In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two small girls and a baby boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bad Kitty: Civics Instructor?

Dear Annie,

I'm so glad you're enjoying The Borrowers.  It goes on for five books, but as with most series, the first is the best.  I'm also curious to see the new movie, The Secret World of Arrietty.  It seems to be based on at least the first two books, but the initial meeting of the human boy and Borrower girl appears to be a good deal more Disney-fied than your description of the book, alas.  But it's gotten some good reviews.  Hmm.

A customer asked me for a book a few weeks ago that would explain the Electoral College to her six year-old.  I understand the desire for one, but I couldn't think of any (suggestions, anyone?).   Then
Bad Kitty Runs for President
by Nick Bruel arrived at the store.  Bad Kitty is one of those gender-nonspecific characters, like Piggie, who turns out to be female.  Bad Kitty, through three picture books and five chapter books, is a mostly-obnoxious but often funny acter-outer, with occasional bursts of real likability.  Bad Kitty Meets the Baby, for example, is a new-sibling book with a lovely Chinese baby adoption twist to it. 

Bad Kitty Runs for President is not about the Electoral College, but it's a realistic-to-cynical explanation of democracy in action in America.  It bears more resemblance to politics of the past few months than to an upbeat civics text explaining how-a-bill-becomes-a-law.  In the book, the narrator persuades Bad Kitty to run for president of the Neighborhood Cat Club.  The only hint of an issue is Bad Kitty's anger at stray cats moving into the neighborhood (shades of anti-immigrant feeling?), and both sides of the argument are briefly laid out.  But issues quickly get bypassed while babies are kissed, money is raised, deceptive character claims are made ("This is Kitty," says her ad, "What a Good Kitty.  Such a Very Good Kitty."), and an attack ad is aired alleging that the opponent is really a dog.

Salted between episodes of Bad Kitty frenetic activity are "Uncle Murray's Fun Facts," explaining things like voter registration, and how massive amounts of money get funneled into campaigns, including PACs and Super PACs.  And when Bad Kitty works her way up to what promises to be an explosive tantrum when she loses, there's a little lecture about living in a democracy.  Given the cynicism of previous chapters, the concluding lines seem a bit starry-eyed:
Democracy makes sure that EVERYONE has a chance to participate, that EVERYONE has a chance to win, and that EVERYONE has the chance to become the leader of his or her community.
You may not like how the election ended, Kitty.  But you have no choice but to live with the results if you want to live in a democracy.
The book's format (early chapter) and look say that it's aimed primarily at second-to-fourth grade kids.  Is that the age to go into the major failures of the political process?  The trivialization of issues, the influence of money, the dishonesty of campaign claims: these are all very real parts of American politics.  I think I'd aim for this book not to be the first explanation of civics that a politically-emergent child reads.  But I wouldn't mind it being part of the mix in the early grades.

Have you started explaining presidential politics to Eleanor, or is that something for future years?

Love,

Deborah

2 comments:

  1. A lovely review. Thank you.

    Usually I don't chime in on blog discussions, but you were wondering about good books that explain the electoral college. I couldn't figure out how to include it in my own book but fortunately "Grace For President," a great picture book by Kelly DiPuccio and LeUyen Phan, does the job very nicely.

    Thanks again,

    Nick

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  2. Nick --
    Thanks for the visit!
    Hyperion has happily dusted off Grace for President, given her a new cover (American flag replaces a generic red banner), and will put her on sale next month. So I'll be ready with both Bad Kitty and Grace the next time I'm asked about the nitty gritty of presidential elections.

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