition. An update was done in 2004 to include G.W. Bush. That means it’s still a bit out-of-date but since it’s such a wildly-fresh, kid-friendly take on the subject, it’s still worth reading.
What Is the President’s Job? by Allison Singer
published in 2017 by DK Publishing
Ages 7 and up: This Level 2 Easy Reader covers some basics about the American presidency — the election process, his/her home in Washington, D.C. and the White House, a few of the tasks and traditions — accompanied by color photos. Nothing jazzy here, but if you’re looking for an easy reader — there you go!
What’s the Big Deal About Elections?, written by Ruby Shamir, illustrated by Matt Faulkner
published in 2019 by Philomel Books
Ages 7 and up: An excellent introduction to our system of elections, voting rights, the role of both local and federal governments.
Fresh, kid-friendly text and Faulkner’s incredible, colorful, power-to-the-people, illustration work make this a top choice.
Definitely the best in-depth book on elections for elementary age students.
Middle-grade/teen nonfiction about voting rights and American government
A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to Washington and Changed the Nation
written by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
revised and updated edition published in 2020 by Abrams
Ages 10 and up: Evenhanded and non-partisan, this is an account of all the women who have taken seats in the U.S. Congress from the very first, Jeannette Rankin, who entered the House in 1917, years before she was allowed by the Constitution to vote!, through the 2018 mid-terms which carried in a wonderfully diverse group of American women. I learned a great deal.
Cooper writes with respect towards all these legislators and towards her audience. The text is clear though not flashy, while the whole book gets an upbeat vibe from the illustrations and appealing page lay-outs.
Ages 11 and up: A stunning look at Selma including factors leading to voting rights efforts, Bloody Sunday, and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Ages 11 and up: A gripping story of the Selma voting rights protests which follows a few of the children involved. It’s an excellent window onto this tragic part of our history for those on the young end of “middle-grade.”
Ages 11 and up: A sophisticated, in-depth, compelling account of the women’s suffrage movement spanning the years 1832-1928 in the UK and US.
Ages 11 and up: An utterly riveting narration of Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s journey as the youngest participant in the Selma to Montgomery march. Powerful, gorgeous, highly recommended.
Ages 12 and up: A weighty account of efforts to register Black voters in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, and the murderous reaction of the White population.
Give Us the Vote!: Over 200 Years of Fighting for the Ballot, by Susan Goldman Rubin
published in 2019 by Holiday House
Ages 14 and up: American history is replete with intense struggles for the right to vote which were met with violence and flagrant bigotry towards Black voters, women, Latino, Asian, and Native communities. This book provides a vivid, eye-opening look at these historic abuses. And if you have any doubt that voter suppression still deprives people of color of their right to vote, Rubin lays that to rest as well with chapters devoted to current laws, court reversals, and gerrymandering.
This is an excellent, dynamic read.
Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box
by Evette Dionne
published in 2020 by Viking
Ages 14 and up: This title makes an important contribution to our understanding of the intersection of race and gender, how that has deeply impacted the lives of Black women in America, and the roles Black women played in the struggle for suffrage and civil rights.
Black women, who had such an enormous stake in both the abolition and women’s rights movements — movements intertwined from their beginnings — were often disinvited from participation by their White sisters. Eventually they formed their own clubs and societies to elevate issues crucial to their communities, foremost among them the violence of lynchings. Suffrage for Black women was a tool to fight for the well-being of Black Americans, not simply an end in itself. Their story is far under-represented in our literature. This account illuminates both the friendships and alliances, and the white supremacy which created rifts between Black and White women organizing for the vote.
Dionne’s text is hugely informational. I learned a great deal, though I was disappointed in its dry, textbook style. Motivated teens ages 14 and up and any adult committed to understanding the hurdles and heroism of Black American women will greatly benefit from it. A critical epilogue discusses the gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act due to a 2013 Supreme Court decision and the repercussions playing out today.
March, books 1, 2, and 3
Ages 14 and up: One of the most powerful gateways to understanding the Civil Rights movement is this graphic novel trilogy, a memoir by beloved Congressman John Lewis. Highly recommended.
Ages 14 and up: A dense, highly-informative account of the overt white supremacy at the heart of Southern politics, which deeply impacts Northern politics as well, this book is disturbingly relevant today. Learn about constitutional amendments related to voting rights, the rise and fall of those rights in the South, the influence of the KKK, the role of the Supreme Court, and lesser known, impactful Civil Rights legislation.
I learned a great deal from this book.
Votes of Confidence: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections, by Jeff Fleischer
2nd edition published in 2020 by Zest Books
Ages 14 and up: Here is the only book you’ll need to cover the basics of American elections, the book I was madly looking for during the years I was teaching American history/government to teens, but alas, it didn’t exist at that time. Despite it’s uber-boring cover (why?!), if you are homeschooling teens or if you are supplementing their schooling, or if you want an excellent refresher course as an adult, this is a great little volume.
Fleischer manages to convey an enormous amount of information with a fresh voice that’s neither annoyingly casual nor dryly formal. His prose is conversational, concise, and clear, and his anecdotes and sidebars add lively color and specifics. Besides covering the basic structures and roles of our checks-and-balances system of governance, he unpacks the electoral college, the primary system, the origins and reshaping of political parties, gerrymandering, voter registration, the funding/financing of campaigns, and more.
Critically, Fleischer presents specific, helpful ways to spot bogus news/verify the credibility of news reports so readers can be informed rather than misinformed voters. This is a fundamentally important skill for every one of us in the age of social media. He also highlights many ways readers can be involved at all levels of government, federal to local, even if they are too young to vote. Be sure to get the updated 2nd edition.
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