By: Bethany Porter, Collection Development Analyst.

Hohistory as it happensw can adults teach children about voting and Inauguration Day while still being fair and bipartisan? How do we convey that, on January 20th and 21st, we are studying history as it happens? I have been struggling with this question as I try to explain to my stepson what has been happening throughout this year’s election. It always surprises me how observant he is, even as a kindergartener.

I am sure this issue is even more perplexing for educators, who may be dealing with dozens of students every day, all who come from different families and backgrounds. Here is a (very brief) history lesson about voting rights in the United States, and a few books to accompany. These titles should appeal to both children and adults, and is a positive reminder of how far our country has come in the way of equal rights.

Eight stops on the timeline of the American vote

1789 – Only 6% of the United States population can vote. Voters are all white, male, adult, and property owners.
1856 – All white men can vote, regardless of property ownership.
1870 – Voters can no longer be denied explicitly because of race, but creative tactics are used to keep non-white people from voting. Some of these include literacy tests, threats, or physical violence, categorically known as Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws.
1887 – Native Americans are allowed to vote, but only if after resigning tribal affiliation and becoming U.S. citizens.
1920 – Women are granted the right to vote. This included women of color, but many could still not vote because of poll taxes, also designed to restrain voting rights, targeted at select populations
1952 – Asian-Americans are finally considered qualified for citizenship, and thus permitted to vote.
1965 – The Voting Rights Act is passed. This states that there should be no more restrictions on who can and cannot vote based on religion, gender, or color. Many people of color are still persecuted and meet with resistance at polling sites, despite the change in the law. The Voting Rights Act and the backlash against it sparked a flashpoint in the Civil Rights Movement.
1971 – The voting age is lowered from 21 to 18. The nation was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and the prevailing sentiment was if an 18-year-old is old enough to serve their country during war, they should be old enough to vote.

Favorite titles

You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an instrumental member of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She was friends with Susan B. Anthony, and wrote many of Anthony’s famous speeches. Stanton not only fought for women’s right to vote, but also for more equal rights for women in general. Women gained the right to vote in 1920, which means that we have been able to vote for less than 100 years!

Lillian’s Right to Vote
This is the story of a 100-year-old African American woman who is on her way to vote. As she climbs the hill to her voting site, we see her life revealed through wispy images in the background. This book is a sobering reminder that there are still people alive who remember talking to their grand and great-grandparents about their experience as slaves. The Voting Rights Act was not passed until 1965, meaning that African Americans and Native Americans were still not able to vote if they arrived at a location where workers refused them; that was just over 50 years ago.

Vote for Me!
This book is much less serious than the ones I have already mentioned, but I was surprised to find how well it explains the campaign process to young children. This book is incredibly tongue-in-cheek, which appeals to me as an adult, but is also cute and funny for kids. Donkey quotes fake statistics about the Black Sheep in families, and Elephant insults Donkey by calling himself a Monkey’s Uncle. This book could easily be turned into a lesson about bullying, and why we shouldn’t use direct personal insults in reasonable conversations or debates.

View our complete list of suggested titles.

I will continue to do my best to explain to my 5-year-old how the government works in a way he understands, but I will be spending much more time on encouraging tolerance and fairness. I hope that his generation will be able to make even more strides toward equality.

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