Political Picture Books - Garry Parsons

My seven year old son has been gripped by the US election. His enthusiasm being mostly ignited by watching coverage on CBBC’s Newsround, the topical news program from the BBC. 

Newsround offers clear bite sized chunks of information from the world stage in a clever and informative way. While my son continues to enjoy rhyming ‘Trump’ with ‘dump’ and repeating the hilarity of someone in the highest office having a name the same as what we might call a fart, he was able to absorb a surprising amount of information about politics, particularly around the notion of fake news and was able to form his own opinions on who appeared credible and who did not.

With this in mind we looked to the library bookshelves for politically themed picture books to expand on this new knowledge.

Finding books which dealt with the real aspects of how the political arena operates was limited, we found just two.  To understand the workings of an election The DK Children’s Book of Politics and Usborne's Politics for Beginners have between them, all the factual information a young voter might need covering elections, voting and government as well as issues on freedom of speech, feminism and my sons current favourite topic, fake news. The Usborne book includes tips on how to debate and importantly, a glossary.

But for a wider feel of politics and a more general understanding of some of the big issues we face in the world there are plenty of pictures books to help young voters. 

Picture books can be surprisingly political and sometimes strongly politicised but many carry their messages of social justice in beautifully subtle and imaginative ways. Social issues are an inherent part of children’s literature and as we've looked at many times at the Picture Book Den, picture books have the unique ability offer a safe place to explore complex social issues through imaginative writing and clever illustration. So covering a myriad of topics from gender equality to civil rights, the arms race to the protection of the environment, here are a few of the favourites we found on the shelves in the library.

The first two picture books we enjoyed take a look at the presidency itself. In 'Madam President', Lane Smith lays out the civic minded qualities needed by any future president through the day in the life of a little girl as she imagines being the president herself.

from Madam President by Lane Smith

Sofia is a Mexican American girl who who becomes the voice of change for her community in Andrea Beaty's 'Sofia Valdez, Future Prez', illustrated by David Roberts. Taking on the dangerous Mount Trashmore, she campaigns for improvements for her local area and courageously takes her plans to the city hall.  

from 'Sofia Valdez, Future Prez' written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

One of Dr Seuss’ lesser known picture books 'The Butter Battle Book', 1984, is an anti war story, particularly addressing issues around arms races and nuclear weapons, told through the Yooks and the Zooks who share a love of buttered bread. Difficulties arise between the two groups because they enjoy the bread in different ways which results in the threat of mutual destruction, but told in Seuss's joyful and funny rhyming text and familiarly wacky illustrations.

from The Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss

In Yertle the Turtle, Seuss tackles dictatorship and oppressive cruelty. Yertle is the king of the pond but is tired of the stone that he uses as a throne and commands the other turtles to stack themselves “in a nine turtle stack” so he can see farther and expand is kingdom but to the detriment of others. Luckily, a simple but courageous ‘burp’ from Mack at the bottom of the stack topples Yertle’s empire.



from Yertle The Turtle by Dr Seuss

From the empowering ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series of autobiographical picture books, 'Rosa' depicts the life of civil rights activist Rosa Parks whose courageous refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white man lead to the end of segregated transport in America.



One of our favourite household books is 'No Room For Napoleon' written and illustrated by Adria Meserve. Napoleon is a dog with big ideas but bad manners. When he lands on an island paradise he insists on inflicting his vision for the island which escalates to building himself a fortress, destroying the island environment and forcing out the friends who live there. A story about appreciating good citizenship, environmental issues and the meaning for friendship.

 This list would not be complete without reference to David Robert's 'Suffragette The Battle for Equality'. Beautifully illustrated picture book carting the history and making the centenary of the first women winning the vote in the UK.

from 'Suffragette The Battle for Equality' by David Roberts

And considering the plight of current British politics, take a trip to 'The Little Island' for a powerful story about building bridges not walls and nurturing respect not resentment. By Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Robert Starling, a story for our times.

Garry Parsons is an illustrator of picture books.


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