Better Read Than Red

On the last day of a presidential campaign season that saw the return of that hoary old insult "Socialist!" what should wander onto our shelves but Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature. Edited by scholars Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel, Tales for Little Rebels features a drawing on the cover of a fierce little boy brandishing a popgun and a sign declaring "I AM A REAL RED!" Surely, there's a video of Barack Obama reading this to his daughters somewhere.

"From the Puritans to the present day," write Mickenberg and Nel, "the didactic tendency of books for younger children suggests that adults have no problem prescribing a moral framework for the young." Rather than enforcing the status quo (like the McGuffey readers did), the stories in this collection try to encourage kids "to question the authority of those in power," with varying degrees of heavy handedness. To wit, from "Pioneer Mother Goose" (1934):

This bloated Pig masters Wall Street,
This little Pig owns your home;
This war-crazed Pig had your brother killed,
And this greedy Pig shouts "More!"
This Pig in Congress shouts "War, War!"
All the day long.

These Pigs we'll send to market --
And will they squeal? You bet!
Down with Capitalism!
Long live the Soviet!

As over the top as that seems now, Mickenberg and Nel remind us how politically radical some of the most-beloved children's books are. So grab an innocent child and a copy of Munro Leaf's Ferdinand (or Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who, The Lorax, The Grinch and The Butter Battle Book, or even Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales) and feel the pro-war, anti-minority, anti-environment, pro-materialism, pro-nuclear, pro-fairytale establishment crumble!

-- Rachel Hartigan Shea

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  November 4, 2008; 7:15 AM ET Rachel Hartigan Shea
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This is a fascinating book, but you have to know what to expect. Lots of footnotes, biographical information, etc, along with excerpts of some unknown radical lit, some well known lit that can be seen as radical, and so on.

Not an anthology to hand directly to your pink diaper kid.

Posted by: jweissmn | November 6, 2008 10:24 AM

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