A Charming Introduction to the Constitution, for Presidents’ Day

Presidents’ Day, which was first created to honor George Washington, seems like a timely moment to enjoy reading a book with your young children about our nation’s foundational document, the Constitution. In We the Kids, cartoonist David Catrow has created an appealing guide to the famous opening words of the Constitution.

The Preamble itself forms the main text of the book, with Catrow’s cartoony, tongue-in-cheek illustrations suggesting the meaning of each phrase. In the panel for “in Order to form a more perfect Union,” a dog helps three friends move a enormous bale of unnecessary equipment out to the backyard for a sleepover. The “establish Justice” scene shows the children creating a poster of rules (“No pulling hair”). The image for “to inspire domestic tranquility” is a funny, chaotic scene of tangled ropes and a flying saucepan as the team sets up its campsite. The dog tries to “provide for the common defense” by protecting the tent, behind sandbags, from a party of curious squirrels. And for “secure the Blessings of Liberty,” the dog and children snuggle together in the tent, covered with crumbs.

In his author’s note in the front of the book, Catrow explains the Constitution, in simple words, as “a kind of how-to book, showing us ways to have happiness, safety and comfort.” He includes an informal glossary to make the language of 1787 a bit easier for children. For instance, he unpacks the 18th-century phrase “promote the general Welfare” as “To help make life good for everybody. Having enough to eat, a place to live, being safe, and having friends and fun times are some of the things that make our lives good.”

This lighthearted picture book makes the language and ideals of our founding fathers immediate and memorable. The homespun adventures of the three friends (and dog) are a sweet metaphor for the basic tenets that underlie our democracy.

May you and your posterity enjoy the blessings of liberty this holiday!