Author Dave Eggers’s books are always welcome, but this one is particularly so at a time when there is a national debate about insufficient civics education and how to engage young people in the civic life of their neighborhoods and country.
“What Can a Citizen Do?,” illustrated by Shawn Harris, explains to kids what being a citizen means and how they can be a good one. The charming book provides examples and sends the message that citizens aren’t born but are made by actions taken to help others and the world they live in:
A citizen’s not what you are -- a citizen is what you do. A citizen cannot forget the world is more than you... So forget yourself a second. Grab a shovel or a pen. Do something for another. Don’t you dare doubt that you can!
The book is said to be geared for children ages 4 to 8, but that shouldn’t stop anybody from reading it to younger and older people. I imagine we all know people who could benefit from solid examples of how to be better citizens.
So what can really young kids do?
Eggers is the author of many books for adults and kids, including “Heroes of the Frontier,” “The Circle” and “Her Right Foot” (which was also a collaboration with Harris). He is also the co-founder of “Voice of Witness,” an oral-history series focused on human rights, as well as 826 National, a network of writing and tutoring centers. He also co-founded ScholarMatch, which connects donors and under-resourced students who want to attend college.
Why did Eggers decide to write this book now, and why did he make it a book for kids? He wrote in an email:
"For some reason, in the fall of 2016, the idea of civic responsibility was on my mind. I can’t recall what was happening in the country then, but there must have been something in the wind.
“I love writing for kids, and they are so naturally idealistic and generous and civic-minded — we just need to encourage what’s already in their DNA. If we give kids power and responsibility and emphasize their role in society, then we have civic-minded young people. And they’re happy to be involved and to be given real information and real context. My picture book is simple on its face, but I tried to sneak in a radical idea, which is that the world is larger than any one person’s selfhood — that we have a responsibility to the whole.”