Red, White, and Rude:
Picture Books to Help Politicians Behave Better on the Campaign Trail

by Sharon Holbrook

Photo credit: Roberto A Sanchez, Collection: E+/ Getty Images

“When I grow up, I want to be president of the United States!” When these words come from the mouth of a young tot, Mom and Dad are inevitably proud of their child’s soaring aspirations. And why not? The kid is smart, energetic, charming, and hard-working. She really, really wants this. Why shouldn’t she be president one day? Yes, this could actually happen.

But prospective presidential parents would do well to hold off before planning overnights with the grandkids at the White House. Unfortunately, just wanting to be in charge isn’t enough, as every little Napoleon on the playground eventually discovers. Being a leader takes character, too. So please excuse us while we have a brief word with some very naughty children who’ve been setting a bad example lately.

Dear Candidates,

We’re sorry, but you’ve been simply rotten.  Must we spell it all out?  The insults, the incivility, the crudeness, the half-truths and untruths, the interruptions, the yelling, the dirty tricks, the general hatefulness. You know exactly what we’re talking about.

Unfortunately, we can’t send you to your room without dinner. We can’t spank you. We can’t wash your mouth out with soap, give you a good old-fashioned talking-to, or take away your TV time. (If only we could reduce the amount of time you’re on TV.)

So, in our most kind-but-firm parental manner, we offer some strongly recommended reading to help improve your behavior on the campaign trail.

  • How to Behave and Why

    by Munro Leaf

    If you need a refresher on being a person of good character — and we’re afraid some of you do — start with this 1946 classic. For one thing, no matter what the political party, we’re concerned about honesty. If someone isn’t honest, Leaf reminds us, “How can you believe a word they say? Even if they do tell the truth part of the time, how can you know which times they mean it and which times they don’t? No — we can’t say that just one little lie doesn’t count.”

    You must also remember that, even if you’ve been very successful in business or politics in the past, that doesn’t make you more special than anyone else. In other words, don’t be a narcissist. This means “never acting as though we were the only people in the world who counted … ‘I can’t always be right no matter who I am’ is a good thing for all of us to remember.” Indeed.

  • My Mouth Is A Volcano!

    by Julia Cook, illustrated by Carrie Hartman

    When you’re in a debate — which seems to be every night this election season — think before you speak, and wait your turn instead of interrupting. “When other people talk, words just pop into my head. Then they slide down onto my tongue,” explains Cook’s protagonist, Louis. We see this happening to all of you. But in the story, little Louis learns not to “erupt.” You can, too.

  • Voices Are Not For Yelling

    by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen

    We know you have very strong feelings. Can you share them calmly? Verdick’s instruction will help: “You have an indoor voice. It’s quiet. You have an outdoor voice. It’s LOUD! Sometimes you use your outside voice inside, because you feel excited. Or you feel MAD … and you really want to be heard!” Trust us, we’re hearing you loud and clear — and you can definitely benefit from these tips to tone it down.

  • Be Polite and Kind

    by Cheri J. Meiners, illustrated by Meredith Johnson

    Remember, in order to get anything done, we all have to treat each other with kindness. As this book teaches us: “When I speak polite words in a kind way, people enjoy being around me. It helps us get along. I want people to treat me with respect, so that’s how I treat them.”

    In a democracy, elected officials have to work with others and compromise. This is important. Practice it now, and practice it often.

  • Be Honest and Tell the Truth

    by Cheri J. Meiners, illustrated by Meredith Johnson

    What you say and how you behave show us the kind of person you really are. Your campaign behavior should say, “I can keep my promises … People can depend on me … I want to treat people fairly so that they can believe me and trust me.”

    We’re taking your words, and the tone in which they’re delivered, as signs of your true personalities and of what we can expect after the election. We’ve watched the debates. We know what you say on Twitter. Some of you are simply embarrassing us. You do remember that TV broadcasts and the internet are not your personal play rooms, right? Everyone — everyone in the whole world — can hear you. Words matter. Choose better ones, please.

  • Whoever You Are

    by Mem Fox, illustrated by Leslie Staub

    We’ve talked about getting along. But this is not just about getting along with other politicians, or other Americans. The world is full of lots of different kinds of people, and if you win, it will be your job to represent our country to all of them. You can’t forget that these folks, while they may speak different languages or believe in different religions, still share in our humanity. Fox’s book gives us a powerful reminder: “Joys are the same, and love is the same. Pain is the same, and blood is the same. Smiles are the same, and hearts are just the same — wherever they are, wherever you are, wherever we are, all over the world.” Read this book to learn how to use your power wisely, even with those who don’t share our citizenship.