Parents in search of teachable election-year moments with their kids as the presidential race sizzles in schools and around dinner tables need only depend on a duck, some dogs or a girl named Grace.
New children's books cover the voting process, life in the White House and the nation's star-spangled failure to give women the vote until 1920.
Helen Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, has teamed up with award-winning editorial cartoonist Chip Bok on "The Great White House Breakout," for release in August (Dial Books, $16.99, ages 6-up).
First boy Sam, whose mom is president, enlists the help of his pet rat and cat to escape his Secret Service nannies and go in search of a Washington, D.C., beyond the White House gates. The trio takes in the sights and has an unusual encounter with Abraham Lincoln before homesickness sets in.
Sam's mom might never have become president if not for the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the daughter of a judge who refused to give up her maiden name when she married an abolitionist in 1840. In "Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote" (Henry Holt, $16.95, ages 9-12), writer Tanya Lee Stone and illustrator Rebecca Gibbon keep Stanton's story meaningful.
A modern-day do-gooder, young Grace wonders out loud "Where are the girls?" as her teacher unfurls a large poster of presidential portraits in "Grace for President" (Disney Book Group, $15.99, ages 5-9).
The spunky Grace decides to run for president herself in the school's mock election, but her resolve falters a tad when class star Thomas Cobb becomes her challenger. Playfully written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Grace is careful not to overpromise during the neck-and-neck campaign, while Thomas keeps his eye on the vote count. The book's explanation of the Electoral College actually makes sense.
Amid the dramatic twists and turns in the Democratic presidential primary, two new picture book biographies from Simon & Schuster offer young kids the chance to learn on their own level exactly who Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were and are.
In "Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope," scheduled for release in September, Bryan Collier's collage style nicely complements the story of the boy they called "Barry" as he breathes the scent of ginger blossoms in Hawaii, processes the divorce of his parents, slides in the rainy-season mud of Indonesia and accepts hope into his heart as the "skinny kid with the funny name." Obama's story is filtered through a conversation between a young boy and his mother.
A rosy-cheeked little-girl Clinton with a tussled ponytail adorns the cover of "Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight," which is also due out in September. Written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Amy June Bates, young Hillary is inspired to soar by the earliest space missions and drawn to public service after shaking the hand of Martin Luther King Jr. Her go-go ways and keen intelligence sweep her from high school standout to law school, then wife of a president. As a "new kind" of first lady, "blasting off like a rocket," she "tried to cover a lot of ground, and not everything she did was a success." Sooner or later, the book concludes we'll have a woman president, "and it will be because of every girl who has wanted to fly."
Other election-year books to inspire and educate:
¢ "Otto Runs for President" (Scholastic, $15.99, ages 4-8.)
Beloved children's writer Rosemary Wells, creator of the Max, Ruby, Yoko, McDuff and oh-so-many other popular characters, lets the fur fly in another student election, this one at Barkadelphia School. Tiffany the girlie, popular poodle and Charles the bulldog jock square off as they vie for votes in campaigns well-financed by their eager parents. Things get out of hand, and the election turns in favor of sleeper candidate with a big heart and the will to back up his promises.
¢ "LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Mark Teague.
Teague's self-pitying but endearing pooch Ike is on the prowl with some rowdy pals while his owner, Mrs. LaRue, is laid up in the hospital after an encounter with a hot dog cart. Teague mixes newspaper clips, letters and split color-black-and-white images offering Ike's unique perspective as the terrier heads off anti-canine mayoral candidate Hugo Bugwort by throwing his hat into the ring, but politics aren't Ike's style. Teague debuted Ike in "Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School" and got rave reviews.
¢ "White House Q&A" (Collins, $16.99, ages 5-9) By Denise Rinaldo with the Smithsonian Institution.
President Bush gives Liberty the freed turkey a pat on the head and little Caroline Kennedy takes a ride on her pony, Macaroni, on the South Lawn in this look at life in America's most famous residence. Budding White House buffs learn through photos and other memorabilia that President Nixon had a one-lane bowling alley installed and Amy Carter had a tree house out back. We owe the West Wing to President Theodore Roosevelt, whose six kids were so noisy he needed a quiet office space.