Editor’s note: On the Bookshelf is an occasional feature about books of interest to politically minded readers.
With the 2016 election campaign in full swing — and arguably one of the more contentious — who better to teach young kids about voting and politics than a big, blue, playful monster in a new picture book called “Monster Needs Your Vote”?
Written by Paul Czajak and published by Minneapolis-based independent publisher Mighty Media Press, it’s the fifth book in the “Monster & Me” series.
“It’s a whimsical, nonpartisan story about voting and democracy, but it also talks about the values that make America great and kind of brings us back to our roots,” said Nancy Tuminelly, publisher of Mighty Media, which approached Czajak about writing the book. The book, aimed at 2- to 6-year-olds, is scheduled for release in paperback June 14, with a price of $6.99. The hardcover edition is available now for $16.95.
“Mighty Media really cares about kids and their future and we dutifully understand the weight that politics holds on that future,” Tuminelly continued. “In anticipation of our rabid extremism during this tense election cycle, we thought our social-conscious “Monster & Me” series seemed like the perfect venue to inject some good old-fashioned messages of democracy and standing up for what you believe in back into the hearts of Americans.”
Finding a cause
When Czajak was approached about writing the book, he struggled to find an issue that kids could relate to — it certainly couldn’t be taxes, health care or gun control. One day, however, his young son asked him why he couldn’t vote, and the idea for “Monster Needs Your Vote” was born.
As the story goes, election season is here and Monster is ready to vote but discovers he’s too young. He decides, “Why not run for president?” He attempts to run on frivolous platforms — like more desserts and longer summers — but people aren’t relating to his causes.
Monster becomes frustrated and almost drops out of the race until he discovers a cause worth supporting — saving libraries. (Of course, he eventually realizes that he’s too young to run for president but sticks with his goal of saving the local library). Written in humorous, read-aloud verse, the book encourages kids to take a stand and fight for what they believe in. Tuminelly also believes that Czajak got across the message that politics too often ends up being about what a party wants; not what the people need.
“Paul brilliantly delivered a classic tale that has turned out to be a timely and greatly needed lesson in civics and social studies on this lower level and also that appeals to adults,” Tuminelly said.
The book is drawing positive reactions nationally. Czajak has received letters from a former U.S. president, a former first lady, a current presidential candidate, a secretary of state, and congressional representatives from around the country — both Republicans and Democrats.
Making a difference by engaging kids
The “Monster & Me” series represents Mighty Media’s commitment to deliver books that foster children’s curiosity, imagination, social awareness, and sense of adventure. The series has sold 100,000 copies to date, and the publisher has more than 20 more Monster books in the pipeline.
“We’re nationally distributed with books available at Barnes & Noble,” Tuminelly said. “That’s a big thing for an indie publisher. We call ourselves the ‘little publisher that could,’ because we’re going up against many large publishers with a lot larger budgets.”
Of the series’ books so far, “Monster Needs Your Vote” is the timeliest, and Mighty Media is reaching out to kids and families. The publisher is offering a supplement to the book for parents and teachers.
Mighty Media is also partnering with Kids Voting Minneapolis, a community-based, nonpartisan affiliate of the national Kids Voting USA, to teach kids that their voices matter.
“Kids Voting Minneapolis has a theme, which we just love,” Tuminelly said. “It’s ‘Vote Young, Vote Forever.’ We feel if kids can get involved at a younger age, they will stay engaged and listen and be part of their community … and country as they go forward.”
Mighty Media also sponsored Minnesota Public Radio’s recent “Rock the Cradle” event at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which drew 10,000 people. The publisher sponsored a story time and provided a voting activity for kids to learn about “needs and wants” and have their photo taken with Monster. The publisher plans to hold more events throughout the year.
“Our biggest dream would be to have this book in every kid’s hand in America,” Tuminelly said. “Of course, we don’t quite have that deep of pockets. And we know the political season is going to come and end, but we don’t feel that’s the end of this book because of the values and messages that it has. It will go farther.”
What inspires the author?
Czajak, who lives in New Jersey with his young family, never planned to be a writer. In fact, he got an “F” on his first college-writing paper with the words “Get a tutor” scribbled across the top. He became a chemist and worked in that field for 20 years.
After having kids, however, they inspired him with all kinds of ideas for picture books. “My wife finally just got sick of me saying, ‘Hey, you know what, that’s a picture book [idea] and that’s a picture book,’” he said. “She told me, ‘Stop talking about it and just write it down,’ so I did and the rest is history.”
Mighty Media connected Czajak with Los Angeles illustrator and animation storyboard artist Wendy Grieb to do the illustrations. She has worked for Disney, Nickelodeon and Sony and worked on Disney Channel’s “Phineas and Ferb” TV show.
So what does Czajak hope to accomplish with his “voting” book?
“I hope kids start to get involved and understand elections at an earlier age,” he said. “It’s one thing to start voting at 18, but it’s another thing to really understand what it’s all about. And I feel that we take kids for granted and they’re much smarter than what we give them credit for at an early age. They understand that they want to be heard.”