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Approval rating: 100%


Chances are that if you were a kid growing up in the 80's or 90's (and I hope even today), you got your hands on at least a couple of Apple paperback books.  Apple (a division of Scholastic, which published the Harry Potter series in America) printed just about every popular juvenile lit book: Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, the Wayside School stories, and the novels of Avi, for a start.  As a kid, you could hardly ever get away from that small apple logo at the top of the spine.  This gem is an offering from Apple.

I first read this while still in grade school, although I can't remember the exact age I was.  Hilariously, this was published just before the whole Clinton/Monica scandal broke.  For all practical purposes - and mainly to remain politically unbiased - Gutman doesn't use the names of any real politician of the 90s.
Judson Moon loves to make people laugh, so when his weird friend Lane suggests that Judson run for president - of the country, not the student council - Judson thinks it'll be a great practical joke.  He gets "permission" to run from his ditzy parents, and Lane begins to drum up publicity for Judson.  Judson decides that Mrs. Syers, his old and outspoken neighbor, should be his running mate; later, he is successful in asking Chelsea Daniels - the hottie of the sixth grade - to be his "First Babe."  Judson has a lot of fun with it at first, gamely answering questions from the press with jokes and filming silly campaign ads.  But then Congress adds a constitutional amendment that allows minors to run, and Judson realizes that suddenly a lot of people are taking his presidential bid seriously.  Lane wants to win, but Judson is getting worried and feeling out of his league - but losing would feel worse, right?
This book has the rare quality of being more funny than I remember, and more cynical than I could've appreciated.  Its observations about politics, the art of campaigning, and analysts are sharp and and accurate.  At one point, Judson is worried because he has no opinions on big-topic issues like gun control and the death penalty.* Lane tells him that he only has to base his opinions on public opinion - i.e., the polls - to win people over.  Lane is one of those kid characters who acts like a kid's version of an adult - his favorite show is Meet the Press and his political savvy is awe-inspiring.  Judson is more of a kid: he likes to be obnoxious to people sometimes and not have to apologize for it, but he's plenty self-aware.  He has a tiny subplot with an older friend that more or less acts as a bookend to the plot.  His eventual boredom with Chelsea, who is obsessed with clothes, displays some character growth.  Mrs. Syers is one of the best adult characters I've read in a juvenile fiction book: smart, sassy, and supportive.  The parents we don't hear much from, except for a small talk from Judson's dad about substance vs. style.
The ending is a nice little surprise, even if it might end abruptly.  While all the talk about the year 2000 coming up (ah, how we loved the millennium in the 90s) dates The Kid Who Ran, its message about the business of politics is timeless - and its omniscience regarding campaigning on the Internet is impressive.  Rating: 4.5 lemonade stands out of 5.
*Can you imagine a book getting published today about a 12-year-old thinking about the death penalty?  Granted, it's not discussed here, but it illustrates the book's somewhat dark edge.