The Kids' Books To Read To Inspire Your Politics

by Charlotte Ahlin

When I was a kid, I thought that "politics" referred to things said on the news by boring adults wearing suits. And I hated it. It never occurred to me that books about wizarding schools or elephants or princesses could be political books. But then, like most kids, I got older, and started to realize that all literature is political. Even the stuff about elephants. And that's not necessarily a bad thing—so here are a few kid's books to inspire your politics.

I mean, yes, there are many adult books to read if you need inspiration to keep resisting our current president's toxic nonsense. But sometimes, it helps to return to a childhood classic and find new lessons. Sometimes we need books to help us talk to kids who are growing up in Trump's America right now. Sometimes we can't stop screaming, and we need to sit down and read a magical allegory for defeating fascism. Children's literature has something for everyone, no matter your age.

So here are a few old books that you might have read as a kid, and a few new books that you might want to read to a kid, to inspire your political conversations with young people:


'Horton Hears a Who' by Dr. Seuss

The moral of Horton Hears a Who! is fairly well known: "A person's a person, no matter how small." The anti-abortion movement in America has tried to co-opt this lesson as a slogan for their cause, but Dr. Seuss actually wrote this book as an apology to the Japanese. He was a political cartoonist during World War II, and he wanted to apologize for drawing racist, anti-Japan cartoons at the time. Horton Hears a Who! echoes a lot of the language used in WWII propaganda, but this time with the lesson that everyone is worthy of respect, no matter their size or nationality.

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'The Giving Tree' by Shel Silverstein

OK, so I feel like The Giving Tree is often misinterpreted as a story about how mothers should just give their kids whatever, even if they end up as a sad stump. But, besides being a book about the importance of generosity, I feel like this is a book that brings women's (or tree's) emotional labor to the forefront. Let's not be like that nasty little boy. Let's all express gratitude for the people who perform emotional labor in our lives, and try to support them in turn.

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'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster

In a political era where facts are meaningless and intellectuals are under attack, books like The Phantom Tollbooth matter more than ever. In The Phantom Tollbooth, young Milo travels from his boring, normal life to the strange "Lands Beyond," where he finds himself forced to question his assumptions, and use math, words, and logic to solve his problems. Let's keep teaching kids things like math and words, yes?

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'The Paper Bag Princess' by Robert Munsch

Princess Elizabeth is a stone cold badass. She outsmarts a dragon on her own, makes daring and resourceful fashion choices, and (spoiler alert) kicks her man to the curb when he can't deal with her new, radical feminist look. It's never too early to teach children that smarts matter and male approval is unnecessary.

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'The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963' by Christopher Paul Curtis

This book shook me to my core when I first read it at age 10. It starts off as the funny, relatable story of Kenny, a 10-year-old boy from Flint, Michigan, going on a family road trip. But when they arrive in Birmingham, Alabama, the Watsons find themselves in one of the darkest chapters of American history. Half a century later, we're still seeing terrorist attacks fueled by white supremacy. The Watsons Go to Birmingham is still all-too relevant a read.

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'A is for Activist' by Innosanto Nagara

If you're looking for a straight-up, openly political picture book for very little kids, then check out A is for Activist. It doesn't pull any punches. Very young children might not grasp all the vocabulary of this radical alphabet book, but they'll definitely enjoy searching for the cat on every page. And they'll (hopefully) absorb the larger message about standing up for justice at every opportunity.

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'American Born Chinese' by Gene Luen Yang

You're never too old to read Gene Luen Yang's brilliant, action-packed graphic novels. American Born Chinese weaves together the daily life and prejudices faced by a Chinese-American boy with the legend of the mighty Monkey King. The result is this fun, poignant novel about diverse American identities.

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'The Lorax' by Dr. Seuss

OK, sorry to double-down on the Seuss here, but... c'mon. The Lorax is just a beautifully clear text on the importance of protecting our environment. True, the lesson here focuses on pollution rather than our current crisis of man-made climate change. But the ultimate moral of putting aside corporate greed to save our planet is more pressing than ever.

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'Gracefully Grayson' by Ami Polonsky

Our government recently decided that the rights of trans children don't matter to them. In light of that, we need lovely kid's books like Gracefully Grayson. This novel tells the nuanced story of Grayson, who feels like a girl but was born with a "boy's body." With the support of a few unexpected friendships, though, Grayson just might be able to live as her true self. Simply beautiful.

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'Harry Potter' by J.K. Rowling

I'm Potterhead trash, so sue me. But this is the children's book series that people are most likely to reread, and to share with younger generations. And these books, while they have their flaws (i.e. not enough Hermione in Chamber of Secrets), are a deeply political allegory about the importance of acceptance and the dangers of bigotry and fascism. If you don't think that the Harry Potter series is inherently political... it might be time for a long, thoughtful reread.

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