In a presidential election year, there will, of course, be political biographies. But political biographies for children? This month three children’s books about one candidate — Hillary Clinton — hit the shelves. Aimed at a variety of age groups, the books deliver a similar message of female strength, though admittedly one likely to go down easier in Democratic-leaning households.
Jonah Winter’s picture book “Hillary” (Schwartz & Wade, ages 4 to 8) begins with a slightly tongue-in-cheek overview of history’s notably strong women: Queen Elizabeth, Joan of Arc (“she was . . . kind of intense”), Rosie the Riveter, “and now there is . . . Hillary.” The first image, rendered delicately in watercolor, colored pencils and lithograph crayon by Raul Colón, shows young Hillary in a baseball cap, surrounded by tall boys, pointing assertively. “She was scrappy,” Winter writes. The tale that unfolds will be familiar to parental readers — Hillary graduating from law school, becoming a mother and first lady. There’s even a summary of her work for health care reform. In simple terms, Winter offers younger readers a portrait of someone who learns all she can and draws on her experience in tough situations. As secretary of state, “she was the hardest of workers, getting up earlier and staying up later than anyone, reading countless reports filled with important information, making decisions that might save lives or cost lives.”There is little subtlety to Winter’s depiction, and his author’s note says it most plainly: “By becoming president, she would demonstrate that a girl can grow up to be the most powerful person in the world. That’s the world where I want to live. And this is a story I am thrilled to tell.”
Cynthia Levinson once lived across the hall from Clinton at Wellesley, and her biography “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can” (Balzer + Bray, ages 10 to 14) conveys her admiration for her former schoolmate. Levinson’s portrait shows a smart, determined young woman who acts fearlessly and with conviction. Levinson draws on a number of sources, including Clinton’s writing, as well as previous biographies and interviews. Levinson’s style is clear and reportorial, her narrative straightforward with restrained analysis (though a couple of chronological errors will stick out for adult readers). The book’s discussion of Clinton’s historical mentor, Eleanor Roosevelt, offers young readers a way to understand politics as service. Levinson allows her subject to demonstrate fallibility and doubt, and she acknowledges Clinton’s struggle with admitting mistakes, such as her support, as a U.S. senator, of the resolution to go to war with Iraq. Levinson highlights Clinton’s assertion at the 1995 U.N. conference on women that “human rights are women’s rights . . . and women’s rights are human rights,” an idea that will feel familiar to the many young readers who have been introduced to Malala Yousafzai’s life and work.
Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham’s picture book biography, “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead” (Balzer + Bray, ages 4 to 8), focuses on the mostly male political world Clinton had to navigate to get where she is. Of the three books, this biography takes the most lighthearted and cheering girl-power approach. Markel and Pham’s account opens with a double-page portrait in grays and browns of the famous men who dominated each field, from politics and humanitarianism to physics and sports in the 1950s. “Girls weren’t supposed to act smart, tough or ambitious,” Markel writes. “But in the town of Park Ridge, Ill., along came Hillary.” Standing next to that sentence, in color, is a young Clinton, hands on hips, sporting a beret. Later she is shown raising money for the poor, listening to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., championing women, children and the poor, withstanding criticism and remaining bravely forthright. In a detailed and remarkably entertaining artist’s note, Pham identifies the cameo appearances by several dozen noteworthy women, including physicist Lisa Randall, chef Alice Waters and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Mothers and grandmothers may find themselves feeling teary-eyed and thrilled about this expansive collection of substantial women. The story isn’t finished, but the sense of possibility is enticing.
Kathie Meizner is a librarian who regularly reviews children’s books for The Washington Post.
Cynthia Levinson will be at Politics and Prose at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW.