Some Parents Concerned Over Political Messages in Children Books

By Joseph Powell                      

It has been projected that the sales of children’s books will generate close to $394 million worth of sales in 2016. And while sales in EBook format have grown, print editions still account for more than half that income at roughly $209 million dollars in sales.

“Children’s publishing  is 33 percent of the entire print market,” said Kiere O’Brien  the editor of the website The BookSeller.com. “It means that one in every three books sold so far this year has been a children’s book.”

The biggest children’s book of 2016 so far is Harry Potter And the Cursed Child, by  J.K. Rowling.

The plots or topics of children’s books can range from learning the alphabet all the way up to entering their teen years and beyond. Some books are written with direct or indirect political messages.

In September of 2016, a children’s book entitled Monster Mas Runs for President was released. It was written by Heather Arabadjis who is a New York City school teacher. The book centers around a character who decides to run for president of the United States.  It should be noted that the cover of the book has Monster Mas with three people sitting at a table.  There are cartoon characters resembling Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump who were the two candidates in the 2016 race.  In the book, the Trump character is referred to as Ronald.            

In a recent phone interview, Arabadjis explained why she wrote the book. “It was due to what’s happening politically in the USA,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was going on and if I didn’t understand what was going on, then children don’t understand.”

Arabadjis, who has been teaching for the past 14 years, admits she is not trying to influence voting choices, but rather to educate young readers about the system. “It’s not taught in schools,” she said. “I did the research and while there are many president picture books, there are no books for children that address the presidency. I’m trying to create a movement to teach kids about politics.”

There are many people, however, who are not in favor of children’s books with political messages, no matter how sincere the writers are. “It’s too early for them, they going to get confused,” said Yola Pierre, a senior at York College in Queens majoring in Health Promotions Management.

Jackie Luna who is an Accounting major and senior at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, also feels the same way.  “As a mother of three children, I feel after age 11 or 12, it’s okay,” said Luna. “But at five or six, they are too young.”

Tiffany Dominguez is a freshman majoring in Psychology at Los Angeles City College in California.  She was in town visiting relatives for the holidays. While shopping in the department store Macy’s, the mother of a ten year old son, shared her thoughts on the subject. “I think it’s a great idea to get children familiar with their country’s politics,” said Dominguez. “Because if we don’t tell them, they will see it or hear it from sources like the media.”

The New York Public Library in the Melrose section of the Bronx is located on Morris Avenue. Mal Higgins is a librarian who works in the very large children’s book section located in the basement level. He cites the books age range as starting from Pre-K and up.

“The early reader books are very popular and we have different book sections depending on the age,” said Higgins.

He points out a book entitled One Green Apple by Eve Bunting. It tells the story of Farah a Muslim immigrant schoolgirl who is new to America and tries to adapt to her new country.  “We try to serve the diverse makeup of this community,” said Higgins. “Along with African-Americans and Hispanics, we have different groups from West Africa and Latin America.”

He pulls books off the shelves by African American illustrators such as Kadir Nelson and Faith Ringgold. “Kids want to see themselves in stories,” said Higgins.  

There are a few picture books on previous presidents displayed together which may show a connection to this recent election season.  

“In light of the past years with the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, Maryland due to the police shootings, we put up a social justice display of books” said Higgins. “At the time of the shootings, parents were coming in to ask how they could  explain this to their children. You want kids to be aware, but how do you approach it?”

Melissa Placide, an Accounting major in her junior year at York College, isn’t keen on children’s books dealing with political or current events.

“They are just kids, it’s not a good idea,” said Placide. “There was a recent news report showing a group of fifth graders talking about what a great idea it is to build a wall to keep Mexicans out.  Parents are setting bad examples for children by allowing them to hear this.”

Tiffany Dominguez feels that books can serve a useful purpose in educating children.

“I’m originally from Belize and there the children’s books don’t have political messages,” said Dominguez. “But they educate the children about the history of Belize. Children learn about the different ethnic groups there like the Creoles, Garifunas and the Hispanics.”

It’s a quiet Saturday morning on Amsterdam Avenue in upper Manhattan. But it won’t stay that way for long as the merchants are opening up their stores for business. Along with holiday displays, there are signs offering huge savings to those who shop and live in the area.

The Word Up Bookstore is located on the corner of 165th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. It is a multilingual general interest and nonprofit that serves the community of Washington Heights.  The knowledgeable and friendly staff is made up of volunteers. They have a large children’s book section with titles in both English and Spanish. The store also hosts weekly book reading events for children.  

“We carry a lot of children’s books and the selections depend on what the parents are looking for,” said staff member Jennifer Ortiz. She pointed out books like A is For Activist, which is an ABC board book for little children spelling out words in regard to modern day progressive struggles. There are also picture books on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the late labor leader Cesar Chavez.

“But among our most popular books here is the Little Golden Book series and I feel that there is a message for children in each of the books,” Ortiz said.

Arabadjis is happy with the response her book is receiving. “Parents are calling me up telling me how much they and their kids love it,” said Arabadjis. “The parents are happy to have it because it shows them how to explain politics to their children. “Some are telling me that their children are interested in learning more about politics since they read the book.”

The current book is the third in a series that center around the character Monster Mas. All three books are independently published. She wants to expand on the political theme of the third book by starting a blog series and a line of DVDs.  “It’s for parents who don’t know about politics. It’s not about who is running for President. I want children to know that they can get involved and change things on the local level and don’t have to wait until they are adults,” said Arabadjis.

But parents like Luna are not that crazy about the idea. Luna says, “I think children’s books are an important, vital part of sharing the world to a child in development. At age five, why expose them to politics?”

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