We often think of being a citizen as having the ability to vote (something not nearly enough of us do — I know, I know, that’s another post), but there’s so much more to it. And kids are surely hearing this word a lot more these days as we discuss the current issues around refugees, immigration, and the path to citizenship.
What they may not be hearing enough though, is what makes a good citizen?
So I’m thrilled that Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris have come along at the perfect moment with their exquisite new picture book, What Can a Citizen Do? to show kids — and their grownups — that being a good citizen is important, it’s fun, and it’s actually very fulfilling.
To be sure, this is no dry civics book. I mean, if you know Dave Eggers would you think anything else? It’s everything I love in a picture book: a timely message delivered with respect for young readers’ intelligence, wit, and capacity for understanding.
A citizen can help a neighbor.
A citizen can join a cause.
A citizen can write a letter.
A citizen can help change laws.
A citizen can right a wrong.
A citizen can turn things round.
A citizen can get things right side
that have been turned upside down.
Don’t expect Harris’s colorful, multi-layered illustrations to portray kids marching on Washington or holding Senate office sit-ins. This diverse assortment of kids are just being…kids.
They’re building a treehouse, creating their own little oasis, in their own little neighborhood. Together.
The cast of characters is reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Kids in the best possible way. Particularly in one illustration when they’re joined by a random bear on a bicycle wearing pink shorts. Or when they work to resolve differences with a boy holding up a NO TRUMPETS sign at the treehouse; by the next page, the same boy has changed the sign to read OK, TRUMPETS.
But even with all the humor that keeps the book engaging for kids, there’s a lot of important stuff here. In fact there’s one line that’s really a gut-punch for me:
A citizen’s not what you are — a citizen is what you do.
A citizen cannot forget the world is more than you.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
When it comes down to it, this book is about more than being a good citizen; it’s about being a good person. And that’s why Eggers and Harris have created the exact book we all need on our kids’ shelves right now.
We write so much here about ways to get our kids involved in causes they care about, whether they’re aspiring activists, they like helping out in their own communities, or they just want to host a lemonade stand to raise a few dollars for an issue that’s important to them. And I think that’s what this book could inspire a lot of kids to do.
(And let’s be honest, sometimes, it’s good for kids to hear a message like this from someone besides a parent.)
I especially love that Eggers ends with the imperative for readers to do something positive for others, which I think will offer parents a terrific opportunity to sit down with our kids and ask them about that.
What do they care about? Who do they care about? What makes them sad or mad? What’s unfair? What do they want to change? Who do they want to help? What are some ways to make that happen?
Try it with a four year old. Try it with an eye-rolling tween. Try it with any kid at all.
If you’ve ever seen a toddler child stop to pet a dog, or pick up a toy that another child has dropped and hand it back, you’ll know just how compassionate, kind and giving children are born to be. Which means we all have the ability to raise one heck of an incredible generation of citizens.
You can now preorder What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris from our affiliate Amazon. It’s slated to ship 9/11 which sounds like an ideal date to me. EDIT: We also just learned that every book preordered will donate $1 to Citizen University, a national platform for fostering responsible and empowered citizenship.
Also be sure to check out one of my other favorite picture books from the same team: Her Right Foot, about the making of the Statue of Liberty.