One day at Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Playschool, Grace McAllister’s teacher brought out a poster of the presidents. Soon, the pre-schoolers were arguing. Some thought that the early presidents, with their longer flowing hair, were girls. The teacher stepped in. All the presidents were boys, she explained.
Grace was outraged. “Where are the girls?” she demanded. Then she vowed to run for president one day.
Her teacher shared the story with the principal, who sent an email to McAllister’s mother, who worked as a book editor. She later offhandedly mentioned it to one of the children’s authors she worked with, Kelly DiPucchio.
DiPucchio wasn’t one of those didactic children’s book authors who tries to instruct kids with a heavy hand. A few of the other 18 books she’s written are about a French bulldog raised by poodles, zombies who fall in love and an ode to the fact that everyone loves bacon. But something about Grace’s question struck a chord.
Inspired, DiPucchio wrote “Grace for President,” about a girl who asks the same question and gets her answer by running in a mock election at school.
Published in 2008, the book managed to break through in the crowded marketplace of kids’ books. Young girls have been known to dress up as Grace for Halloween and do dramatic readings on YouTube. School librarians put it on display whenever there’s an election. Some even hold mock elections to let kids choose between “Grace for President” or another book about a duck that runs for president. (The duck usually wins. “It’s hard to compete with a duck,” DiPucchio says with a sigh.)
Now in its eighth printing, “Grace for President” has sold over 200,000 copies. But DiPucchio hopes it’ll soon sell its last.
A political independent, DiPucchio thinks former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate on either side and feels the country is ready for a female president. If that happened, her book would be outdated come Inauguration Day in 2017.
“It’ll be one of those books that one day people come across in a yard sale and laugh about,” she said. “And that’s OK with me.”
The book centers on Grace, a young African-American girl who runs against a boy at her school. At first, no one thinks she has a chance, especially because the mock election mimics the Electoral College and the boys have more electors. But while her opponent rests, Grace campaigns tirelessly, winning over one of the boys and, therefore, the election.
At the end of the book, Grace vows to run for president of the United States one day, and this time her classmates don’t doubt her. The final page of the book, suggested by illustrator LeUyen Pham, is an image of Grace being sworn in as president of the United States.
DiPucchio says she’s read the book hundreds of times at schools and book festivals, but the last page always gets her.
“To me, it’s just very moving,” she said. “Even though I’ve seen it many many times, it’s something that I love to share.”
The real-life Grace no longer wants to be president. Now 16 and a junior in high school, she thinks being a politician “seems a whole lot more difficult than I thought.” These days, she wavers between being a forensic pathologist and running her own bookstore.
McAllister won’t be old enough to vote in 2016, but some of her friends are. They have been discussing the upcoming election on-and-off since the summer.
A self-described Democrat, McAllister looked into the major candidates on that side and made her decision a few months ago. She thinks Clinton is an “excellent politician” and “an awesome example of a very powerful woman in politics,” but she backs Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who she thinks is stronger on issues such as gay marriage and income inequality.
“I do obviously fully support the idea of having a woman in office, but I believe that a candidate’s policies are more important than a candidate’s gender,” she said.
Still, she says she would be excited to see a female president. And she keeps a copy of “Grace for President” at eye level in the bookshelf in her room. Inside is an inscription from DiPucchio: “For the original Grace: Dream big. Smart girls rock.”