Children’s Literature and Politics?

There was a really interesting article in Salon this week called Michelle Obama Gets Real in which children's books plays a key role.

There's time for one more story before Obama has to address the adults gathering in an adjacent room, and someone has set aside two books from which Obama can choose. There's one unfamiliar book called "Skippyjon Jones," and a hardback edition of "Our National Anthem," the sort of red, white and blue book Lynne Cheney would write, and that an aspiring first lady would be expected to read. "Not that one," says Obama, quickly discarding the patriotic volume. She opens "Skippyjon Jones" and begins the story of a Siamese kitten who, for reasons too murky to convey here, soon starts using "his very best Spanish accent," to say things like, "My ears are too beeg for my head. My head ees too beeg for my body. I am not a Siamese cat … I AM A CHIHUAHUA!"

I have to admit that I as soon as I heard Skippyjon Jones mentioned, I both laughed and cringed. We have this book (I picked it up when we were at the National Book Festival) and as described , it is most definitely a tongue twister (and hilarious). Kyle especially likes it. I could feel Michelle Obama's pain as the article described her laughing through it all. The cringe came because the book can be seen as controversial and is probably not the most "politically correct" because of the Spanish accent and I was hoping that was not the angle the article was going to focus on.

Luckily, the angle the article took was a bit more sophisticated than that:

But Obama's particular impulse — to reject meaningless political pablum or helpmate hokum in favor of unexpected candor and a good laugh — has already distinguished her yearlong tenure on the presidential campaign circuit.

"You've never seen anyone like us before, and that's a little freaky, isn't it?" she asks the crowd of grown-ups who've assembled at the Monticello library after the bangito conclusion of "Skippyjon Jones." "It's like, 'They're real!' Well, guess what? Real people can be politicians too. We as a country have grown suspicious of real. We take the fake."

I will admit that I am very partial to the Obamas for precisely this reason…they seem very real and human to me and not as tied to poll results (I am also intrigued by John and Elizabeth Edwards for the same reason as well). And I will also admit that Michelle Obama's choice of Skippyjon Jones over the National Anthem only serves to reinforce this impression. I love that she went with a book that she thought the children would enjoy over a book that would have "looked good" from a political/adult perspective.

After reading this article I kept looking for the news reports taking her to task for this, just like they took her husband to task for not wearing a flag pin. I guess if they had, all she would have had to do was to point out that Judy Schachner was a featured author at the National Book Festival, hosted by none other than Laura Bush.

I do think that it is sad that I was worried about her having to defend her choice of books. But that seems to be what politics has come to in this country…folks look for any little thing and then pounce, usually blowing it way up and way out of proportion until you have no idea what to believe any more.

It was an interesting article and kinda cool to see children's books take a central role in a political piece.