As we head into the fall and one of the most momentous elections in our nation’s history, voting is more important than ever. A new picture book about voting and civic engagement is both timely and queer-inclusive.
V Is for Voting, an alphabet book written by Kate Farrell and illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald (Henry Holt), offers simple phrases and sentences for each letter, all related to voting and democracy. “A is for active participation. B is for building a more equal nation,” it begins. We read about a Free Press, those who Govern, Judges (with a close-up of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s famous white jabot), and more, while learning the importance of Engagement, Questions, Teachers, Working for change, and other concepts, all depicted with Kuhwald’s bold, bright illustrations.
We meet a variety of activists and leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, O. J. Semans, Patsy Takemoto Mink, and Ida B. Wells, along with Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter and many more. They’re not named in the text itself, but a page at the end tells us who they are. Along with the famous people, however, a diverse group of young people and their parents march, speak out, help each other, and seek to learn more about our country and its democratic processes. Several pages show peaceful protests and marches; others show community members helping each other or working side-by-side. A few anthropomorphic animals in some of the marches seem odd at first, but perhaps they’re intended to remind us of the need for environmental justice that impacts all creatures.
I particularly appreciated that on the page for Suffrage, the text notes, “This fight is ongoing, not history’s footnote.” A Voting Rights timeline at the end also takes us from 1787, when the U.S. Constitution was written, through 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, “allowing states with a history of discrimination to pass new voting laws without federal approval.” There’s a lot to unpack there, and this book doesn’t, but perhaps it will inspire readers (and their grown-ups) to dig deeper with other books and resources.
Most of the pages show positive actions towards change and civic participation; the only one that doesn’t is “H is for homelands that we’ve occupied.” Since this occupation is in fact the tragic and awful underpinning of our whole democratic experiment, that page feels appropriate to include—but parents and teachers may need to explain to young people that it is not, like the concepts on the other pages, something to aspire to.
Harvey Milk is the only famous person shown who is clearly queer (though you can count Eleanor Roosevelt if you like), but several of the unnamed cast carry rainbow signs during protests and marches, which we see them making right on the first page. In one scene, a young person of ambiguous gender wears a rainbow button and carries a sign with the transgender symbol on it, marching arm-in-arm with their mother; they both seem to be of South Asian heritage. On another page, the two are again marching together and the mother is carrying a sign with a rainbow heart. I would have liked to have seen Marsha P. Johnson or another trans activist clearly depicted among the famous people in the book—but at least there’s a young trans person carrying the trans symbol, with the support of their mother, which feels equally important.
The book bears obvious similarities to Rob Sanders’ Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights(my review here) and Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist, but doesn’t feel redundant. Nagara’s is a board book for much younger children (though the vocabulary is geared to an older crowd); Sanders’ is specific to activism and protest rather than civic engagement more broadly as in V Is for Voting. That’s not a criticism—all of these perspectives are important, and I heartily recommend all of these books.
Farrell wrote the book “to help even the youngest readers understand why voting is important” and to help them “feel invested in and hopeful for the future of our democracy,” she explained in the press materials. “A government that doesn’t reflect the diversity of its people cannot represent the will of its people.” This year, that message is more important than ever.
Want more kids’ books on social justice? Here are a few.
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