What Can a Citizen Do?

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
What Can a Citizen Do? Book Poster Image
Timely book on citizenship engages kids on their level.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Concept of citizenship, a good citizen. Good citizens help neighbors, write letters, change laws. How to manage and navigate conflict. Kids shown reading newspapers.

Positive Messages

"We’re part of a society." It's important to help others. "The world is more than you." Everything you do makes an impact. A citizen can help a neighbor, join a cause, write a letter, help change laws. Our society's diverse, and all can participate.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The kids pictured are diverse, including two kids with Afros, another brown-skinned girl in a hijab, a kid who might be a boy wearing a tutu. The kids plant trees, help neighbors, build things together, work out differences, bring light to the darkness. Text directly advocates positive behavior.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that What Can a Citizen Do? is written by Dave Eggers, well-known author for adults, who's ventured into kids' books before with titles such as Her Right Foot, also a collaboration with illustrator Shawn Harris. This book's a rhythmic, rhyming call for kids to be good citizens. The kids pictured are a diverse crew that includes African Americans and a girl in a hijab. It promotes values of helping your neighbor, and "doing something for another," not always thinking of yourself.

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What's the story?

In WHAT CAN A CITIZEN DO?, a diverse group of kids works together to build an elaborate tree house. They solve their differences when one faction posts a "No trumpets" sign and another group brings a trumpet to play. While they work, they help and include animals that pass by, and they read a newspaper to stay informed. When the tree house is completed, a boy in a house nearby plugs them in to a power source, illuminating the structure with a string of bright, twinkly lights.

Is it any good?

This rhyming civics lesson asks the timely and important question "What in the world can a citizen do?" -- and provides some concrete suggestions. Many of the examples in What Can a Citizen Do? are clear and simple. For instance, kids work together to build a tree house, plant a tree, and right an upturned turtle. Author Dave Eggers provides some direct instruction, such as, "A citizen can write a letter. A citizen can help change laws." And he reminds kids, "We're part of a society," so "Do something for another." In places, though, the text can feel murky, as when it says we're "a land of latticed people," or claims that "a citizen can be a bear" (when a bear joins their group). And in the interest of rhyme, it sometimes lapses into cliché: "A citizen should care and care," and society is "full of joy and pain."

The art, collage and mixed media, is fun to look at and depicts a diverse group of kids. Illustrator Shawn Harris smartly gives the kids one project that carries them from start to finish. But because the concepts in the book can be abstract, it would help if the art, too, were more solidly concrete, more clearly illustrative, throughout.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the kids in What Can a Citizen Do? In what ways are they good citizens? How many ways can you find?

  • What different communities are you part of? Can you think of ways you contribute to society and help others?

  • What conflict or difference of opinion do the kids in the story have? How do they resolve it? Can you think of an example where you and your friends had a different opinion or plan? What did you do?

Book details

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