mentor texts · politics · writing workshop

Vote for Me + a Giveaway

If you’re a political junkie like me, then you love presidential election years.  Seriously, I live for election night coverage… it’s my Super Bowl!  (I’m not kidding.  I have laid in bed late at night and checked my iPhone just to find out if returns came back from close-to-call caucuses and primaries earlier this year.)  Therefore, you can imagine how excited I was when a review copy of Ben Clanton‘s Vote for Me crossed my desk.  Initially, I adored it for is satirical, informative, and bi-partisan look at the political process, as it stands, in this country.  As a teacher of writing, I came to like this book for the book’s unique structure, its incredible humor, and its highly amusing surprise ending.

Rather than just telling you about it, I wanted to show you some interior spreads from the book (see below) and provide you with an opportunity to learn more about the author and his process.  Finally, Kids Can Press, Vote for Me‘s publisher, is giving away a copy of the book to one reader who comments on this post.  Please read the specifics at the bottom of this post for more information about entering your name into the giveaway contest.

SAS:  It’s an election year, which makes this book an obvious pick for teachers to add to their classroom bookshelves.  But why should teachers pick Vote for Me! as opposed to other books about politics?

BC:  Tough question! I think there are really quite a few great children’s books about elections/politics. Some of my favorites are Madam President by Lane Smith, Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier and illustrated by Lynne Avril, and I’m guessing that Amelia Bedelia’s First Vote by Herman Parish and illustrated by Lynne Avril will also be good. I suppose what makes Vote for Me! stand out, though, is the interactivity of the book. Vote for Me! is meant to be in the same tradition as The Monster at the End of This Book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and The Book that Eats People. Like those books, Vote for Me! breaks the fourth wall by addressing the reader directly and bringing them in as part of the story. I find kids really respond to that sort of a book. This is particularly a good thing for an election book to do, as elections are very much about getting people to participate and be enthusiastic. So, there is a hands-on-ish aspect to the book that I think really adds to the kid appeal and helps to increase interest in the subject matter. However, if I were a teacher, I would want to partner Vote for Me! with a few other books that go into a bit more detail about the actual electoral process. What Vote for Me! offers in terms of educational components is a sense for the U.S. political discourse and a chance to truly engage the kids in the subject matter.

SAS:  The donkey and the elephant both seem rather childish.  How does this reflect the rhetoric we see nowadays in politics?

BC:  Sometimes I think we should switch to a word like “adultish” rather than “childish”! It has been my experience that the behavior exhibited by some adults, especially those in the political and business arenas, can be ridiculous. So, yes, both Donkey and Elephant can be quite foolish and petty, and unfortunately I think this is a fairly accurate portrayal of much of the rhetoric we see in politics today. I imagine some adults might think a children’s book should steer clear of such a pessimistic outlook. Personally, I have great confidence in even the youngest of Vote for Me!’s audience to process the book at the level they are ready to process it at. However, I really think the book is quite optimistic at the end. I feel I should clarify, though, that I did not make the book to make a statement about politics. I made Vote for Me! to entertain and engage.

SAS:  The book vacillates between the characters talking to one another and talking to the reader.  How did you manage to do this in such a seamless way?

BC:  I’m glad that it does come off as seamless to you! It was definitely a challenge to switch between having the characters talk to each other and the reader. I had to think carefully about each word and also the positions in which I rendered Donkey and Elephant. I found that even the smallest of details could make all the difference. Often this meant moving the dot eyes a smidge this way or that.

SAS:  There’s a lot of humor that seems a little sophisticated for the PreK–3 set [i.e., the asterisk that says “In fact, 97% of sheep agree that Donkey is #1.  (The other 3% are the black sheep of their families.)].  Did you include humor like this to appeal to adults or do you think kids will ask their parents to explain the humor?

BC:  I agree that there is quite a bit of humor that is a little sophisticated for my target audience. But I think this can be an okay thing for a children’s book to do. It is nice to have bits for an older reader to enjoy, because if an adult is having fun reading the book, then I think it helps them read the story with more enthusiasm and so the younger reader(s) with them will also get more out of it. However, I feel some of the humor might go over the heads of adults and there will be bits that kids get but their parents do not. I did not spend a whole lot of time thinking about what age group would get which jokes in Vote for Me!, but I did try to create the book with a broad audience in mind. In my book, though, kids come first! My target audience is kids and I would not have made this book if I thought it was more for adults.

SAS:  What kind of relationship/history do you have with the political arena (e.g., ever worked for a campaign, are you glued to the cable news cycle, want to run for political office?)?

BC:  While I take an interest in politics, I am definitely not obsessive. My main passion is children’s books. However, I was fairly active when in high school and college. I went to high school in Montana, where I was a leader in the Young Democrats club and Young Politicians. I helped out with canvassing and several campaigns. I participated in the Close Up program and really found Montanan politicians to be quite accessible. I had a somewhat similar experience when I went to Willamette University in Oregon. The Oregon capitol was right across the street from campus. I minored in politics and was a strategy team member of Stand for Children. I am about a couple years out of college now and living in Seattle. I find it much easier to just blend in with the crowd here, but I still want to do my best to be an active citizen. I used to have political ambitions, but the idea is really unappealing to me now. Perhaps someday if I truly felt I could make a difference. I find working with kids and making books to be much more fun and rewarding.

SAS:  I noticed you dedicated your book to your mom and dad.  Mom’s name was surrounded by a blue bubble, while your dad’s had a red bubble around it.  Does this mean you were raised by a Democrat and Republican who tried to get you to side with them, or am I reading too much into the book’s dedication?

BC:  I’m glad you noticed! Yes, my mom is mostly a Democrat and my dad is mostly a Republican. Originally, I was going to have the dedication read, “To my mom the donkey and my dad the elephant,” but figured that it might be offensive to call my mother a donkey. When I was a kid, though, I thought we (my family) were all Democrats when we lived in Oregon because I saw on TV that we lived in a blue state, and so I figured when we moved to Montana that we became Republicans. The two sides were really fairly fascinating to me as a kid, and as I grew up I was quite curious to figure out which I was. And what am I? I’m mostly a donkey, but I would love to see the U.S. get beyond its two-party system.

SAS:  Do you ever wonder if politicians feel as hurt as the donkey and the elephant did after they engaged in mud-slinging?

BC:  I believe politicians are as human as the rest of us (except for the ones who are aliens), so I would be surprised if politicians don’t feel hurt every now and then. My compassion for most politicians is quite limited, though. Just as it is with Donkey and Elephant! I think it is a good thing to deflate the egos of the powerful a bit. In my opinion, political cartoonists have really a very important job. I just wish we would do as much critiquing of rich business people as we do of politicians. And now I step off of my soapbox!

SAS:  Without me giving away the ending, what made you decide upon a surprise ending?

BC:  I’m not sure that any other ending would work. For what I think are obvious reasons I couldn’t end Vote for Me! with Donkey winning or Elephant winning. I did think about having them tie but decided that would have come off as too convenient and sappy. It really would not have fit with the tone of the book. Another possibility I thought about was just leaving it at a cliff-hanger where the winner is not decided, or have Donkey and Elephant ask the reader to choose and leave it at that. But I think those would have been unsatisfying endings.

The ending I went with really feels right to me. Donkey and Elephant get so absorbed in their fight that they don’t really consider a possible result beyond themselves. I’ve been told by a number of people that they really like the point I make at the end of Vote for Me! Really, I went with the surprise ending because I found it entertaining and it felt right. I was not trying to make a point. But any unintentional point(s) of Vote for Me! are ones I agree with and am glad to make.

SAS:  What are you working on next?

BC:  I just finished illustrating two books. One of them is the second book in a beginning chapter book series by Caroline Adderson and it is called Jasper John Dooley: Left Behind (Kids Can Press), which will be out next spring. I think it is brilliantly funny and eccentric and nuanced. Jasper John Dooley: Left Behind will be out next spring. The other book I just finished illustrating is called Max Has a Fish by Wiley Blevins (Penguin Young Readers) and it is a really funny tragedy about a boy who has a fish that can’t dance. And that will be out in September. I have several picture books in the works. The next one will not be out until the fall of 2013, though. I do have a couple other stories in mind for Donkey and Elephant, but I’m not sure if those will end up happening. We’ll see how Vote for Me! does!

Thank you for the great questions!

Reprinted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd., Toronto. Text copyright © 2012 Ben Clanton. Illustrations copyright © 2012 Ben Clanton.
Reprinted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd., Toronto. Text copyright © 2012 Ben Clanton. Illustrations copyright © 2012 Ben Clanton.

If you’re like me and you need something besides the back and forth rhetoric between Gov. Romney and Sen. Santorum (and the newest attacks between Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney) to get you through the next two weeks and five days until the Pennsylvania Primary, then you’ll want to pick up this book!  And, as an aside, if you, too, live in Pennsylvania and the political commercials, which have infiltrated every television station, are too much to stomach, then start DVRing your favorite shows.  Nothing beats a fast forward button at a time like this!

Giveaway Information/Rules:

  • A special thank you to Kids Can Press for sponsoring a giveaway of one copy of Vote for Me for one of our readers.
  • To win a copy of the book please leave a comment about any experience you’ve had teaching about the political process with your students or something that you can take away from my interview with Ben Clanton to share with your students.
    • Please leave your comment in the comments section of this post by Thursday, April 12th, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. A random drawing will take place on Friday, April 13th and the winner’s name will be announced in a blog post that weekend.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Kids Can Press send the book out to you.  Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.

26 thoughts on “Vote for Me + a Giveaway

  1. I remember watching the electoral results when I was in school. I think I colored in a map – red and blue – with which states gave their votes to each candidate.


  2. The preschool children voted for their favorite cartoon character. It was a tie between Dora the Explorer and Scooby Doo. Other candidates included Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.


  3. This book looks great!
    It did not matter who I wanted to win the election, the opportunity to walk with my students during our last presidential election was unique. We enjoyed talking about what we were thinking, and it was a wonderful opportunity to talk them thru the inauguration experience as well.

    I am sure this book would add to future discussions.


  4. With middle school students, I always pushed to help them learn about the issues so they could begin making up their own minds, rather than parroting parent views. (I always sent a letter to parents to ask them for help too.) In the last election, the experience was inspirational because not only did we have a respected senator and war hero running, but the first African-American, both of whom were educated and well-spoken. There was time over the months to look carefully at what they said, what they advertised, and so on. It was such an exciting time, & time to begin to respect others’ opinions whether one agreed or not.


  5. “Vote for Me’ is a new book for me. I teach the election process to small groups of ESL students each year. I am always looking for new material and new ways to make the election process easier for my students to understand. I will be checking out Ben Clanton’s book at the local library next week.


  6. I too love the “Presidential Year” although this one seems like it has been going on forever. I used “Duck for President” in the last cycle with my first graders. Then we put up a bulletin board about the two candidates. Our class ran a presidential vote for our whole school counting up the votes and reporting the results. Can’t wait to get my hands on this book. It seems like a great companion for Mo Willems’ books and “Duck for President”.


  7. I too love the “Presidential Year” although this one seems like it has been going on forever. I used “Duck for President” in the last cycle with my first graders. Then we put up a bulletin board about the two candidates. Our class ran a presidential vote for our whole school counting up the votes and reporting the results. Can’t wait to get my hands on this book. It seems like a great companion for Mo Willems’ books and “Duck for President”.


  8. This sounds like a great starting point for discussion about the upcoming elections. I have no experience teaching political topics in a classroom, but after reading the post, and other comments– I would be interested in starting this year with my 4th graders.


  9. Oh this book looks great! Well, the big question that kids always ask is, “So, who did you vote for????” Trying to explain to little ones that it’s not that easy to explain . . . maybe this book will help! Thanks for the opportunity to win and share it with my class!


  10. Usually in my kindergarten classroom I only briefly touch on politics. I don’t really get into politics myself and have no interest in getting into anything beyond what I’m required to teach in this area. However, this being an election year, I was offered an opportunity that I could not refuse. My local State Representative came in during March and read to my class. She read the Doreen Cronin book, Duck For President. As she read, she talked a little bit about the election process and her experiences. I was surprised at how interested my class was! I would love to read this book to my kids now and give them a bit more info about elections and politics! Maybe my interest will grow too…somewhere along the way!


  11. I am in a teacher licensing program so as yet, I haven’t taught anything about politics- I have had my two girls go through the 4th grade President’s Conference- each student is assigned a president that they research and write a first person speech for. Then they create a “on button” Parents and students are invited and each 4th grader is dressed in costume and sitting at their desk- when you press the on button they begin their speech.


  12. I use a book called My Teacher For President and that always gets a good dicussion going. It’s fun (for me) to include the discussion about really evaluating the promises made–is it a realistic promise? Or do you just want the sucker? This sounds and looks like a great book to add to a collection!


  13. Our kids do have some political process going on when we vote for ‘student council’ reps (I’m at an elementary). We do teach them about opinion and there is a certain amount of campaigning. We try to teach them about the ‘right’ way…but they are quick to point out how it isn’t done that way in our country. The time we had the most fun with this was early in my career when Illinois was voting for a state animal….we did have the opportunity to teach the process and it was really cool when the animal chosen (white tailed deer) won in Illinois. Those are memories that will linger for many years.


  14. I teach 4th and 5th graders and guide my students through mock election cycles–complete with fundraising, holding primaries, and registering to vote. I’ve tried to include as many of the actual steps candidates go through as possible, and it becomes a great way for kids to understand and connect to what they hear in the news. It also makes it fun to pull in books on the topic to add to students’ understanding of the nuances of elections.


  15. What a terrific interview! I suspect this book is for older students than my preschool crowd, but I am going to get a copy for my own pleasure – I, too, am a politics junkie and this book looks delightful. I just wanted to comment on an article in today’s Washington Post, noting that three young adults (ages 18 -21) were top vote getters in the primary for their school board (Prince Georges County, Maryland) and are the frontrunners for November elections. I am truly hopeful that our young people will make positive changes to our governing.


  16. Each election year, my class performs a play for our school. Last election year, we performed Santa Claus for President. I plan to perform one in November and think this book would make a good play. Even if I don’t win it, I will definitely buy it.


  17. During the last presidential election, students in my classroom organized and held a mock election. They did this with little input or help from me, they had been bringing in articles from newspapers to for current events assignments and became very interested in the outcome of the election. We did a little research on the electoral college (which I admit I still find odd and Byzantine, like an extra layer of bureaucracy to keep election results from being transparent) and when all was said and done we watched President Obama take the oath of office on television and felt that we were part of that historic moment.

    I am now teaching younger students, fifth grade, and I am uncertain how we will explore the elections. I think this book would be a great tool to use. My students respond to humor and can make sophisticated connections between their lives and what they read. Thank you for sharing information about this book!


  18. From reading the pages shared with us, I can tell my students would enjoy learning about the political world. They would certainly enjoy the humor the Clanton uses in his writing. Thank you, Kids Can Press & Two Writing Teachers!


  19. Each year my students learn about our government and the election process. It’s not always easy for them to grasp the concepts. I’m always looking for new books to help them better understand the process and engage them too. Clanton’s book “Vote For Me,” seems like a perfect edition to the unit.


  20. It can be challenging to discuss “polical” subjects with K-4 students who only “echo” what they hear at home in class; so often, the whole election process is overlooked. During the last election “season” I discovered Class President, by Johanna Hurwitz while looking Book Club books for third graders. While my goal in picking this text was to have kids discuss realistic fiction, I was amazed at how this triggered an interest in the election process (rather than who was running) and they challenged me to help them understand how the larger election process worked. I ended up using some internet resources from (I think) PBS and Scholastic that helped a little but I know they still had many questions. While “mock” elections and voting for our favorite food, dog or cookie are a way to understand counting votes, the process of “seeking” votes is largely lost in many elementary schools. This has triggered my thinking about finding resources such as Vote for Me. Thanks for posting about this – it looks good.


  21. My seventh grade students know very little about the political process, so it is imperative that we learn and discuss it in my social studies classes. I really stress citizenship throughout the school year, and understanding and participating in the political process is crucial in citizenship.

    I think a book such as Clanton’s “Vote For Me,” would entice students to learn more because of the artwork and unique take on the subject.

    Thanks to Kids Can Press AND Two Writing Teachers!


  22. I have used most of the other books mentioned here to teach about elections. But my favorite is Duck for President, because it’s hilarious. Which makes me think I’d enjoy this book, too. I know my students would get a kick out of it.


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