Vineyard children’s author Kate Feiffer is too honest to stuff a ballot box. So not only is she wrestling with how to chop the bottom off her cardboard voting booth to make it kid-sized, she’s got to finesse her party schtick in case the littlest voters mark their ballots overwhelmingly for their moms, dads or selves rather than for Luke Pennybaker, the charismatic candidate in Ms. Feiffer’s latest book, President Pennybaker. They will get the chance to vote at the book’s national launch on Saturday at the Chilmark library.
All Luke Pennybaker really wanted was to watch TV, preferably without cleaning his room, eating his lunch, brushing his teeth, feeding the fish and asking his mother if she needed help with anything. Or, at least, if he had done all that, to then watch TV. Denied even that, Luke turns to politics.
As candidate of the Birthday Party, Luke promises to make life fair. Which means the youngest ever campaigner is offering that, if elected, he will ensure you will only have to do your homework when you want to, and you can eat dessert whenever you like and sleep as late as you like. If that’s not enough, he promises every child in America will get a dog, cat, hamster, gerbil rabbit or iguana.
After kids hear Ms. Feiffer read Luke’s policy platform and his adventures campaigning around the country, it’s likely they’ll mark their ballots for him.
Still, it may be risky for Ms. Feiffer to put Henry, the dog with no tail — who is both real and the main man’s-best-friend from her previous and popular book, Henry the Dog With No Tail — on the ballot too (he’s from the Woof Party). At a weekend practice run, kids (one on tippy-toe) who know and love the canine character drawn by Ms. Feiffer’s father Jules, voted Henry for president.
Perhaps they were swayed by the lovable dog’s very presence nearby the booth that day. Perhaps it had been a while since they’d read President Pennybaker. Or perhaps Johnny-come-lately Luke just didn’t have the experience.
“That’s why it’s so important who you choose for vice president,” Ms. Fei-ffer laughed. Lucky Luke Pennybaker knows the value of kids and animals; a dog named Lily is his running mate.
Kids at Satturday’s book launch party also may choose to vote for John McCain or Barack Obama, though in the dry run those two seemed of little interest to the kids. (They should consider having the book’s Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Diane Goode sketch some campaign posters, as she has a tender, old-fashioned Americana touch.) Also, they have yet to advocate painting the White House orange, which Luke promises to do (and yes, there will be orange cake on orange plates with orange forks for those using their formal manners, at the party).
This latest cheeky, charming Feiffer book is ideally timed for kids wondering why their grownups are paying such attention to those other presidential candidates. The author is prepared for school readings (the voting booth folds up nicely), and pays fair attention to that other race herself, when she is not at work in her cozy Oak Bluffs writing studio.
It seems she’ll be in there a lot, though. Simon & Schuster already has accepted her next story (My Mom Is Trying to Ruin My Life) and her first chapter book, The Problem With the Puddles. She also has plans to do another children’s book with her dad, and another chapter book.
Is writing children’s books what she always wanted to do? “It’s what I always dreamed of doing,” she said, “but I didn’t know if I had the chutzpah.” Or the good luck, she added. No, it’s not luck; that wouldn’t be fair, as Luke Pennybaker might say. Her readers have voted with their allowance money and their precious story time.
Join the party for President Pennybaker Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Chilmark library with reading, voting, refreshments and books available. Also, look for a Riley’s Reads party for Kate, Jules and Henry in the fall.