‘Scary’ little rebels, or rebels with a cause?

Or perhaps Halloween just came early for Fox Nation readers?

Our book, Tales for Little Rebels, is receiving quite a bit of media coverage as a result of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Daily Caller article, titled “Occupying children’s minds: Radical children’s literature at Wall Street protests,” was reposted by Fox Nation last week, where most of the readers – a whopping 87 of them, and counting – rated the piece “scary.” Co-editor of Tales for Little Rebels, Phillip Nel, continues the discussion…

It’s true that Tales for Little Rebels does include some stories written by people who wished young readers to adopt a very specific, often quite sectarian, view of the world. Caroline Nelson’s “Nature Talks on Economics” — one of the stories that inspired the coverage on The Daily Caller and Fox Nation — does harbor such aspirations. In that tale, a revolutionary chick cries, “Strike down the wall!” and liberates itself from the ‘egg state.’ A lesson about nature becomes a metaphor for revolution.

However, in and of itself, this story provides little evidence that Tales for Little Rebels is a “scary” tool of indoctrination, as one commentator worries. First, it’s but one of 44 stories on subjects ranging from peace to the dignity of work, from the power of the imagination to opposing bigotry, from environmental protection to finding strength in organizing — stories that would be quite apropos to the OWS protesters, incidentally. It would be truly remarkable for one story to manage to indoctrinate those who read it. Children are not passive beings, empty receptacles which people can fill with ideas. They’re certainly affected by the culture in which they live, but they’re also capable of thinking for themselves.

Occupy Wall Street organizer Kelley Wolcott writes in response to the suggestion that children of OWS protesters read Tales for Little Rebels, “I think that we should provide teaching related services that DO NOT have an agenda, and treat children in a respectful way that allows them to explore their own ideas…” There are no stories, however, that do not impose an agenda. All children’s literature is political — from Dr. Seuss to The Poky Little Puppy. All stories bear the influence of the world in which they were produced; some display that influence more prominently, and others more successfully mask ideological assumptions. Yet predicting its effectiveness on children is a tricky business. Child readers might embrace the message, or resist it, or … even forget all about it.

Tales for Little Rebels contains a range of opinions from people on the twentieth-century left. Though Julia and I expected that most of the stories would resonate with contemporary progressives, we also deliberately included some stories that would not (notably “ABC for Martin,” which we nicknamed “the Communist ABC”). We didn’t want to whitewash history by excising stories that may be embarrassing to those on the left — so, those stories are in the book, too. But they’re in there along with introductory material that invites readers to think critically about them. We didn’t create the book hoping that it would encourage everyone to adopt a particular “party line.” Rather, we hoped that it would encourage readers of all ages to think, to ask questions, and to understand that the world in which they live is not a given. People can change it. They can change it.

Read the full post on the author’s blog here.