A new picture-book biography of Pete Buttigieg chronicles his life from his birth in Indiana to his groundbreaking run as a presidential candidate.
Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Levi Hastings (Henry Holt), begins during a “record-setting snowstorm” in South Bend, Indiana, as his parents welcome their new baby. “Only time would tell” who he would become, Sanders writes, a theme that recurs throughout the book as we follow the hard-working Buttigieg (referred to as “Pete” or “Mayor Pete”) through high school, college, world travels, learning about business, and being inspired to a life of service. We see him fail and then succeed both in a race for high school class president and later, in running for public office, where he lost a race for state treasurer before being elected mayor of South Bend.
We read of how the city gained a “new outlook,” during his first term as mayor, with “innovative industries” and “a community that welcomed all people—no matter their age, race, gender, religion, culture, or sexual orientation.” After serving in Afghanistan with the Navy Reserves and beginning a reelection campaign once he returned, Mayor Pete realized, however, “He had stood up for the rights of others but had never told the whole truth about himself.” He came out as gay in the local paper, writing, “It’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.” This honesty “was a win for Pete,” Sanders assures us, although some thought it would mean a loss as mayor. “Only time would tell,” we read again—although as it turns out, he won.
He then met teacher Chasten Glezman. “A friendship sprouted” between them, and they eventually fell in love, started a home, adopted dogs, and married. Hastings gives us a joyous full-page image of the two men kissing at their wedding.
Mayor Pete’s desire to serve kept him moving forward, however, and he soon thought about running for president, driven by his idea of “what America could be.” The book ends with Mayor Pete announcing his candidacy, and the observation that “Only time will tell who Pete Buttigieg, presidential candidate, will become.” It’s a smart way to end a book that was finished in May 2019 and fast-tracked for publication, as Sanders confirmed with me—well before Mayor Pete won the Iowa Democratic Caucuses but shortly thereafter dropped out of the race—and it may serve to inspire young readers on their own journeys of self-discovery and service.
This is a picture-book biography that appropriately takes a broad-brush approach to Mayor Pete’s achievements, almost completely skipping his business career and offering examples of mayoral duties that children can understand, like helping the city face snowstorms and floods, showing up for festivals and ribbon cuttings, officiating weddings, and reading to students. Throughout the book, Sanders poetically weaves in images of Indiana’s weather, seasons, and harvest. When Pete and Chasten meet, for example, “like Indiana sweet corn, a relationship began to grow.” It’s a nice way to ground the book in Pete’s midwestern roots and helps elevate it above many drier biographies for children.
An afterward gives further details about Mayor Pete’s distinction as the first out gay Democratic presidential candidate, the first millennial candidate, and the first veteran of the war in Afghanistan to be a candidate. It also provides a helpful lesson on how to say his last name, information on the requirements to be president, and a timeline of his life through April 2019. Hastings’ illustrations are heavy on patriotic red, white, and blue, brightened by a warm yellow that evokes both Indiana corn and Mayor Pete’s presidential campaign colors. Mayor Pete and his family are White; the people he encounters are an assortment of races and skin tones.
Sanders is one of the most prominent authors of LGBTQ-inclusive nonfiction picture books, including The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert D.J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier (my review here), Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution (my review here), Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag (my review here), and Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights (my review here). Mayor Pete is another skillful volume to add to the list and should particularly appeal to readers seeking a more contemporary look at LGBTQ people and history.
(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)