Help me build a library of lefty kids books
June 15, 2009 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Do you know any good left wing propoganda for toddlers?

Please help me identify some lefty / liberal children's books appropriate for a 3 year old (and up as I have noticed she tends to get older every day).

I have a 3 year old daughter, we read a lot of books together. Her mom and I are committed to progressive political action and would like to introduce some cool, fun, lefty books to the collection. We have a handful, but I'd like to expand. I am thinking about books that discuss race, class, struggle, civil rights, gender issues, environmentalism, etc. We are well to the left of the American mainstream, but we'll take liberalish stuff too.

One request - please no political critique, I promise I'll still read her stories from a variety of perspectives. We let her watch Wonder Pets and Dora, so don't worry.
posted by RajahKing to Education (51 answers total) 92 users marked this as a favorite
Mama voted for Obama? I've not read it (although I flipped through the sample pages), but it looks cute.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:00 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Daddy's Roommate
posted by dhammond at 5:02 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Blake & Yeoman's The Wild Washerwomen. Short story: the washerwomen strike.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:04 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm not sure what age this book would be good for, but Mcsweeneys kid's letter's to Obama is pretty cute.
posted by mattsweaters at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. Great little feminist tale from 1939, in which a brown female country bunny (and single mother!) shows that she's just as good as the white male aristocratic bunnies in delivering Easter eggs for children. Bonus: exquiste illustrations that I used to dream over when I was about 3 or 4.
posted by scody at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

Dr. Seuss was quite political and leaned quite heavily to the left:

"The Cat in the Hat is a revolt against authority."

"Yertle the Turtle, for example, is a cautionary tale against dictators. The Lorax contains a strong environmental message. The Sneetches is a plea for racial tolerance. Horton Hears a Who is a parable about the American Occupation of Japan. And The Butter Battle Book pillories the Cold War and nuclear deterrence."
posted by torquemaniac at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I loved Barbapapa's Ark when I was a kid. No longer seems to be in print but there are used ones.

Plus it's all trippy and 70s-ish!
posted by JoanArkham at 5:16 PM on June 15, 2009

I taught 3rd grade, and did a unit on race/civil rights movement - so these are for when she's a little older: Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges or The Story of Ruby Bridges, The Watson's Go to Birmingham, Martin's Big Words (great pictures!), Freedom on the Menu, The Other Side, Freedom Summer, A Sweet Smell of Roses, Rosa, Henry's Freedom Box, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Also, for environmentalism - Gone Wild.
posted by quodlibet at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2009

Free to Be You and Me was a fun and also lefty book that came with a record which has a lot of catchy songs on it. It's not so much lefty as it was everyone-inclusive in that feelgood seventies way before everyone started hollering at each other all the time. It was an animated film as well.
posted by jessamyn at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not sure if it'd be too specific a satire, but I recall enjoying Raymond Briggs' "The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman" back in the day.

(Briggs' "When The Wind Blows" should probably be on the list too...)
posted by pompomtom at 5:23 PM on June 15, 2009

2nd Barbapapa. All the main Barbapapa books are excellent for this. (This propagandizing worked so well that my thirty-year-old plastic Barbapapas are still on display as a sort of iconography.) They are into alternative politics and ecology and much more.

Free to Be You and Me on YouTube, FWIW. And 2nd Briggs as well.
posted by kmennie at 5:28 PM on June 15, 2009

Ooh! It's Just a Plant!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:34 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

King & King? It's a little forced, but it is a fairy tale about a gay prince finding true love, which is a departure from the picture books of my youth.

Also, Floyd Cooper is an illustrator whose (amazing!) picture books address a broad range of African and African American people and history, from ancient Africa through slavery and the Civil Rights movement and the present.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:38 PM on June 15, 2009

Just here to provide a backup vote for the Country Bunny - I loved the hell out of that book as a kid and love it more now that I consciously get what it was about.
posted by Stacey at 5:47 PM on June 15, 2009

The Coretta Scott King Book Award winners list might be useful.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 PM on June 15, 2009

And Tango Makes Three is the true story of two male penguins raising a baby penguin together.
posted by Nattie at 6:03 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Paperbag Princess is a wonderful story about a dragon who burns down a castle and kidnaps Prince Ronald, fiance of Princess Elizabeth. Princess Elizabeth sets off to rescue Ronald (wearing a paper bag, the only thing not burned by the dragon) and she successfully outwits the dragon to rescue the prince.

Upon being rescued Prince Ronald sees her in a paper bag and says "Come back when you look like a real princess." and she replies "You may look like a prince, but you are a bum." And they didn't get married after all, and Elizabeth lived happily ever after.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:05 PM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

Heather Has Two Mommies?
posted by Decimask at 6:13 PM on June 15, 2009

Munro Leaf's "How to Behave (and Why)" is accused of being (gasp) secular humanist in one review because the book emphasizes the importance of being fair, honest, and wise -- and not making value judgments about other cultures.

Leaf was also the author of "The Story of Ferdinand," which emphasizes pacifism and individualism.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:29 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Click Clack Moo...Cows that Type might be a good intro to the labour movement.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:30 PM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'd also highly recommend Eleanor Estes; The Hundred Dresses (1944) is a classic story about tolerance of immigrants who are poor and look different, and the series starting with The Moffats (1941) is a marvelous, funny and realistic look at early 20th century life from the point of view of children in a poor fatherless family, especially Jane, the smart, creative middle child.
posted by mediareport at 6:36 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers is my son's current favorite book. We've read it about three dozen times in the week since we've gotten it, and I think it will last a good long time.

Seconding The Story of Ferdinand. It's one for the ages. (You can also get Disney's 1938 animated treatment Ferdinand the Bull on iTunes. If you like the book and you like the golden age of Disney, this is a must-see. Truly highly recommended.)

Minnie and Moo are two cows who live on a farm run by vegan farmers who eat tofurky at Thanksgiving. It's about as good as you'd expect.
posted by alms at 6:53 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you like This Modern World, Tom Tomorrow has a children's book coming out soon -- The Very Silly Mayor.
posted by susanvance at 6:54 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

These fall more into the teen/young adult:

Another Kind of Cowboy

Esperanza Rising

Along with the Corretta Scott King awards, there are the Pura Belpré Awards
posted by lysdexic at 7:20 PM on June 15, 2009

The Lorax
posted by palliser at 7:22 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

William's Doll, from 1972, about a boy who wants a doll. It's tender and authentic and I love it.

There are tons of environmental books out there these days -- maybe ask your local librarian or indie bookseller?
posted by cider at 7:27 PM on June 15, 2009

At the 3 yr. old level, I like the subtle Marxist approach to work of Richard Scarry's What do People Do All Day?. It gives critical parents the perfect set up to show how work under capitalism is organized. Everyone is a worker. Children are workers. Women are workers. Some are paid money, some are not. It's got the potential of engagement by understanding one's own community.
posted by kch at 7:44 PM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

I got my 2yr old niece an Obama colouring book, and she has it read to her before bed every night, even though it has a total of about 50 words. She knows everyone in the family by name now!
posted by krunk at 7:45 PM on June 15, 2009

Zen Shorts, in addition to being the best children's book ever, is a great one for you, I think. It's not specifically left-wing, but the Zen koans and Buddhist parables that make up the book ask kids to look a the world in a different, kinder, and more thoughtful way than most books do. It emphasizes forgiveness, patience, and respect in a very lovely way.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:48 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, chiming back in to second mediareport's suggestion of The Hundred Dresses. I'd forgotten about that book till now -- I loved it when I was a few years older than your daughter (I think I probably read it when I was about 7).
posted by scody at 8:05 PM on June 15, 2009

10,000 Dresses
posted by gingerbeer at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can I ask a question? Why would you ask for titles that lean toward a particular point of view rather than ones that generally encourage the child toward critical thinking?
posted by collywobbles at 8:13 PM on June 15, 2009 [11 favorites]

Thirding Barbapapa--gosh people on MetaFilter know their stuff--but what about Gabrielle Vincent's Ernest and Celestine books? All the adults are bears, all the children are mice. Are you There, Ernest is my favorite. Ernest goes for a job interview at the Louvre (security guard position, it seems) and when told he can't "keep the child with him" during his work day, says, "Well, then, I guess this job is not for me."

Also, I know you said your child is three, but start picking up the Roald Dahl books at yardsales now. She'll be ready for Matilda before you know it. Have fun!

Oh, and after a quick perusal of the shelves--Barbara Cooney's Roxaboxen and the Berenstains' "Old Hat, New Hat." Just for the record I can't stand the Berenstains stuff, but this I Can Read book was a major fave around three for all my children, and I still read it to bilingual 1st graders. Very effective anti-consumerist message.
posted by emhutchinson at 8:27 PM on June 15, 2009

Must confess not ever seen it myself, but I know anarchist illustrator John Olday (as a lad he loaded ammo for the Spartacist insurgents in Hamburg and he later worked underground against the Nazis) did a kids' book called The Blue Cow and Her Fantastic Exploits which it seems is still available.
posted by Abiezer at 8:49 PM on June 15, 2009

Well, it's not political in the least bit, but at 3, it's the perfect age for Who Needs Doughnuts. But given that it's like "My First Acid Trip" in the plot and illustrations department, it's as far from right wing as kids' books get.

Heather Has Two Mommies is only amusing for the liberalism. It's not actually a book you want to read every night for the next two years. Unlike a story about an innercity doughnut collector who gives it all up for his love of Preztel Annie surrounded by birds with horse heads.
posted by Gucky at 9:25 PM on June 15, 2009

Farmer Duck: Barnyard revolt leads to Workers Paradise
posted by BinGregory at 10:39 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can find a whole lot of good stuff in Tales For Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature.

"n 1912, a revolutionary chick cries, "Strike down the wall!" and liberates itself from the "egg state." In 1940, ostriches pull their heads out of the sand and unite to fight fascism. In 1972, Baby X grows up without a gender and is happy about it.

Rather than teaching children to obey authority, to conform, or to seek redemption through prayer, twentieth-century leftists encouraged children to question the authority of those in power. Tales for Little Rebels collects forty-three mostly out-of-print stories, poems, comic strips, primers, and other texts for children that embody this radical tradition. These pieces reflect the concerns of twentieth-century leftist movements, like peace, civil rights, gender equality, environmental responsibility, and the dignity of labor. They also address the means of achieving these ideals, including taking collective action, developing critical thinking skills, and harnessing the liberating power of the imagination."

posted by redsparkler at 10:51 PM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

Susan Meddadugh's Martha Blah Blah, in which the soup company decides to cut back on the letters put into the alphabet soup (Martha can't talk properly!) and Martha Calling, in which she wins a contest to stay at a hotel with an exclusionary policy (No dogs allowed!).
posted by brujita at 10:53 PM on June 15, 2009

Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches is an excellent story about individualism (and in my opinion, an introduction to the idea that everyone has basic worth, which can be a great introduction to empathy development toward all groups of people). I do often use it with elementary school age girls to help cultivate and start discussions about positive body image.

Dora can actually be a pretty good influence for little ones too... have you ever noticed the way that she says "Swiper, no swiping!" 3 times to the fox? It's a really nice prep for developing a strong personal voice (that would come in really handy if kids are ever--universe forbid--approached by a stranger or what have you). It's just the whole disgusting consumerism part that's difficult about Dora.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:07 PM on June 15, 2009

Click Clack Moo is good, as is The Emperor's New Clothes, to teach kids to question authority, including parents who try to instill them with their own ideology way earlier than is appropriate.
posted by zachawry at 4:45 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest that you read books about nature. Here is an ongoing list.

I have mixed feelings about the anthropomorphization that is so prevalent in children's books. Does it devalue animals by making them seem human?
posted by mareli at 7:06 AM on June 16, 2009

Another thought; see if your library has the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. It's an amazing resource, you can search it all kinds of ways (age, topic, reading level, etc.) and it links to reviews.

many public libraries have it, as do some academic libraries.
posted by mareli at 7:09 AM on June 16, 2009

Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, by Kathleen Karr, made me almost cry the first time I read it to my daughter.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:18 AM on June 16, 2009

A lot of Robert Munsch (Paperbag Princess referred to above) has an subtly alternative view to society. Children are the focus and adults just belong to them. Also, they're all very funny.
posted by mdoar at 10:42 AM on June 16, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, thank you all, this is such a gift of knowledge. I am really looking forward to a lot of the suggested titles and fondly remembering some of them that I have, and also some I read when I was a kid. Who needs donuts when you have love?

Thanks so much, best AskMe answers ever.

Can I ask a question? Why would you ask for titles that lean toward a particular point of view rather than ones that generally encourage the child toward critical thinking?

No, you can't ask.
posted by RajahKing at 11:14 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Farmer Duck, feh. Here's something I wrote to a friend recently about it:

A couple of years ago, one of the books my kids got as a gift from the Quaker meeting was Farmer Duck. This is a favorite among liberals because it portrays trod-down farm animals rising up and taking over the farm from a bad guy farmer. The problem I had with the book was that the farmer was entirely the Fat=Stupid, Venal, Evil, Lazy, and Gluttonous stereotype. He's even portrayed lolling in bed (which he apparently never leaves), his clothes not meeting over his enormous belly, surrounded by half-empty boxes of chocolates and candy wrappers.

I was appalled that my Quaker meeting would give this book to the children of a fat woman (who is not stupid, venal, evil, lazy, or gluttonous). I find it interesting that people who are well-versed in spotting negative stereotypes about certain groups of people are not able to generalize from that and recognize negative stereotypes in general (I suspect I am guilty of this as well).

I wish I had said something at the time. Instead I just quietly recycled the book. But fat is a tough subject--a lot of people don't believe fat people deserve respect, and if you ask for it, their response is "LOL Fatty can't hear you through the chocolate stuffed in your mouth" or they just don't get it. It felt pretty vulnerable to think about going to people who are pleased with themselves (the annual book gifting is a favorite activity among some in the meeting) and saying, "This gift hurt, and it would have hurt even more if it had helped plant the seed in my children's minds that I am somehow a bad person for being fat."
posted by not that girl at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2009

I'm utterly shocked that Shel Silverstein hasn't been mentioned yet. The vaguely anarchist craziness I think probably had a large contribution to my leftist leanings.

An extremely strong 'seconded!' to the Free to Be recommendations.
posted by WCityMike at 3:00 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a great children's book about the Justice for Janitors movement. I bought it for a friend, whose kid loves it and plan to read it to my 3 month old before too long.
posted by krudiger at 3:56 PM on June 16, 2009

Yeah, Click Clack Moo is great. At home, I always call it "My First Book of Collective Bargaining."
posted by lekvar at 5:02 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dinosaurs and all that rubbish is something of an environmentalist kids classic.
posted by tallus at 2:49 PM on June 19, 2009

I'm a million years late to this thread, but Hope for the Flowers is a wonderful book despite its rather ridiculous website.
posted by dizziest at 6:15 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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