In the run-up to November’s presidential election, publishers are courting readers who won’t be eligible to cast ballots this year or, in some cases, for many years to come. These children’s and YA books touch on various aspects of political and civic life, highlighting the personalities and issues that drive them.
Some parents believe it’s never too early to educate kids about how government works. “We’ve always involved our three children as much as possible in the political process,” says Megan E. Bryant, who, with her husband Daniel Prosterman, is coauthor of the Citizen Baby series, illustrated by Micah Player (Penguin Workshop, May). Bryant says she and Prosterman were inspired to create the board books—My Vote, My Congress, My President, and My Supreme Court—after taking their infant to their polling place during a primary in North Carolina two years ago and realizing that even babies benefit from exposure to such an excursion.
“It’s essential for children to realize at an early age that voting is an important responsibility,” Bryant says. “This isn’t something parents should wait to discuss when their kid turns 18; that’s too late.”
The series joins several books already in the marketplace that explain the process of electing the president; still more are forthcoming, including the picture book A Vote Is a Powerful Thing by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Courtney Dawson (Albert Whitman, Sept.); the Nickelodeon-branded Election Connection by Susan Ring (Random House, July) for middle graders: Everyone Gets a Say by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller (HarperCollins, Sept.); If You Go with Your Goat to Vote by Jan Zauzmer, illustrated by Andrew Roberts (The Experiment, Aug.); and V Is for Voting by Kate Farrell, illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Holt, July).
Other children’s titles focus not on the process but on the politicians who have entered the fray. A few months after Joe Biden declared his candidacy in April 2019, S&S children’s division president Jon Anderson suggested a biography of the former v-p, because “there was nothing like it available,” recalls Paula Wiseman, v-p and publisher of her eponymous imprint at S&S. In July, Paula Wiseman Books is releasing Joey: The Story of Joe Biden, written by Jill Biden, the candidate’s wife, with art by Amy June Bates, who illustrated the 2015 picture book bio Hillary Rodham Clinton, written by Kathleen Krull.
While Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, his former rivals are competing for shelf space in the coming months, as the subjects of picture books including Mayor Pete by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Levi Hastings (Holt, May). Christian Trimmer, editorial director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, says he has no regrets publishing a biography of a candidate who has left the race. Pete Buttigieg was the first openly gay person and the first millennial to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Trimmer notes. “Mayor Pete will always have that distinction,” he says. “He’s breaking down barriers for the next LGBTQIA+ candidate, so his story matters beyond the 2020 election.”
In June, HarperCollins is publishing a book about another former presidential contender: Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, written by Meena Harris—a lawyer, activist, and the niece of Sen. Kamala Harris—and illustrated by Ana Ramírez González. S&S imprint Atheneum is also releasing a Harris bio, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Laura Freeman (Aug.), as well as the picture book Elizabeth Warren’s Big, Bold Plans by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Susanna Chapman (Atheneum, May).
S&S publisher Justin Chanda echoed Trimmer’s point when asked whether there was any second-guessing about publishing picture book biographies of Warren and Harris after they withdrew their bids for higher office. “There’s a strong market for books about groundbreaking women throughout history,” Chanda says. “Both senators inspire young people across the nation to stand up for what’s right.”
As the campaign season heats up, publishers also see a market for children’s books about contentious topics relevant to the presidential race.
Amid an ongoing debate between President Trump and Congress regarding the separation of powers stipulated by the Constitution, The Constitution for Babies (DK, May) offers a primer for toddlers on a document that’s “pivotal to the fabric of American society,” says DK children’s publishing director Sarah Larter. In September, Workman will release The Constitution Decoded by Katie Kennedy, illustrated by Ben Kirchner, covering similar ground but for middle grade readers.
If adults have difficulty distinguishing between what is and isn’t fake news, then younger readers, too, could use some help. Publishers are ready, with books including Breaking the News by Robin Terry Brown (National Geographic Kids, Oct.), Guardians of Liberty by Linda Barrett Osborne (Abrams, Aug.), and True or False by Cindy L. Otis (Feiwel and Friends, Aug.).
Otis, who worked for the CIA for 10 years, says that Russian interference in the 2016 election prompted her to write True or False. She’s aiming for a teen readership because, she says, “more than any other generation, they are growing up in an information-loaded environment, and have to figure out what’s true and what’s false for the rest of their lives. They need these tools.”
Abrams editor-at-large Howard Reeves says a similar goal inspired Guardians of Liberty. “Kids need to be able to look at the facts themselves,” Reeves says. “We wanted this book to be published as soon as possible. The fact that the presidential election is in 2020 definitely inspired us.”
National Geographic Kids also credits the upcoming election with providing momentum for the production of Breaking the News. “An election year is the time when media literacy—being able to sift through all the content that comes at you every day to find what’s really real and important—is most needed,” says NGK senior editor Shelby Lee. “There’s been such an uptick in posts that look like legitimate news, stories designed to sway opinion and stir emotions. We knew it will only get more intense and the stakes of really understanding what you’re reading so much higher.”
Covering another controversial issue, Whose Right Is It? The Second Amendment and the Fight over Guns by Hana Bajramovic (Holt, Sept.) addresses the gun debate, which has intensified in recent weeks as reports circulate that gun sales are spiking during the coronavirus pandemic. Trimmer says the subject is especially relevant to children. “Kids are at the forefront of the debate,” he says. When school is in session, they “face daily reminders of the threat of gun violence, with metal detectors, clear backpacks, active shooter drills, and the like. Bajramovic looked at the history of the Second Amendment, alongside state and federal gun legislation, to give young readers as much of the story as she could, so that they can create informed opinions.”
Young people have spearheaded marches and protests around the gun debate and other issues, a fact not lost on publishers as they release books about activism, including Into the Streets by Marke Bieschke (Zest, Aug.); Love Is Powerful by Heather Dean Brewer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Candlewick, Sept.); and The Suffragist Playbook by Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Roberts (Candlewick, Sept.).
Jennifer Roberts, v-p of publicity and marketing at Candlewick, says The Suffragist Playbook highlights the women who fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, and Love Is Powerful was prompted by the 2017 Women’s March that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration. Such books, she says, whether they look to the past or confront the present, address “what’s going on now in this country—how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.”