Priscilla Meets the President

The final installment in a four-part, illustrated children’s book series humanizes the unhoused, explores tough topics and still manages a happy ending.

Eleanor J. Bader Nov 17, 2021

Read Homeless, Like You and Me, a review of the previous chapter in the Priscilla series.

Priscilla may be considered an elegant, tiara-wearing princess by the diverse children who visit her in a local park, but the adults in her orbit know the truth: Despite her considerable charm, sass and savvy, Priscilla is unhoused. 

Priscilla’s day-to-day life is the subject of a four-part series written by veteran social justice activist and media-maker Pat LaMarche. Coupled with evocative line drawings by illustrator Bonnie Tweedy Shaw, the books combine the whimsical and the serious. The storylines never veer from LaMarche’s overall mission: To make people care about, empathize with and understand those living without a permanent home. 

Pat LaMarche’s deft writing offers a gentle peek into aging, ageism, sexism, political power, heterosexism, bullying, domestic violence and both biological and chosen family.

It’s a hefty goal, especially since LaMarche has geared the books to children as young as eight years old, priming them to recognize income inequities in their communities. While this is undeniably a heavy topic for elementary school kids to grapple with, the books are also a showcase for human kindness and generosity. 

In fact, these characteristics are on full display in the most recent volume: Priscilla’s Picnic with the President. (This follows Priscilla the Princess of the Park, Priscilla and the Snow Fort and Priscilla and the Bishop’s Gambit, all published since June 2020.) 

What’s more, as Priscilla’s story unfolds, it smashes more than a few stereotypes, not only about housing instability, but about aging; ageism; sexism; political power; heterosexuality, bullying; domestic violence and both biological and chosen family. Yes, that’s a lot of themes, but LaMarche’s deft writing offers a gentle peek into said topics, all the while ensuring a happy ending. This is, after all, a series for children.

Priscilla, herself, is a quirky, smart, free-spirited survivor. She is also a realist and when a few-strings-attached opportunity to live indoors opens up, she grabs it. Over time, this enables her to come to terms with her past and reckon with a cascade of events, from spousal battery to a fractured relationship with her only child, rule-loving police officer Justus Brown. Healing, however, is never linear, and part of Priscilla’s process involves giving back, offering a shoulder and an ear to others in need. In addition, activism to push congressional lawmakers to do right by the poor is kept front and center. This leads Priscilla to a picnic with the country’s newly-elected Black woman President, an informal opportunity to educate POTUS about the many obstacles to accessing affordable housing in the U.S. of A.

It’s a heady, if unlikely, moment. At the same time, by creating a prototype for a government that cares, the meeting — like the books themselves — illuminate what’s possible.

Priscilla’s Picnic includes a short list of resources for the unhoused as well as ways for volunteers to plug into activism/advocacy on the issues raised by the books. A sobering fact sheet about homelessness in the U.S. is also appended.

The Priscilla series, now completed, was published by the Charles Bruce Foundation, a seven-year-old organization that supports writers, artists and musicians working within 100 miles of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Priscilla’s Picnic with the President
By Pat LaMarche, with illustrations by Bonnie Tweedy Shaw
Charles Bruce Foundation, 2021
162 pages 

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