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October 2008

Book Reviews

Politics in Prose: Books That Are Real Winners

By Mary Quattlebaum

The vote's unanimous for these books about the American political process.

ages 3 – 8

Grace for President
by Kelly DiPucchio
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Hyperion, 2008, $15.99

When Grace examines her classroom poster of U.S. presidents, she asks in astonishment, “Where are the girls?” Right then and there, she decides to run for president of her grade against popular Thomas Cobb. Each student in the classroom then becomes a state with a certain number of electoral votes. But while Grace is speaking about the issues and holding rallies, Thomas slacks off. Since the boys outnumber the girls, he figures his victory is a shoo-in. What boy would vote for a girl? On election day, everything hinges on the final vote from Sam, who is representing Wyoming, the Equality State. Through a realistic child-centered situation, author Kelly DiPucchio creates a believable story about classroom politics, reflected nicely in LeUyen Pham’s dynamic illustrations.

Madam President
by Lane Smith
Hyperion, 2008, $16.99

Author/illustrator Lane Smith playfully depicts a bossy girl who sets herself up as president of her own small world. Like the commander in chief, she enjoys “special privileges” and uses her power to veto the school’s tuna casserole. She chooses a “capable cabinet,” which includes Mr. Potato Head as Secretary of Agriculture and a reclining sock monkey as Secretary of Naps. She seems to have everything under control, until bedtime finds her “pooped” from all the responsibility and deciding to delegate one last task to the vice president. Smith expertly balances a minimalist text against colorful double-page spreads, many with multiple panels that humorously portray the pint-sized Head of State.

The Great White House Breakout
by Helen Thomas and Chip Bok
Dial, 2008, $16.99

With Mom as President and Dad as First Guy, Sam is closely monitored by the black-suited Secret Service. With cat pal Warren and a former NASA rat, Leonard, Sam pulls off a daring escape and has a great time outside the confines of the White House. He seeks pirates in the Tidal Basin, whispers with undercover rats at the International Spy Museum and even tries to fly to the top of the Washington Monument. Helen Thomas, dean of the White House Press Corps, stages a kid-friendly romp round Washington. Acclaimed cartoonist Chip Bok adds painterly pizzazz with bright colors and funny pictures. Look for the stoic Secret Service agents chasing Sam round the Oval Office and a cameo of Queen Elizabeth II at a dinner disrupted by Leonard.

Woodrow for PresidentWoodrow, the White House MouseHouse Mouse, Senate Mouse
by Peter and Cheryl Barnes
VSP books, all $16.95

Local husband-and-wife team Peter and Cheryl Barnes put rodents in the White House and U.S. Capitol – and a whole lot of fun into learning about government. Through these educational rhyming stories, kids can take to the campaign trail with bewhiskered Woodrow G. Washingtail in Woodrow for President, examine presidential responsibilities and family life in Woodrow, the White House Mouse and explore the Capitol and the legislative process in House Mouse, Senate Mouse. Kids will love looking at the mouse antics in the detailed pictures and cheering for Woodrow when he becomes the nation’s “Big Cheese.”

ages 9 and up

See How They Run
by Susan Goodman
illustrated by Elwood Smith
Bloomsbury, 2008, $9.95

See How They Run brings playfulness to the political scene with its lively text by Susan Goodman and visually appealing sidebars, presidential portraits and cartoons by Elwood Smith. Short chapters with pithy titles such as “Party Animals” and “Who’s Paying the Bills?” catch the attention of young readers and then deliver substantive material on the origin of party mascots and campaign financing, respectively. Did you know that when the opposing party labeled Democrat Andrew Jackson a “jackass,” Jackson reacted by putting “a picture of this strong-minded animal on his campaign posters”? What a way to turn derogations to one’s advantage! Informative and entertaining, this book more than delivers on the promise of its subtitle “Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes and the Race to the White House.”

Our White House
by National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance
Candlewick, 2008, $29.99

Contributions from 108 renowned children’s authors and illustrators grace the 224 pages of this unique volume. The collection moves beyond a “just the facts” approach by mixing essays, short stories, illustrations and speeches with thought-provoking personal reflections on political events. In “Escape Map,” Mark London Williams writes of his anxious childhood response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Steven Kellogg pays humorous homage to presidential pets. Polly Horvath creates a short story about two young tourists' reaction to the White House: “You can’t exactly see someone putting his feet up and eating Doritos.” The volume is further enriched by pictorial styles as diverse as those of Leo and Diane Dillon, Brian Selznick and Peter Sis.

As If Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!
by Donna Gephart
Delacorte, 2008, $15.99

To a year dogged by spelling-bee anxieties, her own clumsiness and an unrequited crush, Vanessa must add another disaster: Her mother, the governor of Florida, has set her sights on the Democratic candidacy for U.S. president. For Mom, this means rallies, primaries and press conferences. Meanwhile, Vanessa laments the Secret Service agents at school and her too-busy mom. But when threatening notes start appearing in her locker, the seventh grader realizes social disaster may be the least of her worries. This first-person narrator is smart, funny and wholly believable, and she offers a kid’s-eye view of the campaign trail. Donna Gephart’s novel gets my vote for “most engaging debut.”

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover • First Daughter: White House Rules
by Mitali Perkins
Speak/Penguin, 2007 and 2008, respectively, $16.99

With humor and insight, author Mitali Perkins explores race, culture and the political process in First Daughter companion novels. In the first, Sameera must contend not only with the opposition’s views, but also with the opinions of her father’s staff. They worry that this adopted girl’s dark skin and birth country (Pakistan) may negatively impact her father’s chances of winning the presidency. Even her nickname, Sparrow, doesn’t seem American enough! By starting a blog, Sparrow owns both her name and her power and mobilizes support for her dad. The second novel sees Sparrow ensconced in the White House, still blogging and about to enter public school in her new town of Washington, D.C. The party in the House? It’s all about girl power.

Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author most recently of Sparks Fly High, a colonial American folktale. She blogs regularly for the National Wildlife Federation on nature-themed books and family activities. You can contact Mary at, which has information about her 15 award-winning children’s books and presentations.