With just six weeks to go until the General Election, Alex Galbinski talks to Eleanor Levenson, the author of a book explaining democracy that is aimed at young children
Start ‘em young, goes the phrase – and it’s certainly something that author Eleanor Levenson has taken to heart with her new book. The Election, believed to be the first book of its kind that explains democracy to toddlers and young children, looks at what happens when two families support two different political parties – the Stripy party and the Spotty party.
With it being only seven weeks to go until the General Election, Levenson hopes to do her bit to increase political awareness and engagement with a growing population that displays huge voter apathy. “Primarily, I wanted to write a nice story that children would enjoy, but also I think it’s important to really normalise political participation,” she explains.
“We’ve got such a low turnout in this country that I think everybody, whatever side of the political spectrum they’re on, agrees it’s a problem. “In an ideal world, every kid would read a copy [of The Election] and then by the time they come of age to vote, it would just seem like something normal people do,” continues Levenson, who is a journalism lecturer at Goldsmiths College and writes adult books under the name of Ellie.
The book, which is illustrated by Marek Jagucki, shows scenes of regular urban life – there are people looking at their phones outside polling stations, two men holding hands, people in wheelchairs and people of all ethnicities – as well as visual jokes and references, such as a painting of the Acropolis of Athens, a cat among the pigeons and two boys fighting over a football in the park.
Levenson, who has a daughter aged four and a son aged two, has always been interested in politics – she used to work for the Labour-affiliated think-tank the Fabian Society and has been a Labour Party member since adulthood. “But the book is strictly non-partisan,” she is keen to stress. “It’s not about party politics at all – it’s about voting in a democracy.”
The book was published by Levenson’s new company, Fisherton Press – named after her grandmother, whose side of the family used to own a printing business in East London – after a crowdfunding campaign by Kickstarter to support her start-up costs.
The campaign was backed by representatives from each party – there was a Lib Dem peer, a Conservative MP and a Labour Assembly Member in Wales and some Labour councillors. “I liked the idea of a book about democracy being funded by as many people as possible, so everything came together to make it our first book,” says Levenson, 36, who wrote it when she was writer in residence at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green in 2012. “The upcoming election seemed like an excellent time to launch it.”
Levenson, who grew up attending Woodford Progressive Synagogue and lives in Leighton, dismisses the idea that children would not be interested in politics. “They’ll all say if something’s fair or not and they’re aware of what goes on around them – who’s got more and who’s got less, which is what politics is about. “One of the things that made me write the book is that kids ask questions [about poverty and inequality]. Some people think these subjects are too difficult for children, but they’re the ones asking the questions – all I’m doing is answering them.”
•The Election by Eleanor Levenson is published by Fisherton Press and priced at £7.99