With the midterm elections around the corner, educators and caregivers have an opportunity to get children excited about the electoral process. Granted, it feels like a precarious time for democracy, with the specter of the Jan. 6 insurrection still looming. Nevertheless, there are reasons to feel hopeful. In recent years, our government has become far more diverse, with bold newcomers unafraid to take a stand for what’s right, as the subjects of these new picture-book biographies illustrate. From gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, whose mobilization of voters helped flip Georgia from red to blue in 2020, to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose 2018 win was one of the biggest upset victories of that year’s midterm primaries, the individuals profiled in these books will leave young readers eager to effect change of their own.
Stacey Abrams is a force to be reckoned with—no surprise that there are two new books dedicated to her this year (with another due in December). Sarah Warren’s insightful Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice (Lee & Low Books, Sept. 6), illustrated by Monica Mikai, explains how the politician’s commitment to justice is rooted in the example set by her community-minded parents. Traci N. Todd’s strikingly original Stacey Abrams and the Fight To Vote (Harper/HarperCollins, Aug. 30), illustrated by Laura Freeman, places its subject within the context of the Black women who came before her. Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Septima Poinsette Clark form a sort of Greek chorus as they chronicle Abrams’ life, with attention to her efforts to combat the injustices faced by Black voters; throughout, their respect and affection for her are palpable (“That child is one of us, too”).
“How did one young Boricua smash expectations / and become a phenomenal force in politics?” Anika Aldamuy Denise’s Phenomenal AOC: The Roots and Rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Harper/HarperCollins, Sept. 6) answers that question with panache, tracking the representative from a childhood in a working-class Bronx neighborhood to being the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Denise’s forceful text and Loris Lora’s vibrant images make for a winning profile of a determined trailblazer.
The first Thai American and the first woman with a disability elected to Congress, the first senator to give birth while in office, and the first senator to cast a vote while holding her newborn—the subject of Christina Soontornvat’s A Life of Service: The Story of Senator Tammy Duckworth (Candlewick, Sept. 13) has redefined conceptions of what a politician looks like. Accompanied by Dow Phumiruk’s muted yet expressive illustrations, this multifaceted portrayal of Duckworth covers her childhood travels, the poverty she endured growing up, and the injuries she sustained while serving in Iraq in 2004.
Mama in Congress: Rashida Tlaib’s Journey to Washington (Clarion/HarperCollins, Sept. 20), written by the congresswoman and her son Adam with co-author Miranda Paul, and illustrated by Olivia Asser, offers an appealing child’s-eye perspective on its subject’s path to politics. Narrated by young Adam, visiting the Capitol with his younger brother, Yousif, and their mother, the book makes Tlaib’s journey accessible—and perhaps replicable—to a young audience as Adam discusses his mother’s willingness to persevere despite her initial doubts that a Muslim and Arab candidate could succeed.
There are plenty of books on the horizon to keep readers interested in the political process in the coming year, including Tami Charles’ Ketanji Brown Jackson: A Justice for All (Simon & Schuster, April 4, 2023), illustrated by Jemma Skidmore. And with the inspiring Put Your Shoes On & Get Ready! (Philomel, Jan. 10, 2023), illustrated by Temika Grooms, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock uses footwear as a metaphor for the many jobs he’s held over his life—and for the great things he hopes readers will achieve.
Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.