The Politicization of Children’s Books

On the bookshelf of a local store

I was dismayed to see the above display in the book section of a local big box store. Why should children who are only beginning to read, or who can’t read at all, be subjected to these kinds of books?

I implore you parents, regardless of your political leanings, resist such books. Let’s allow children to be children, free from the politicization that threatens to encroach into every area of modern life. We’ve descended into an abyss so dark that even traditional venues of escape, such as sporting events, aren’t free of politics. Until quite recently, children were largely insulated. Of course, there have always been parents too ignorant or fanatical to leave their children at home while they protest, but they were a minority.

After my recent encounters with the Feminist Baby books, this children’s collection of election season literature shouldn’t have been a shock. Somehow, it still was. The usefulness of the books eluded me, and so I briefly lost sight that our culture has long abandoned usefulness right long with truth, beauty, goodness and innocence.

Books that children read, or that we read to them, should impart wonder, magic, loveliness, and wisdom. The beauty of a children’s book is that it can do all of these things in challenging yet non-threatening ways. Books invite children to see timeless truths through new, creative, imaginative lenses. Neverland, Narnia, Wonderland, and even Hogwarts are portals to faraway lands allowing children to dream and appreciate the power of stories.

Our climate has now become so toxic that even well-meaning parents, inundated with the so-called urgency of the moment, can lose their way, corrupting kids’ ability to be kids, unburdened by adult concerns . Let me offer some unsolicited advice.

  • Your three-your-old does not need to be implored to vote.
  • Our children don’t need to take a position on issues that don’t even understand.
  • Childhood is being assaulted daily without additional pressures added.
  • Contrary to foolish propaganda, children by definition are ill-equipped to offer substantive input on complex moral and cultural issues. To ask them to do so is tantamount to emotional abuse.

I hope that none of these ridiculous books sell many copies. There is so much more for children to discover from literature than the banality of modern politics. Here are a few reviews to much better childhood reading fare:

What’s your opinion on the increasing politicization of childhood being reflected in books for sale to children?

9 thoughts on “The Politicization of Children’s Books

  1. Krysta says:

    In my experience, books about voting and elections geared towards children tend to be apolitical and just talk about how awesome it is that Americans get to live in a country where every voice matters and your vote can make a difference. They usually don’t cover specific political issues and they usually don’t even mention that things like the Republican and Democratic parties even exist, much less promote one or the other. They usually come out around election time because children may be seeing and hearing about the election from the news or the adults in their lives, and they give caregivers a child-friendly way to explain what is going on. Teachers also like to use them, and may actually be the biggest purchasers. Picture books make great read-alouds in classrooms for all ages.

    That being said, if someone doesn’t want their second grader reading about the elections, I think the books being displayed there could still be useful. A lot of students aren’t reading on grade level, so that beginner reader Dr. Seuss book could be given to a fifth grader, for example.

    There are books like Feminist Baby coming out, of course. And these books are marketed towards adults, not children, since, as you mention, babies have no clue what feminism is. However, I would say that the large majority of books that are about elections are really just vague, feel-good reads that try to make children think democracy in action is really neat.

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  2. Bike Bubba says:

    Train left the station a long, long time ago….I remember being indoctrinated to a degree back in the mid 1970s in elementary school. I would guess it’s gotten worse, but that’s what you get, IMO, when society abandons the principle that children are not political pawns.

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  3. Elspeth says:

    You may be right Krysta, that it’s all harmless educational stuff. I am suspect of that, however, to be honest. And mainly because when my kids were in school this was really not a thing before they started getting in depth historical and American government education around the 5th grade.

    Books that tell kids to “let their voices be heard” are not harmless, even if they are apolitical. There are many, many areas where children’s voices need not be heard, indeed should not be heard.

    It could be my old school thinking coming to bear here, but I am of the opinion that children will be just fine living the first decade of their life totally and completely freed from the burden of these things. Generic comments about “this is the year we vote for president” are one thing. An entire genre of books about the importance of the political process infringes on childhood in ways that it shouldn’t.

    Frankly, in our hyper political, hyper partisan climate, I don’t trust big corporations intentions when they market things like this.

    I admit though, I have become quite jaded over the past few years on these topics. I think we have erred greatly by walking away from the beauty and wonder of childhood that our forbears spent centuries cultivating. We’ve tossed it in favor of…what? I’m not even sure anymore.

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  4. Elspeth says:

    I would guess it’s gotten worse, but that’s what you get, IMO, when society abandons the principle that children are not political pawns.

    Yes, Bike! And anyone who doubts that we have reduced children to little more than political pawns need look no further than the school choice debate. Not only does the lack of choice hurt kids who need it most, it is rife with political and financial infighting.

    And that was before the COVID wars.

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  5. Krysta says:

    Ah, well, the catch is your voice won’t be heard until you’re old enough to vote!

    My experience growing up was that civics was a part of going to school even before fifth grade. They don’t go into a lot of depth, but some teachers might have elections for positions in the classroom, or maybe the library will have an “election” for favorite book or something like that. They just teach about the voting process in general. These books look like they’re rather the same. Maybe the protagonist runs for class president or something the kids can relate to.

    I also imagine adults aren’t necessarily supposed to read all the books available. I think they’re just part of a selection of books you could use if your child had questions about the election. Maybe they heard someone talking about it. Maybe parents plan to bring their kids to the polls because they don’t have a babysitter and they want their kids to know what’s happening.

    I think it’s kind of like the kid books on subjects like death or divorce or any other thing. Not every child will have questions or need to know, but they are available as a resource for adults who want something developmentally appropriate so they can talk to children about a subject they might be experiencing in the world around them.

    Still, I think there are a number of children’s books that ARE promoting specific political positions. I don’t really see the point because often these books are not developmentally appropriate. For instance, I see a lot of abstract concepts being trendy in board books and I just don’t think that makes developmental sense for a baby. These books are really being marketed towards adult caregivers who presumably want something more interesting than a book that says “Blue butterfly. Yellow sun.” But little ones need the simple, concrete books.

    Also interesting: I once read an article that claimed kids are often more interested in nonfiction than fiction, though adults tend to associate childhood with fantasy. Their argument want that children want to learn about the world around them. And they find that world really interesting! So I think they can find a sense of wonder in things adults might not, because, to them, it’s all new!

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  6. Elspeth says:

    I agree about children enjoying nonfiction. Mine enjoy t on occasion. However it’s usually centered around interest in things found in the natural world, biographies, or scientific discoveries.

    But who knows? There may be kids i who are into politics!

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