Reviewed by Katie Seitz
Book Author: Kelly S. DiPucchio
Grace for President by author Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator LeUyen Pham rchronicles the political campaign of Grace Campbell, a smart and ambitious elementary school student who, when she learns that not a single U.S. president has been a woman, decides to be the first. Her teacher has the idea to hold a mock presidential election with another class, so Grace has to run against one of the most popular students in school.
The book follows Grace and her class through an explanation of the U.S. electoral process and a description of her campaign. While the other candidate, Thomas, trusts that all the boys will vote for him and thus does the minimum to reach out to the other students, Grace’s integrity leads her to work on realizing her campaign promises–a cleaner, safer school with better food–even before the election. In the end, Grace’s hard work and tireless campaigning pay off, and she beats out her rival.
In the story’s climax–the election held in the school auditorium–Grace does not win by a landslide, but by a single vote. There is a certain rueful understanding to that margin of victory, and it adds an element of realism to what might otherwise be a conventional hard-work-pays-off narrative. LeUyen Pham’s lively illustrations show Grace to be full of spirit and character, and DiPucchio’s text gives a clear basic explanation of the U.S. electoral system. Also, the book deserves praise for making its heroine a girl of color.
Surprisingly, the book seems the least thoughtful around race, or the intersection of race and sex. While implicitly decrying Thomas’s sexism (he gets his comeuppance for taking the male vote for granted), DiPucchio avoids any discussion of the race issues at play in an election that pits a black girl against a white boy. It seems impossible that such an outspoken child as Grace would not point out the whiteness, as well as maleness, of our past presidents, but it never seems to occur to her. In addition, while Thomas is portrayed as a superstar–a spelling bee winner, athlete, and science whiz–Grace’s only attributes seem to be her drive and charm. She collects activities through the course of the story, but starts out as a blank slate, with no extracurricular activities or even hobbies mentioned to round out her personality.
Pham’s illustrations create problems of their own. The children depicted are very diverse–within limits. There seem to be very few children of recognizably Asian descent, and shades of brown skin stop at a certain level of darkness, except for a single pictured child. All five authority figures in the book are white or can be read as such, as well as the little boy who casts the deciding vote in Grace’s favor. Finally, there are several illustrations of children wearing Native or “Indian-style” traditional clothing as costumes, both trivializing and misrepresenting Indian cultures, especially when juxtaposed with flower- and bird-costumed students.
While eye-catching and relatively progressive in its message, Grace for President perpetuates other existing prejudices and is ultimately, unlike its heroine, not quite what it aspires to be.
Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Published by Disney-Hyperion on March 6th 2012
Genres: Girls and Women, School
Reading Level: Grades 1-2
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Buy at Powell's Books
SYNOPSIS: "Where are the girls?" When Grace's teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate the school's mock election! Author Kelly DiPucchio not only gives readers a fun introduction to the American electoral system, but also teaches them the value of hard work, courage, and independent thought--and offers an inspiring example of how to choose our leaders.