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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Trump or Not? The Presidency and Current Children’s Literature

I was reading the Social Justice Books post Scholastic Tells Children: Trump is Great yesterday, which makes a close and thorough examination of a new Scholastic Rookie Biography of the current sitting president. While looking at it, the piece got me to thinking about other relatively children’s books which have included Donald Trump in some way. The world of children’s literature has a tendency to include him in some form on the written page. This makes sense to me, but I have a problem. Not with these books, but with my own propensity to read too much into the children’s literature that crosses my plate. I ask myself, am I reading too much into the books coming out right now? Or are they saying exactly what it is that I think that they are saying?

Let’s start with the books that are the most obvious. During the election, the Trumpesque picture book that garnered the most attention was undoubtedly Michael Ian Black’s A Child’s First Book of Trump, which adopted a Seussian style, both in art and word, rendering the man a dumpy little orange ball of want.

ChildsFirstTrump

Lest you be mislead, it was not the only Trump-ish picture book out there, or did you miss Jamie Barrett, Pete Harvey, and Todd Eisner’s The Pumpkin and the Pantsuit?

PumpkinPantsuit

Those were the most blatant examples. On the subtle side of things, middle grade novels started to crop up with thinly veiled Trump representatives. I first noticed it when I read Laura Ruby’s incredibly fun alternate Manhattan title York: The Shadow Cipher. In it, the villain is a real estate developer who dates models.

York+The+Shadow+Cipher+by+Laura+Ruby

Susan Cooper went even further in her latest Boggart title The Boggart Fights Back. In that book the titular hero faces down a bad guy that was inspired by Scottish resistance to a trump golf course.

BoggartFights

So far, I don’t think anyone would argue that these books have nothing to do with the Donald. But then we get into other books where I wonder if I’m reading too much into the writing or if the intent was there all along. First and foremost is the most recent Newbery winner Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. The bully in the book is a blond boy who is unnerved by strong girls and likes taking advantage of the people he views as weaker than himself. Now that could describe a whole host of bully boy characters in children’s literature throughout history. There is a part of me that wants to see this book as directly anti-Trump, but is it? Really?

HelloUniverseBack

The same questions come up with the book I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët. In it, a dark-skinned girl is bullied by a blond boy. It is probably safer to say that this book and Kelly’s are influenced more by the times in which we live rather than creating a specific character based on Trump.

IWalkVanessa

As opposed to this book:

MorrisWantsMore

Yeah. That one’s pretty unavoidable. Though a British import, both PW and Kirkus mentioned the similarity to Trump in their reviews. And, of course, there was the Trump and Trump Tower cameos in the new Harry Bliss book Grace for Gus:

GraceGus

But what about books where you don’t even know if they’re political or not? For example, recently I had the pleasure of reading Jon Agee’s truly charming The Wall in the Middle of the Book the other day. You won’t find an orange caricature in this book, of course, but you will find a story about a wall, misconceptions about what lies on its other side, and seeming villains on the other side of the wall that, upon closer inspection, aren’t the dangerous threats that they seem. It would appear that in 2018 even the word “Wall” becomes political, whether its creator meant it that way or not.

WallMiddleBook

And none of this even touches on the multitude of books that encourage activism, discuss pink hats, consider the inner lives of White House bunnies, or that celebrate inclusion both metaphorically or literally. All of these are influenced by policies coming out of the White House. All of these, and so many more, are saying something pertinent about the world right here, right now. So yes, I definitely read too much into the books being published. Absolutely. But sometimes I also read exactly what it is that the creators of those books want me to read. The lines blur now more than ever.

Besides, it’s not like referencing Trump is a new game.

Even Sendak got in on it.

SendakJackGuyTrump

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Marsha Stewart says:

    When I began reading this I immediately thought of The Sneetches. Of course, we adults are looking for allusions. You are correct. Sometimes those are there but sometimes we put them in places the allusions were never intended to be.
    Thank you for such thought provoking writing.

  2. Amy Duffy says:

    I’m not sure why the Trump cameos in Grace for Gus didn’t phase me at all, but seeing Woody Allen on the subway on one page really creeped me out. It’s such a clever book and oh so New York but…

  3. Wendy Lukehart says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, insightful roundup, Betsy, and for all the helpful links. You have offered perspectives that are helpful to us in our work with children and as reviewers.

  4. Great piece, Betsy. I love your Sendak closing. How horrified he’d be with all that’s going on.

  5. Julie Horwat says:

    Thank you for such an inclusive summary and timely piece–I hadn’t heard of many of these picture books! What a great curated collection! (I would love to see one of picture books that include the pink hats!)

    On the topic of reading too much into books (which I definitely do, too!), I definitely didn’t even think of Trump with the bully character in Hello, Universe. I think he was just the stereotypical bully, and our current president has also been characterized that way, but I don’t think the book was making social commentary on the president specifically… I so enjoy your blog.