Skip to main content

Features

Books of the resistance

A wave of activist-themed children’s books has surged in the Trump era

Books of the resistance

(Krieg Barrie)

“One remarkable feature of Donald Trump’s constantly surprising tenure,” reported Publishers Weekly last May, “is this: he is a professed nonreader whose presidency just might launch a thousand books.”

Indeed, shortly after the election of 2016, the publishing world rose up with cries of “Resist!” Dozens of children’s authors expressed their dismay, followed shortly by determination to push back against this new wave of supposed racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Within months, books aimed at encouraging teen activism were rolling off the presses.

Books were remarkably—or not so remarkably—similar in theme, and even title. Last year’s activist lineup included How I Resist; Girls Resist!; We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices; and Steal This Country: A Handbook For Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing (Almost) Everything. Political action is the key for fixing (almost) everything, and many of these books include contact information for activist groups—though presumably not for the College Republicans, Young America’s Foundation, or Live Action.

Pre-teens and toddlers needn’t feel left out. A board book titled A Is for Activist, published in 2013, received a sales boost after 2016 for lines like this: C is for Co-op. Cooperating Cultures. Creative Counter to Corporate vultures. Oh, and Cats. Can you find the Cats? “Finding the cats” is just about the only nod to the actual proclivities of a 3-year-old. The rest of the book features festive alliterations about “Silly Selfish Scoundrels” who oppose solar power and “LGBTQ: Love Who You Choose.”

As over the top as some of these books are, they illustrate a basic truth of children’s literature: It’s inherently moralistic. As much as they may testify to the supposed inherent wisdom of children, children’s authors know more than their readers do, and naturally wish to pass on some of that knowledge and experience. Almost all children’s books, whether fiction or nonfiction, include some kind of lesson; the question is what kind.

Conservative Christians tend to couch their messages in example or illustration. New-wave “resistance” tends to sacrifice subtlety for stridency and example for exhortation. It assumes a leftward tilt in the reader and doesn’t waste time on persuasion. These authors say they feel a mission: never again to let the reactionaries take over. But in their uniform prescription of political and community action, they sound more than a little reactionary.

Politics does not consume most households, but kids may still absorb the lesson from teachers and librarians, from politically inclined classmates, and possibly from required reading. Christian parents could usefully check out some of these books and read them with their teens, evaluating together the pros and cons of the argument. Rational or irrational? Realistic or utopian? Where does the logic hold up, and where does it falter? What’s missing from these perspectives that Christ can provide? Is the answer political or more a matter of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8)?

Christians can’t flee from “Resistance,” but we can meet it with firm, assured, and loving resistance of our own.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

Comments

  • Janet B
    Posted: Fri, 02/15/2019 06:14 pm

    You assume, Ms. Cheaney, that the Christian parents have been taught logic.

    I wonder...

  • Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Wed, 02/20/2019 12:04 am

    When our kids were little, over 25 years ago, we noticed the same activist trend in Saturday morning cartoons.  Bugs Bunny and Tweety were condemned as violent.  Activist cartoons made children out to be the smart saviors from evil corporations while parents and teachers were stupid and uninformed.

    I suspect that all television is activism of some form.  Are there any shows which don't push homosexuality?  That is even a background theme in God Friended Me.  When I was growing up in the '60s and 70s television was pushing alternative families.  Then it was stupid husbands, smart wives.  Then stupid parents, smart kids.  And so on ...