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8 Great Books for the Littlest Washingtonians

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Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

If you want to help your baby or toddler get to know the U.S. capital, there are a lot of great picture books about Washington, D.C., that can help. We haven’t been out and about much in the last year, so reading about the monuments, museums, and more, can help them feel at home in the nation’s capital and learn the positive values and culture of the city.

Go Vote, Baby by Nancy Lambert and Anne Paschier

This interactive board book teaches kids to make choices and express preferences using 13 sliding panels. Cats or dogs? Vanilla or chocolate? What do they want to play with today? When the next Election Day rolls around, you can read this book with them and help them understand that this is what you’ll be doing, too.

I Look Up to Michelle Obama by Anna Membrino and Fatti Burke

Anna Membrino and Fatti Burke’s delightful series on role models is a staple for baby showers, and with good reason. Heroes range from Ruth Bader Ginsburg — another DC icon — to Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey. There’s so much to admire about Michelle Obama, from her healthy eating to her hard work in school, and this one is a great choice, especially for children growing up in a city which so enthusiastically embraced the historic First family.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Children growing up in D.C. are no strangers to protests. Chances are, if they’re more than a year old, they’ve been at one. D.C. is an unapologetically, unashamedly progressive place, and this little book will help parents raise their children in that tradition, and introduce concepts like civil rights and environmental justice.

This is Washington, D.C. by Miroslav Sasek

The curious, slightly older child who enjoys a picture book and wants to know more about their city will enjoy this classic by Miroslav Sasek, with his original illustrations and facts about D.C. An updated “this is the city…today” section at the back helps bring this 1969 book to life in 2021, too.

Madeline at the White House by John Bemelmans Marciano

In the tradition of classic picture books, readers are introduced to Washington, D.C., through the eyes of Madeline, whom we know from the author’s grandfather’s original books. Beautiful watercolours accompany the fun text about an Easter Egg hunt at the White House and a new friendship with a lonely First Daughter.

Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry, Jessica Curry, and Brittany Jackson

This lovely book about a little girl being transfixed by Michelle Obama’s portrait at the National Portrait Gallery is a great addition to any D.C. toddler’s bookshelf. It has beautiful illustrations of the Gallery, which will inspire your little one to want to visit museums as they reopen. And beyond that, they will be inspired, as Parker was, to dream big for their own lives.

Champ and Major: First Dogs by Joy McCullough and Sheyda Abvadi Best

A change of president always brings a change in D.C.’s vibe, and this might never have been truer than in 2021. But all of that is a little abstract for kids, who can perhaps more easily relate to new pets being introduced to the White House. Champ has visited before, of course, when his human was Vice President. And in this book, he helps Major, the first rescue dog to live with the President, to find his way around.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama and Loren Long

This beautifully illustrated book brings to life a letter from Barack Obama which creatively links the qualities he sees in them to figures throughout American history — kindness like Jane Addams, perseverance like Martin Luther King Jr., explorers like Neil Armstrong. It’s a whistlestop tour through American history imbued with warmth and reminding children that they are the future and can also do great things.