When Did Children’s Books Become Political Fodder?

I am not taking a political point of view here, just asking the question of just how and when books written by the likes of Dr. Seuss become political footballs for individuals to kick around, trying to make some kind of cultural point? I don’t remember in my childhood any group of people asserting that Dick and Jane represented a right wing notion of conformity, or Mary Poppins is anti banks. Of course many books were written in an attempt to give children life lessons and points of morality, but to classify any one of them as subversive to one group or people or another, wasn’t dreamed of. Lately we’ve seen a lot of children’s entertainment come under fire by various groups and individuals. One of the Telly Tubbies was said to represent a gay individual, Sesame Street has come  under attack for stuff groups disapprove of–The Cookie Monster–promotes bad eating habits. Bert and Ernie–two male bachelors share an apartment and that can only mean one thing, right? The entire show is blamed for ADD. Looking more closely at the issue, I suppose some people will have difficulties with any work of literature–Alice in Wonderland has been banned in China for various strange reasons, and of course Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is pulled from classrooms for its language. It’s unacceptable today, even thought it was written over 100 years ago.

Singling out specific titles claiming fantastic propaganda properties is a new phenomenon, I believe, unless I’ve not been paying attention to little kid’s lit for the last 20 years or so. When I read an article that certain members of one party feel that Dr. Seuss’ Lorax is an extreme ecological piece of propaganda, I did a spit take, I mean, really? A fuzzy animal who wants to know why the world he lives in is bare of any growing thing, is representative of an extreme political environmentalist point of view? Huh? Yes, one creature’s greed does away with all the trees, and the world is barren, but explaining to children that they should be aware and care for their environment hardly makes the book a piece of whatever wing politics the opposite wing claims it is. What happened to books simply urging children do the right thing morally? Like fairy tales used to do, before they became so Disneyfied? Today, if a untouched Grimm fairy tale were introduced at a school, the parents and political parties would be crying too violent! Too much emphasis on looks–teaches our children to be vain and shallow! Unfair depictions of Little People! Class warfare! Cruelty to animals! Child abuse! Because:

Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their toes to fit into the slipper. (excessive violence)

One princess is Sleeping-Beauty, another just plain Beauty, and let’s face it, if Snow White had been ugly, the Queen would have ignored her. (promotes obsessive behavior, and possible anorexia)

Dwarves are nasty people in Rose Red, Rose White, and Rumplestiltskin-not to mention the weird 7 that hang out with one girl. Pick practically any fairy tale. (stereotypes one group of people unfairly)

The already rich prince who marries the weaver’s daughter forces her to weave hay into gold–if he wasn’t so greedy, she wouldn’t have had to give her son to Rumplestiltskin in the first place. King Midas-we know where his greed took him.

In The Goose Girl, the she cuts off her horse’s head, and hangs it on the archway wall, it speaks to her as she passes. PETA would have a fit.

Hansel and Gretel, Babes in the Woods–parents trick the first to get lost in the woods, the second an evil uncle leaves the babes to die, which, they do.

Both political parties in the US would have a field day complaining about the agenda of these fairy tales–and they’d blame each other. Why? I don’t know the answer.  I’ve no idea what attacks on kids lit accomplishes. I wonder if those in the political arena know either?


2 thoughts on “When Did Children’s Books Become Political Fodder?”

  1. Hi Diane!  New writer here!  The Lorax is actually pretty typical of Geisel’s work.  If you look at some of his other books, (“The Butter Battle Book”, “The Sneetches and Other Stories”) you’ll see that he was hardly subtle with his message.  His children’s books followed years of working in advertising and as an editorial cartoonist.  This is probably where he developed his sly, slightly subversive bent.  So yeah, the message and the agenda are pretty transparent.  I like his message and read most of his books to my nephew.  

    As for unexpurgated Grimm?  Oh my.  I’m not a fan of the Disney version of most things, but I minored in folk studies in college and will attest that Grimm is not for kids and some adults might want to think twice before venturing into that dark, tangled arcana of fey magic and earthy morality.   

    • Jas, Hello! I had written a spunky and well reasoned response, but Disqus hates me. I’ve spent all day trying to respond to a comment made by a poster, and Disqus would not admit I exist. I’m not sure they will see me now, lol. So, I’ll ditch the subject response and just welcome you. I know you’re a seasoned blogger and I’m quite happy to see another permanent byline here. It seems my name has become Mud for some readers, without having helped a president’s assassin to escape. Ha.

Comments are closed.