Politics and Picture Books: A Proposed Lesson for High School Students

Captain EricsonIf I told you the U. S. Defense Department’s procurement process would be a great subject for a picture book, you might not take me too seriously. The topic sounds complicated and boring and nonfiction writers tend to look for the exotic, the unheard of, the crazy, the bizarre.

A good story idea can also be the result of taking an ordinary subject, straining it down to sparkling clarity, and then finding a childlike thought buried underneath all the facts. The government procurement process really was the key concept driving the action in my picture book Thank You Very Much, Captain Ericsson! The Civil War was raging, the North needed an ironclad ship to protect its wooden fleet from going up in smoke, and Ericsson had the perfect design tucked away in a box. The problem: John Ericsson and the U. S. Navy were not on speaking terms and Ericsson had no idea the Navy was looking for the very ship he had designed years earlier.

John Ericsson was an engineering genius. His inventions were so far ahead of their time – so futuristic – that he had trouble getting people to take him seriously. Which brings me to the childlike thought I think every good picture book needs. Ericsson’s cry throughout his life was one every child knows: I have a great idea! Won’t you please listen to me?

JANFEB15_SUB2_162At the risk of being thought as “screwy” as John Ericsson was, here’s another thought for you high school teachers out there: How about taking this simple picture book (an illustrated reading is available free of charge on my website) and pairing it with one of the articles from the January/February 2015 Foreign Affairs issue on entrepreneurship (“The Anti-Innovators” on p. 55 is perfect!). The underlying question behind the highly intellectual Foreign Affairs articles and my simple picture book is the same: How do you get great ideas out of the inventor’s box where they’re hiding and out into the world where they can be put to use?


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Connie is an experienced speaker and presenter who enjoys sharing her passion for writing and her experience as a writer with readers and writers of all ages. She has presented to students, community, civic and professional organizations, writing groups, library audiences, and seniors – wherever book lovers gather!

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