Election Week Review: Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion Books for Children, 2008. Currently Available.

Genre: Picture Book

Face Value: LeUyen Pham is one of my favorite illustrators ever. I love the joyful, expressive way she draws kids. And this cover perfectly captures the book inside: Grace is at the forefront, looking terrifically presidential, with a diverse mix of supporters behind her. It’s a beautiful reminder that someday we’re going to have a black female president.

Does it Break the Slate? Well look at the cover. This book shatters the slate before you even crack the spine. The slate is destroyed by page 3, and I dare you not to tear up a little bit at the last panel. This is a book that makes a black girl president. It makes her a great candidate, smart and capable, who has to fight hard to be respected. It uses historical and political facts and it acknowledges systematic oppression with an absolutely inspiring ending.

Who would we give it to? I would give this to every early elementary school teacher I could find. Read this during election season for a book that empowers all kids to be active in their communities while giving solid facts about how our political system works.

Review:  When Mrs. Barrington unrolls a poster of the presidents, Grace Campbell can’t believe her eyes.

“Where are the GIRLS?” she asks, horrified to discover that the United States has never had a woman president. Clearly a woman of action, Grace announces that she would like to be president. Some of the class laughs, but Mrs. Barrington, inspired by the idea, decides that the class will have an election. Thomas Cobb (white, All-American Golden Boy) will run against her. The other students are assigned a state, and the corresponding number of electoral votes, and Grace and Thomas begin campaigning. Both strong candidates (promising things like anti-bullying campaigns, free tutoring and better hot lunch), Thomas feels he has the election locked up since the boys have slightly more electoral votes than the girls (ahem, entitlement and male privilege)

He relaxes, while Grace makes good on her promises and campaigns hard. The race ultimately comes down to Wyoming which – we learn – was the first state to give women the right to vote. Grace wins the election because she is “the best person for the job.” And this time, when she tells her class that she will one day be the president of the United States, everyone believed that she would. And of course, after the end of the story, we see this panel:

The story, of course, is inspiring. But one of the most important things, I think, is how rooted in the actual political system it is. We, as a society, don’t know enough about how our electoral process works, and this book explains a lot of it in a way that is neither confusing nor condescending.

Plus, the construction of this story makes it not just one that empowers girls. This is a story about working hard and believing in something, then making that dream a reality. Grace doesn’t win her election because of any kind of entitlement. And Thomas Cobb is not a villain. But Grace is the best one for the job. We should all, girls and boys, humans of all ages, feel her rage that there has never been a female president. And we should all believe in her journey

DiPucchio’s story, paired with Pham’s illustrations make for my all-time favorite election picture book.

Reviewed from personal copy.

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