{book} grace for president

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We talk a lot about publishing books and films with strong female protagonists (and feminist themes) for the sake of our daughters. But how about publishing these works for the sake of our sons as well? Often portrayals of female heroes create a more masculine-than-thou figure, with the woman and/or girl out performing their male cast members in exhibiting “masculine traits” more successfully than anyone else and therefore they are a most powerful and enviable figure. The situation mimics those of a man emasculating another man in our culturally observed hierarchies. This device becomes difficult in how it still favors one gender over another; and while it may be an empowering moment for the girl, it becomes inaccessible to any other. Now I am not opposed to focused libraries, or empowering young people. I just think that there must be room to portray an empowered girl (and feminist sentiment like equality) that is accessible to and not at the expense of our young males.

One Monday morning in September, Mrs. Barrington rolled out a big poster with all of the presidents’ pictures on it. Grace Campbell could not believe her eyes. Where are the GIRLS?

Wearing a tank top that makes me think Wonder Woman, Grace stews on the fact that the United States has never had a female president. She decides to run for office. And the wonderful Mrs. Barrington decides they should hold an election and invites another class to join in. Thomas Cobb is nominated as their candidate and this is worrisome to Grace. Thomas was a winner.

This is where I must tell you that this book is great in an election year. Each of the non-running students drew a state and thus controlled that state’s electoral college. This is explained to the students and readers, and expanded upon in an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book. Each candidate campaigns and models the popular ways of doing so. They create slogans and posters, list campaign promises, meet with constituents, and hold polls. Grace gives speeches, hands out free treats, and holds rallies. You see her go the extra mile. And we find that Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to. “He had cleverly calculated that the boys held slightly more electoral votes than the girls.”

It is a nice addition the story to see how sincere Grace is about creating change and becoming a true leader. “Even before the election, Grace made good on her promises.” She models a good civic leader.

We come to the election day and each student, costumed to represent their state publicly cast their electoral votes. With Thomas at 268 and Grace at 267 there is only one more state and this 3 electoral vote will decide the election. The state is “The Equality State” of Wyoming and the student is a boy. It is a tense double-page spread wondering how Sam  was going to vote. And then—-he votes for “the best person for the job” (emphasis mine).

The election had transcended gender expectations and voting along strict party gender lines. The story became about our ideals: voting for the right person for the job as well as being the right person for the job.

“When deciding on how Grace should look, I thought an African American girl sounded ideal, and gave her as much spunk as I could. This, of course, was before Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton decided to run for president — how timely that my candidate is both female and African American!” LeUyen Pham (interview w/ “7 Impossible Things before Breakfast.”)

Grace is a bold figure who would encourage the female and minority reader to not be daunted by the way things are, envisioning a way things could be. DiPucchio creates realistic obstacles for Grace—at least in the proposed age bracket. The election process is not easy on Grace, and there is a lovely moment of her slumped in a winged-back chair exhausted. So the story isn’t a motherly pat followed by an “of course you can, sweetie.” The book is more of a “please do,” with the reassurance that even a little blonde boy from Wyoming is a probable voter.

The book ends with a final image. A page depicting a grown-up Grace Campbell taking her oath of presidential office (from a more diminutive elderly white man).  The opening and closing end pages? The first are framed portraits of presidents with Grace standing there holding her own frame, inserting herself into the gallery. The closing is a depiction of the Mount Rushmore with a carving of Grace’s visage beside Abe Lincoln’s.

LeUyen Pham’s images go a long way toward the dramatization and impact of the story. It is vibrant with youthful energy, patterns and color. The main characters are given a lot of personality and share much of the characterization with the author. You will likely notice when Sam with his body facing Thomas during the double-page “meeting with constituents,” has his head is turned toward Grace. But did you notice in the following pages how he is at every one of Grace’s activities (minus the rally) as well as Thomas’? Grace is not the only powerful figure at work in the book. Both Grace and Sam are fighting for opportunity, for equality, and for the best person for the job.

You may think Grace for President is a good book for the girls in your life reader or no, but this is an informative and inspiring picture book for the boys in your life as well!

*************************

recommendations: Grades K-4; though Natalya (at grade 7 found it enjoyable, too). Great for explaining the election process from campaigning to how votes are tallied.

of note: I had seen this when it was out and making all the lists, but I was driven to check it out from the library because the illustrator LeUyen Pham—stay tuned for an {illustrator} post very soon.

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio

Illustrations by LeUyen Pham

Hyperion, 2008. Hardcover, 40 pages.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeremy F says:

    I like your opening statement and it is timely for me. Today my daughter told me she was Superman while we were playing.

    I guess if she wants to be superman that’s fine (at the time I told her she could be super girl and she liked that) but that + this post has me thinking. I have thought it is important to have strong empowered females for those times when we need someone who can make us feel kick ass and bad to the bone (like superman?), but I also recently saw the power of an empowered female who isn’t confined to the stereotypical male role (and as you say accessible to males) when I read Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre. Snake, the prot. was a fantastically strong, empowered female and completely outside of the macho/emasculating trope. Compared to many of those stereotypically strong males that I’ve read recently, I think I identified most with (and looked up to) Snake!

    I’m glad you’ve found something similar here and my library also carries this one, so we’ll definitely be checking this one out for my little superman. Thanks!

    1. L says:

      It is tricky in life and literature to express qualities of power and privilege without conflicting with the ways in which those qualities or traits are attributed to gender–primarily the masculine gender. so wanting to be superman is often more about wanting to have what he has, be who he is to other people and less about being another sex per se. dualistic thinking can be so limiting.
      I am intrigued by this book Dreamsnake. I love the idea that a strong female prot. can be made so outside of the macho/emasculating trope. In a lot of ways it does come down to good characterization.

      so amusing story about playing superheroes. we had a friend who had a superhero party for his 5th birthday (this was a while back because Natalya was 8 or 9?). Everyone was to show up dressed as a hero (borrowed or invented) and the mom had created this elaborate rescue mission, it was awesome. We suggested some great female heroes and Natalya went as Rogue (still a favorite of hers). We rubbed white grease paint in her hair, she wore gloves, made an x-men pin… Being Rogue, she explained to the boy heroes that touching them without gloves meant she took all their powers. She proceeded to demonstrate. She made the hulk and spiderman and superman cry. She amended by saying she just borrowed them. whew!

      1. Jeremy F says:

        Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have suggested she be supergirl instead since it might accidentally reinforce that dualism. I confess I’m a little paranoid that she see as many good examples as possible since there are so damn many bad ones!

        BTW that story was hilarious! Poor little superheroes…

  2. ibeeeg says:

    I agree with you – there must be room an empowered female character while not at expense of others – the males and even other females. Far too often, I do read about an incredible female character but only to be put off by her overpowering the men – as if males are not needed…as if, to be a strong female then you must not have any need for a man or rely on a man, etc. I think that can send the wrong message as to expectations on what being an empowered female means.

    This book sounds interesting. As this is an election year – timely for me to put this on my list of books to check out from the library. As always, thanks for putting another book on my radar. 🙂

    1. L says:

      “I think that can send the wrong message as to expectations on what being an empowered female means.” –so true

  3. bishop2 says:

    This illustrator is really good. Thank you for your post!

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