A couple of months ago, I blogged on what I felt was a misuse of children’s literature, in that case for the promotion of political candidates. I weighed in that some parents might indeed want to share with their children the merits of their chosen candidate, but where these books were concerned, the material was more fiction than biography, and other more objective kids’ books about politics and elections could easily be found.
Today I read about the use of children’s literature as a different kind of propaganda — in this case, to either promote or hinder a gay agenda. Sara Nelson wrote a very good blog for Publishers Weekly she entitled Book Abuse, detailing how a children’s picture book published by Tricycle Press is being used in an ad campaign supporting Proposition 8 in California, which would overturn recently passed laws permitting gay marriage. (See the ad in the YouTube clip above.)
Nelson writes: “King & King, a children’s picture book by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, which was originally published in the Netherlands, is cited by a New England mother and father who were horrified that their son was exposed to the book—a kind of fairy tale in which a prince falls in love with a prince—at school.”
I know books are used for all kinds of reasons, not only to spin stories. They convey morals, they can illuminate different points of view, and they can show someone how to do something, from using the potty to building a fort. I myself am the author of how-to books, and I love nonfiction.
But sometimes I wish everyone would leave the children’s book field alone. I know gay parents and others celebrating diversity and acceptance appreciate “teaching” books like King & King, and the landmark Heather Has Two Mommies: 10th Anniversary Edition (Alyson Wonderland). I know parents who’ve greatly appreciated books about infertility and adoption, in vitro fertilization, and using donor sperm or eggs, to show their children in child-friendly language and art how they were conceived (for example, the X Y and Me series.)
Does everyone need these books? No. Not everybody needs my parenting books, either. Does King & King have to be in school libraries? To say no would be censorship, but as a parent, I’m admittedly on the fence. I don’t have a problem with such books existing, but I suppose if pressed I’d want to choose when to “go there.” If it’s on the library shelf for one of my children to pick up and bring home, that’s forcing me to “go there.”
However, passing a gay couple holding hands makes us “go there” as well, as does attending religious services with a very liberal and accepting congregation. Likewise, so did the fact that my older son had a kindergarten classmate who had two moms (something the children never even commented on but which caused a pretty shameful uproar in the rather conservative school). Is a book on a shelf any different?
It’s delicate subject matter, to be sure. And for all parents who wish to expose their children to its message, there are as many or more that do not. Nelson’s column is devoted to the issue of whether a book that actively promotes tolerance should be used in a campaign against that very ideal.
I know this is very sad to people who love this book, and to its publishers. But all’s fair. No one has to uphold the authors’ and publishers’ intent. (They also will enjoy the kind of backlash promotion that comes with campaigns like this. After all, were it not for this campaign, I might never have heard about the book.)
But just like I bemoaned in my blog about politics overrunning children’s book merchandising, can we just leave children’s books out of it?