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Tales for Little Rebels
September 20, 2011 5:41 AM   Subscribe


 
My library has Tales for Little Rebels and it's an excellent source of reading matter for children. Very few of these stories would seem that radical today, of course (female main characters, diversity, toppling dictators like Yurtle, etc), although they are still pretty progressive. One big exception that I and my kids love is Farmer Duck. So hilarious and the duck is so wearily drawn on every page.

I'd really love to see a version of this for more recent books. Or maybe there just aren't that many, since the American Left doesn't exist anymore. Perhaps one way to revive it would be to start a new leftist wave in children's literature. It all seems stuck on the battles of yesteryear. Still on-going battles, but new fronts have opened that need coverage.

QUACK!
posted by DU at 5:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


oh god, i can see the Fox News segment now...
posted by leotrotsky at 5:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's because America used to tolerate a lot of socialist thought, and in fact, used to be much more a socialist country than it is now.

The pledge of allegiance was written by a Christian socialist.

We didn't used to be so crazy afraid of socialism in the US.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:51 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


We didn't used to be so crazy afraid of socialism in the US.

Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!
posted by three blind mice at 6:02 AM on September 20, 2011


saulgoodman: "We didn't used to be so crazy afraid of socialism in the US."

That's because the things people are afraid of aren't actually socialism at all. A health insurance public option and restoring appropriate tax rates on the ultra-wealthy have as much to do with socialism, as anti-immigration policies and banning marijuana have to do with Christianity.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


My son loves "Harold and The Purple Crayon" and "Danny and the Dinosaur." What about Ferdinand by Munroe Leaf? Was he a lefty? Or was that book just part of "the gay agenda" like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:04 AM on September 20, 2011


Scholars reveal the socialist history of 20th century American children's literature.

I smell astroturf-driven purges of libraries coming. "How dare libraries use our tax dollars to indoctrinate our children to socialism!!!!" kind of stuff. 'Cause, y'know, crazies gotta be crazy.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:12 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yep. The Story of Ferdinand, too--it was so controversial, the Nazis burned it.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:13 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think being hated by Nazis makes something controversial.
posted by DU at 6:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]




Reality has a liberal bias.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess I should have been more inclusive: I don't think being hated by idiots makes something controversial.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


reality has a whig bias.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:46 AM on September 20, 2011


Aww, shucks. If Danny and the Dinosaur think it's right, who are we to say no?

*townspeople start smiling again and credits roll*
posted by michaelh at 6:51 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we absolutely certain these childrens books were written by radical leftists out to destroy America and the capitalist system?

Because it's not like people haven't gotten burned on this one before...
posted by Naberius at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, "My Puppy" is a real education in socialism. With its references to moneyed suburban life.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:59 AM on September 20, 2011


. Perhaps one way to revive it would be to start a new leftist wave in children's literature. It all seems stuck on the battles of yesteryear. Still on-going battles, but new fronts have opened that need coverage.

There is a pretty sizeable wave of young children's books on alternative family structures, which does open up conversation on gender and queer issues. Not many of them have reached the level of 'classic' of Danny and the Dinosaur yet, though.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on September 20, 2011


Kinder aller Länder vereinigt Euch!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:18 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's hilarious, Naberius. My local bookstore is having a "read from banned books" event next week, and I seriously might read 'Brown Bear' based on this comment. I'm sure most people will be reading heavy stuff like Slaughterhouse-Five and Animal Farm, so it might make for a nice unicorn chaser.

In the podcast, Mickenberg mentions that "it wasn't just books," and that one of the side effects of blacklisting Socialist performers from being able to play at major concert halls and on broadcast radio meant that they had to make their living playing at children's schools and summer camps (more here). Hence we get an entire tradition of kids being raised on "This Land is Your Land," "If I Had a Hammer," "The Titanic," "Joe Hill," "Dona Dona," "Down by the Riverside," and the like.
posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Rebel tales on the green:

Help me build a library of lefty kids books


For those inclined to do banned/controversial book readings for little ones, you could do worse than to start with the answers to this question.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:37 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sharing and being nice are dangerously un-American values.
posted by The Whelk at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I swear I remember an animated cartoon about Ferdinand..

Sure enough, Ferdinand the Bull by that radical communist Walt Disney.
posted by formless at 9:01 AM on September 20, 2011


maybe there just aren't that many

At least two of Susan Meddaugh's Martha books:

Martha Calling--she wins a contest to a restricted resort hotel that doesn't allow dogs...not even well-behaved talking ones. It's up to the parents to explain to their kids that there were places who would only let WASPs into their facilities.

Martha Blah Blah--she can't talk properly when the manufacturer of the alphabet soup decides to maximize her profits by removing some of the letters.
posted by brujita at 9:28 AM on September 20, 2011


For a more recent left-leaning picture book, I always recommend Debbie Cronin's "Click, Clack, Moo," in which a bunch of farm animals unionize and protest for better working conditions when the cows find an old typewriter.

Great read-aloud, too.
posted by Jeanne at 9:46 AM on September 20, 2011


This is not just the case for children's books. Even many nursery rhymes have distinctly radical, or even revolutionary subtexts. For instance, a song that may be familiar to many of you from your childhood was originally sung by the children of the districts of Belleville and Ménilmontant in Paris, to celebrate the proclamation of the Paris commune in 1871 and the awakening of the French working classes. The French is a little obscure, but the English translation is roughly as follows:

Brother Jacques! Brother Jacques!
Do you sleep? Do you sleep?
Ring the chimes of morning! Ring the chimes of morning!
Ding-dang-dong. Ding-dang-dong.

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:05 AM on September 20, 2011


For a more recent left-leaning picture book, I always recommend Debbie Cronin's "Click, Clack, Moo," in which a bunch of farm animals unionize and protest for better working conditions when the cows find an old typewriter.

I'd never considered that before. In a later book, the Duck runs for President.
posted by drezdn at 10:08 AM on September 20, 2011


When I was little, whenever I lost a tooth, I would get a quarter and a Little Golden Book under my pillow. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the tooth fairy for making sure I grew up to be a raving lefty socialist.
posted by pemberkins at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd never considered that before. In a later book, the Duck runs for President.

To me the duck one actually doesn't seem leftist but reactionary. The moral seems to be that the duck should have been happy with the status quo and his simple life on the farm.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2011


I kind of read the whole thing as a sly dig at Clinton and Carter.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2011


(But only a little... It's more about the process, that's obvious.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2011


This is a fascinating topic, especially as I spend a lot of time reading books to my 3 and 7 year olds. I'll certainly reread Click, Clack Moo with new eyes!
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:22 AM on September 20, 2011


The moral seems to be that the duck should have been happy with the status quo and his simple life on the farm.

That's the moral of Scuffy the Tugboat, too.
posted by drezdn at 10:49 AM on September 20, 2011


Click, Clack, Moo rocks! It was one of my son's favorite books, along with Duck for President and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I highly recommend all three. That is all.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2011


Yay! Julia is an old friend of mine. She's a great person, and a terrific scholar.

Does the book mention Leo Lionni? I've always wanted to know more about him. His stories have always been interesting to me, because I know he has a history of being active in the Italian left before becoming disillusioned.

His stories, like Fish is Fish, seem politically ambiguous to me. I can't decide whether that one is espousing or criticizing the idea that certain talented individuals rise up, and everyone else should just stay in their place.
posted by umbú at 12:30 PM on September 20, 2011


A health insurance public option.

Welll, public health insurance is as socialist as it gets. Any time government provides a service directly, especially one that had been provided by private companies, that's a kind of socialism.

(Not that there is anything wrong with that).
posted by empath at 3:26 PM on September 20, 2011


god that radicals ruining my country shit is just awful. it amuses me to no end that these tea partiers think the government forced banks to make loans to people who couldn't pay them back. i mean, it's amusing until you start to cry... these people are completely brainwashed by fox.
posted by joeblough at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2011


By 'radical lefties' I guessing is meant literate people in touch with modern thinking who reject archaic tribal systems and feudal statism and give a damn about someone besides themselves?

Loved those books.
posted by Twang at 3:41 PM on September 20, 2011


How about the liberal tracts of Dr. Seuss?

The Butter Battle Book: Arms races don't solve problems.
The Sneetches: Discrimination is stupid.
Yertle the Turtle: Dictatorships are doomed to fail.
The Lorax: The environment is valuable.

I hear he's not even a real doctor.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:09 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hi. Philip Nel here. As one of the editors of Tales for Little Rebels, I thought I'd say, first, thanks for the conversation on the book! Second, I think I can answer a few of the questions that have come up in this thread.

Since the question of building a library of radical children's literature came up, Julia and I recently gave a talk called "Radical Children's Literature Now!" -- in it, we address books from the first decade of this century.

* Here's the bibliography.
* Here's video for the talk.

Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand (1936, illus. Robert Lawson) also came up in discussion. On the occasion of Ferdinand's 75th birthday (this very fall), I posted a little essay about him, including (indeed, focusing on) the controversy over whether or not the book was/is radical.

Regarding Seuss: he was a liberal Democrat. Yertle the Turtle (1958) is intended as an anti-Fascist parable, in which Yertle represents Hitler. Concern over careless treatment of the environment inspired The Lorax (1961). His opposition to President Reagan's escalation of the nuclear arms race inspired The Butter Battle Book (1984). Seuss's opposition to anti-Semitism motivated The Sneetches (1961), although it works as an anti-discrimination tale more generally. Indeed, I hope it goes without saying that all of these books can be interpreted in ways beyond those that their author intended.
posted by philnel at 4:30 PM on September 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


What a treat! Thanks for the comment, philnel.

Also wanted to note that the podcast in the main post link contains some comment about Dr Suess, too.
posted by Miko at 4:33 PM on September 20, 2011


Welcome to the thread, philnel!

(In case it wasn't clear, I was being facetious. I'm in full agreement with Geisel's liberal politics. That's just the way we do things here on MetaFilter.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2011


I know I say this about EVERYTHING, but The Lorax is clearly a work of radical environmentalism. I think I actually have told someone "You're not the Lorax, and you don't speak for the trees".
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:08 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Butter Battle Book: Arms races don't solve problems.

Is this meant to be a joke? 'Cause that book is anvilicious as hell.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:09 PM on September 20, 2011


Oh, dear. I've gone and screwed things up again, haven't I. The summaries I wrote above are what I believe to be the obvious, intended messages of the books, and philnel agrees with me. The joke-- which obviously failed-- was in implying that promoting these common-sense notions was a bad thing, as they oppose neoconservative dogma.

I think I'll get back to my Typography homework now.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:23 PM on September 20, 2011


Oh, dear. I've gone and screwed things up again, haven't I. The summaries I wrote above are what I believe to be the obvious, intended messages of the books, and philnel agrees with me. The joke-- which obviously failed-- was in implying that promoting these common-sense notions was a bad thing, as they oppose neoconservative dogma.

It's not 'neoconservative dogma' to believe that kids shouldn't get indoctrinated with anti-development, anti-technology propaganda that's as blatent as the Lorax, where the bulldozers and malls and civilization are 'evil'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2011


where the bulldozers and malls and civilization are 'evil'.

There are no bulldozers, malls and very little of civilization in The Lorax. It's a great jumping off point to a discussion about wise use of resources for kids, but some people read far too much into it.
posted by drezdn at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2011


There are no bulldozers, malls and very little of civilization in The Lorax. It's a great jumping off point to a discussion about wise use of resources for kids, but some people read far too much into it.

It's just so blatant and manipulative, like Captain Planet or Wall-E.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:08 PM on September 20, 2011


Oh man, I never put the stars on the Sneetch bellies together with anti-semitism. Duh!
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Philnel, you've been welcomed in MetaTalk,, the section of MetaFilter devoted to site business - hope you will stick around!
posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on September 21, 2011


It's not 'neoconservative dogma' to believe that kids shouldn't get indoctrinated with anti-development, anti-technology propaganda that's as blatent as the Lorax, where the bulldozers and malls and civilization are 'evil'.

Environmentalism is not anti-technology, nor anti-development.
This is a shallow and incorrect view promoted by neoconservatives who have totally forgotten about what it means to "conserve". If you don't want people to say you're spouting neoconservative dogma, well, don't.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


In 2008 I blogged about a Brecht/Grosz kids' book which blows my mind. Here's a quote about it by a Brecht biographer:

"The most powerful and affecting of the poems of this time is 'Die drei Soldaten' (The Three Soldiers -- A Book for Children)... Georg Grosz supplied the incisive and bitter illustrations. The poem consists of fourteen sections of rhymed couplets, and describes how three soldiers -- Hunger, Mishap, and Consumption -- desert toward the end of the war, and make their way through various cities. Here they encounter the rich, the poor, children, men of the church. They are witnesses of the destruction of wheat in a time of hunger. They attend the trial of a worker who has been framed. They see mustard gas being manufactured. They have a private session with God himself; watch the war of the classes, and finally reach Moscow."

Eventually God is put up against the wall and shot. Sweet dreams, little Hans.
posted by ajourneyroundmyskull at 10:44 AM on September 21, 2011


Exciting thread - and I've love that word, Lovecraft_In_Brooklyn ... anvilicious.

I really love little rebels ... want more.

BTW, does anyone know of an non-anvilicious book that could mirror to a six-year old a child's misplaced infatuation with a brand meme (for 'status' doll) -- in a way that could open her to self-reflection? -- I fear this virus is infecting her mind and soul with consumerist behavior and social bigotry.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:19 PM on September 21, 2011



BTW, does anyone know of an non-anvilicious book that could mirror to a six-year old a child's misplaced infatuation with a brand meme (for 'status' doll) -- in a way that could open her to self-reflection? -- I fear this virus is infecting her mind and soul with consumerist behavior and social bigotry.


What's wrong with brands? Lots of people still love Transformers.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:03 PM on September 21, 2011


Jesus, Lovecraft. Dial it down a notch; we get it.
posted by mediareport at 7:27 PM on September 21, 2011


Leo Lionni married the daughter of the founder of Italy's Communist Party, but he must have hidden his angst about capitalism pretty well, as he was the art director for Fortune.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:37 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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