Two and a half years ago, I left a fantastic job to pursue a creative project. I took six months off to write a children’s book about bantering sandwich condiments. Before starting my current job, I launched a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, got the book printed through Blurb, shipped over 900 copies in time for the holidays, and learned a ton of lessons.
While the whole project seemed indulgent at the time and I often questioned my judgment, the experience proved to be incredibly valuable—and even though I'm working again, those lessons keep on coming. The thing I’ve learned most recently is that voting is a powerful way for kids to express themselves.
It started with a simple question.
I self-published my book, Peanut Butter or Jelly, with the goal of creating a story that kids AND parents enjoyed. One that doesn’t make you want to poke your eyes out each time your kid begs to read it.
My book asks an important existential question: Why do we call the lunchbox staple Peanut Butter & Jelly and not Jelly & Peanut Butter? I decided to turn the two condiments into googly-eyed characters and have them argue their case. But let’s face it, Peanut Butter was never going to give up top billing, and Jelly would never be satisfied with second place.
Since it’s a story for the 21st century, I (Spoiler Alert!) let kids decide what to name the sandwich by voting online. At the time, asking kids to vote made sense for the story arc, but it’s had a bigger impact than I imagined.
The opportunity to vote for the answer struck a nerve with kids.
Over 1,500 kids across the country have already gone online to cast their vote in this heated debate over sandwich naming rights. I deliberately didn’t use pronouns in the story because I didn’t want any gender bias to creep into the results. But I’ve noticed an interesting voting pattern among my young fans. As the challenger, Jelly gets most of its votes from younger siblings and girls. Changing the system by putting Jelly first tends to resonate with kids who literally, or figuratively, tend to come second. Voting for Jelly gives them a sense of hope. A sense that they can be first for once.
Sentiments like these have played a big part in the last few grown-up elections, too, but according to the Census Bureau, a measly 41.2% of 18-24 year-olds voted in 2012. That’s down from 48.5% in 2008. As adults, we need to do something to reverse this trend. Voting young has many benefits including feeling a sense of belonging, forming a good lifelong habit, and increasing overall family voting participation.
The future of their favorite sandwich isn't the only thing on the line.
As of September 2016, Jelly is clearly winning the battle with 57% of the vote!
I’m not going to get into the current presidential election other than to suggest that adults can use it as an opportunity to talk to kids about voting. In an election year with so much apathy—on both sides —we need to send the message to kids that voting is not only our right, but our responsibility.
My kids are only 6 and 4, and they have so many questions about the upcoming presidential election. We’ve had truly riveting conversations about deep things like how we make choices, and fact versus opinion.
By getting kids engaged in both the conversation and the process, we can teach them to vote FOR things, not just against them. We can teach them to stand up for what they believe and that the world is bigger than what they experience every day. And most importantly, we can teach them that they have the power to make a difference.
I challenge you to introduce these concepts to kids in your life. Explain to them what’s going on with the election—whatever your views. That it’s something important and that we all have a say.
If slogging through the 222-page Official Voter Information Guide with kids is daunting, listen to this 4-minute video of me reading Peanut Butter or Jelly instead. It will give you an opportunity to talk about two (sandwich) majority party candidates. You can ask who they would vote for and why. And then kids can actually cast their vote online.
Polls are open through lunchtime on November 8, 2016 (at which time they will reset for the 2020 election). If early votes are any indication, the sandwich we all know and love may no longer be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but rather a jelly and peanut butter sandwich.
By voting, they no longer just have an opinion about this great debate, they have skin in the game. And they’ll grow up knowing their vote counts.