celebrating the Inauguration!…a list of five

Tomorrow in our household we’re breaking out the ice cream
in honor of Joe
while we watch the meaningful and momentous inauguration
of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

If you’d like to introduce the new White House team to your kids
here are five capital books for starters.

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden, written by Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Amy June Bates
published in 2020; a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Meet our new president in this glowing, warmhearted introduction written by his wife, Jill. Mainly focused on Biden’s childhood and the values that shaped him, the story briefly extends to his decades in the Senate, his eight years as vice-president, and the outset of his run for the presidency.

Besides many nostalgic episodes of playtime and family time, Catholic school and football, the account also explores Joe Biden’s difficulty with stuttering, the discouragement, bullying, and fear this caused him as a child, and steps he took to overcome it. I love the way Biden has been transparent about this trial all through his career and the immense encouragement it has been to so many who are also troubled in this way.

Amy June Bates’ artwork is, as always, friendly and affectionate, her palette burnished with honey-gold and awash in sunny sea-blue. Altogether it’s a supremely upbeat account for ages 5 and up.

I Talk Like a River, written by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

This brilliant book, a story about the experience of stuttering, couldn’t have landed at a better time as this difficulty has been in focus during Joe Biden’s campaign and especially with the brave speech given by young Brayden Harrington during the Democratic National Convention.

In the story, we walk through a day with a little boy who stutters. He awakens each morning with word-sounds ricocheting around his mind, takes refuge in silence when possible, and struggles with anxiety over classroom demands and mocking peers.

One day his dear father takes him on an outing to a river, a favorite spot, and invites him to listen to the way the water in the rapids pops and sputters and swirls, helps him see himself and his way of speaking as talking like a river. This beautiful metaphor gifts the boy with a sense of pride and a camaraderie with something splendid.

Written by a man who stutters, the language in this book sweeps us into this child’s world with vulnerable honesty and  simple elegance. The illustrations are by the über-talented Sydney Smith. Once again his transcendent artwork is layered with profound meaning and beauty. If you have a half hour and want to learn just how much thought and revision and hard work goes into making a picture book of this caliber, watch this terrific interview with Scott and Smith

An extraordinary book for ages 4 and up.


Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice, written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Laura Freeman
published in 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Kamala Harris with her wide smile and cool Converse sneakers is making triple history, becoming the first woman, first Black person, and first Asian person to become our Vice President. What a wonderful trio of accomplishments to celebrate!

Acclaimed author/poet Nikki Grimes steers us through Harris’ life journey, from the Civil Rights protests she attended as a toddler in a stroller, through the trials of a fractured family and difficult moves, to her time at Howard University, one of America’s  Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where her career as a lawyer and politician was launched. Grimes completed this book as Harris ended her run for the presidency. Our knowledge of what happened next makes Grimes’ closing question of even greater interest.

This fascinating account helped me better understand the fruitful legacy of Harris’ parents and grandparents in the causes of justice, and the incredibly hard work Harris has put in from childhood on to get to the place she is today. Great choice for ages 7 and up.

Your Name is a Song, written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
published in 2020 by The Innovation Press

One young girl feels quite stormy inside after her first day in school. Not only could her teacher not pronounce her name, but the other kids teased her about it.

Her wise mama declares to her that names are like songs, full of rhythms and beats, heart and fire and dreams. Names like Olumide and Ngozi, Sagnika and Jalonte thrum with music and meaning. She just has to learn to sing those names and the other children will discover the song in them, too.

The next day everyone in her class, from the teacher on down, learns the joy of singing names including her own — Kora Jalimuso — a name from the ethnic group we lived amongst many years ago in West Africa. All of the names in the story, their pronunciations, widely-varying origins, and meanings, are listed in a glossary and the author provides a link to a video in which she pronounces them for us.

I’ve included this book in today’s inauguration post because of the racist, purposeful bungling of Kamala Harris’s name by politicians wishing to disparage her. I love that Kamala means lotus, and imagine little Kora in this book singing it beautifully. A needed book in our richly-diverse society, for ages 5 and up.

If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful Presidential Pets, written and illustrated by Erin McGill
published in 2020 by Schwartz & Wade Books

With Major and Champ Biden moving into the White House, we’ve got some handsome presidential pets to dote on for the next four years, and Major becomes the first rescue dog to live in the White House. I am especially partial to rescue dogs as our own dog, Freya — sweetest dog on the planet — is a rescue.

Turns out pets are prevalent in White House history. In fact, only 3 presidents (including Donald Trump) have had no critters whatsoever. Harry Truman supposedly said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Truly man’s best friend! But what a menagerie of animals those other White House households included.

Erin McGill brings us a lively, humorous, exceptionally-engaging revue of all the presidents’ pets, from tigers to parrots, pigs to hamsters in this jolly account. A good time will be had by all, ages 4 through adult.