Evelynne Hebber wasn’t shy about sharing her vote for president.
“I like Piggie,” Herber, 4, declared, stuffing her ballot into the box and collecting a “Hip hip hooray I voted today” sticker. “’I’m a frog’ and ‘I Really Like Slop’ are my favorite books.”
Hebber was among the first to submit a vote in the final round for President of the Children’s Room at the La Crosse Public Library. After a closely contested primary, the race was narrowed to two distinguished candidates when polls opened on Halloween: Piggie, from the “Elephant and Piggie” series by Mo Willems, and Thea Stilton, from the youth novels by Edizioni Piemme.
“We had 109 kids vote in the primary,” said Dana Johnson, a youth services librarian who organized the first-year election project. “This is a great way for families to have those beginning conversations about elections and democracy without getting heated.”
Johnson chose six children’s book characters for the primary election, three male and three female, with children placing a sticker on the candidate’s poster of their choosing. Books featuring each character, as well as youth targeted nonfiction books on elections and government, were on display to help children make informed choices.
Holding a primary was important to Johnson, who wanted show the full spectrum of the election process and teach the fundamentals of democracy.
“There is a lot more to it than just showing up one day to vote,” Johnson said. “Some people have participated in the whole process. Some of the kids asked about voting early and came back to follow up on where their candidate placed in the primary.”
While there was some upset about Pete the Cat’s loss, children of all ages can relate to the final candidates, both female. Piggie promotes friendship, compromise and loyalty, while Thea speaks to teamwork, adventure and family. There is also the option to write in a candidate.
“Children’s books have a wonderful way of teaching kids about overcoming obstacles. (The characters) embody people you can root for,” Johnson said. “We want them to vote for a character they love but also explore new books.”
Johnson says families have embraced the activity, asking their kids what Piggie’s platform is and checking out books from “both sides.”
“They want their kids to take it seriously. They have good conversations coming in and leaving — they’ll talk about Trump and Clinton and say ‘I’m going to be voting in a few weeks, and you can vote here.’ It’s a nice way to talk about it if you’re afraid to bring little ones into the current election environment.”
Johnson hopes to keep the program running during future elections, both local and national, to keep children abreast of the connections between literacy, information and democracy.
“As a library we are a civic center of the community and it is our duty to inform the public,” Johnson said. “We want kids to know your opinion matters, your voice matters, your vote matters.”
Voting for President of the Children’s Room will be open during regular library hours through Nov. 8. The winning candidate will be announced the morning of Nov. 9 with a celebration and display in the Children’s Room.