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The Picture Book Buzz

A Vote For Susanna - The Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

There have been a lot of books on firsts. From space travel and engineering to patents and biking around the world. But I'd never heard about the first woman mayor. This week's #PPBF choice shares the events that resulted in Susana Slater's historic election victory. It's a great tribute to a very strong, determined woman.

A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor

Author: Karen M. Greenwald

Illustrator: Sian James

Publisher: Albert Whitman (2021)

Ages: 4-9



Elections, suffrage, bullies, discrimination, persistence, baking, and intergenerational relationships.


In 1887, the state of Kansas gave women the right to vote in municipal elections. But some men in the city of Argonia, Kansas didn’t think women should have a say in choosing their next mayor, so they put a woman on the ballot―as a joke. That woman was Susanna Salter―and soon the men would find the joke was on them! Narrated by a grandmother who remembered what happened on that election day, this is the true story of a woman who stood up for her right to vote and accomplished so much more.

Opening Lines:

Dora made her grandson an extraordinary promise. One she never

made for anyone before.

On Dora's birthday this year, Ed could help her bake her famous

angel food cake. He felt so proud. Grandma picked him to help!

But sharing her secret recipe wouldn't be Dora's only surprise

that day.

What I Liked about this book:

I like the unique way that Karen Greenwald framed the biography of Susanna Madora Salter - as a story told by a grandmother to her grandson as they baked a very special birthday cake. In response to Ed's whispered comment that his "friends said only girls bake," Grandma Dora tells Ed about a girl who didn't let others tell her what she couldn't do. With an almost conspiratorial voice, Karen draws Ed, and the reader, into Grandma Dora's story.

Text © Karen Greenwald, 2021. Image © Sian James, 2021.

Sian James' soft, warm, realistic illustrations beautifully capture the modern adventure of making Dora's secret recipe and the "old-west" frontier feel of Susanna's adventure in Argonia, Kansas in 1887.

Text © Karen Greenwald, 2021. Image © Sian James, 2021.

When most women didn't go to college, Susanna did. When the laws of Kansas changed in 1887, allowing women to vote and run for "office in their own cities," Susanna and other women decided to make their voices heard and created a ballot for the election. When a couple of men couldn't bully the women into forgetting about voting, twenty men decided to pull a prank and insert Susanna's name on the ballot. They assumed it would prove women shouldn't be in politics. I love the look and exclamation of righteous indignation by Ed.

Text © Karen Greenwald, 2021. Image © Sian James, 2021.

I truly wish we could tell Ed, and our children, that no one bullies others to keep their votes from counting. That everyone eligible gets to vote. And that America really does believe in fairness for all - not just a few. How can it be that 134 years later, we still have scared bullies afraid to let others vote? On its face, this is a wonderful celebration of the first woman mayor in the U.S., but it is also an indictment on the "establishment," on the current adults so afraid of the "other" - whoever that might be - that they can't allow what they ostenisbly fought for around the world - a free and fair election.

The ending is delightful and wraps everything up very nicely, with a little surprise. This is a great book reminding us to stand together and never let anyone define what's possible for each of us. A great biography of a woman who refused to be told what she "couldn't" do. Wonderful back matter note further discusses the election and the research required by the author. It's a great addition to units on voting history, politics, bullies, and math (afterall, making the special cake involves kitchen math).


- make Susanna Salter's famous angel food cake (Grandma Dora's recipe).

- have you ever been told you can't do something because you're a boy or a girl? Why do you think people think that? Did you do it anyway?

- read Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty. How did Susanna and Emily do the unexpected? Did they both have to battle bullies?

- see Karen's website for two wonderful Teacher's and Girl Scout's guides.

© Karen Greenwald, 2021.

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Karen Greenwald (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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