The Trump Presidency in Picture Books

Since 2016, over two dozen children’s books written from either side of the aisle have tackled the difficult task of explaining the current administration’s policies to young readers. Some of the most interesting ones purchased for the research collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library are surveyed here.Dover Books captured the glamour of Donald John Trump’s inauguration in a commemorative paper doll book.    The new First Lady’s pale blue Ralph Lauren ensemble and other Trump women’s designer gowns outshine the President’s dark blue coat, business suit, and long red tie.

Of all the picture books introducing the Trump clan to young members of the Republic, the most mysterious (and inaccurate) is The Trump Family Story.  Donald’s father’s name is given as ‘”Frederick” and “Farid;” Tiffany is identified as one of Trump’s sons, and Eric junior’s name is misspelled “Arik.”  A few Arabic words and logos for Wavefront obj.files were never removed.  The Trump Family Story was purchased through Amazon and printed at its Middletown, Delaware facility January 13 2021.  There are no credits anywhere, but there is an ISBN number, which when Googled, lands you on the Walt Design Facebook page giving the pamphlet’s publication date as May 20, 2020.  The Marseilles-based firm was also responsible for an introduction to Minecraft.

Donald Trump the 45th President (2016) is the only example of a fun-fact introduction to this occupant of the White House. It was produced by Gallipolade International, an educational publishing company founded by Carole Marsh that produces materials supporting curriculum in social studies. Before diving into sections describing the Electoral College, the line of succession, and the history of Camp David, young readers learn that Donald Trump loves See’s Candies, scrapes the toppings of the crust of his pizza, and styles his hair after Melania cuts it. Informative activities include quick quizzes, a form for drafting a letter to the chief executive, and a maze (help the Secret Service find the president who’s gone to make a snack in the kitchen).Eric Metaxas, the conservative cultural commentator, syndicated radio show host, and Yale alum, comes out fighting for free markets in Donald Builds the Wall (Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 2019) the second of three volumes illustrated by Tim Raglin in the “Donald the Caveman” series. Donald’s wall is not supposed to keep out illegal immigrants south of the border, but Swamp Creatures Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who want government to stymie the Free People’s individual innovation and entrepreneurship. Metaxas considers this fable with its affable Fred Flintstone-like hero a light-hearted political satire for adults that will engage the kids, even though a lot of the material will go over their heads.

The connection to political reality is just as tenuous in Deena Marie’s Trump and the Dragon (n.d.) illustrated by Josseline Villalobos and Candice Han, companion piece to Obama and the Pirates, in which the two presidents must demonstrate just how far they will go to solve an ally’s problem. The president of China summons the president of the United States to rid his land of a singing dragon whose songs are so atrocious that people are vacating their villages. The dragon’s name? Dylan. Great American Children’s Books published it.  Trump’s apologists have not turned out many parodies for the conservative cause. However, Bill Hunt, former San Clemente police chief and lieutenant in the Orange County sheriff’s department now a professional artist, turns Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham (1960) into a spoof on hysterical liberals’ categorical refusal to accept the results of the 2016 election. The liberal, an old, white, bearded hippy in sandals and a bowler, rants to Uncle Sam, “I do not like Trump in the White House./ I do not like that lecherous louse,/ I do not like Trump here or there,” I do not like Trump anywhere! / I do not like Trump, / He’s just a sham. / I do not like Trump.” By the end of A Lib I Am! An adult reader about children (2017) the poem, the lib loses it and threatens to “make up fake news / And cause mass disruption,” incite civil unrest from coast to coast, and get into bed with Arab radicals to thwart the president’s administration.A brief pause for Dear Mr. President (United Kingdom: Templar Books, 2019), a picture book whose author/illustrator made an honest attempt to break down one of the signature political initiatives of the Trump administration in an accessible way without oversimplifying its complexity. Sam has decided that his big brother, with whom he shares a bedroom, sounds like an undesirable according to President Trump’s definition. Building a wall sounds like a good solution to the problem of his brother’s thoughtlessness, so Sam writes a series of letters to the American president telling him about his construction project’s progress.  During family discussions Dad has a word with his older son and hostilities begin to subside. Sam comes around to the idea that “communication and negotiation are always preferable to separation,” especially now that he knows that the great walls of history didn’t attain their builders’ objectives. It’s probably no coincidence that this gentle, common-sense story illustrated by Anne Villeneuve is the work of New Zealander Sophie Stier.The American author/illustrators of picture books attacking the president do not feel obligated to respect the office or the its incumbent, which does not necessarily result in mean, clever satire that pulls down the object to a contemptible level. The premise of Donald Don’t grab that Pussy (201) by Mike McAllen and illustrated by Lovyaa Garg is funny only as long as the novelty of the idea of Michelle Obama teaching the little Donald how to treat our animals friends with “respect and care” wears off. Beyond that, there’s no meaningful play off the infamous Access Hollywood tape, which presumably inspired the book. In Take a Trump (n.d.), the anonymous author avoids taboo words and lets the pictures lead on the reader.  A little girl trying to get her mind around the adult chatter floating overhead and comes to the mistaken conclusion that “trump” rhymes with a synonym for an embarrassing bodily function.

Trump’s liberal enemies have been quick to whip off parodies of famous children’s books.  Diminishing an adversary through infantilization is, of course, one of the oldest, funniest, and unfairest techniques in the satirist’s arsenal, which doesn’t make it easy to pull off.  D. Trumple Thinskin bit off more than he could chew in The very angry Caterwauler (n.p.: Lies & Prevarications, 2017), an “Auntie-American Tragicomedy.”  Without the means to suggest transformation through the original’s brilliant use of illustrated vertical flaps with cut-outs, the best Thinskin can manage is a greasy rumble of words, “But at last, it was Election Day.  The angry caterwauler choked down a taco (most certainly not from a truck!) forced a shit-eating grin onto a quesadilla lips and burped out a few more rancid cheesy lies.  By evening, he was feeling much better.”

Laura Nemeroff’s famous series has been taken of advantage for Trump parodies at least twice. Matt Lassen’s If You Give the President a Twitter Account (New York: Humorist Books, 2019), is as much an indictment of the role pundits on network and cable television feed into the 24-hour news cycle that allows Trump to manipulate coverage to his advantage, while Trump’s less presidential traits are the butt of Fay Kanouse’s If You Give a Pig the White House (New York: Castle Point Books, 2019). It’s a pity that Kanouse and her illustrator Amy Zhing have not yet produced the three other books advertised on the dust jacket flap: If You Put a Snake on the Supreme Court, Ivanka and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad President, and Oh, the Prisons You’ll Go To.

Possibly the most trenchant picture book parody about the Trump administration is Goodnight Trump (Boston: Little Brown, 2018), unsurprisingly the work of  Erich Origen and Gan Golan of the New York Times.  The text and pictures skillfully weave together details about the president’s self-promotion, alignment of the country’s interests with those of authoritarian regimes, trade policies, exploitation of the tax laws, immigration policies, etc. to crest in an apocalyptic vision of Washington being swept clean: “Goodnight global climate shock / Goodnight ticking Doomsday Clock / Good night allies thrown under the bus / Goodnight “the best people” / Goodnight cover-up brush / … /  Goodnight swamp / Goodnight troll / Goodnight upended Old Glory / Goodnight hole in the soul / Goodnight to the lies and the truths he evades/ Goodnight Trump and his whole sad charade.”The major events of the Trump administration’s last year were recorded through April 2020 by actor John Lithgow in Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown: Verses for a Despotic Age, his second unflattering tribute to Forty-Five.  Outrage and disbelief charges the penultimate poem, “Our Witch Doctor in Chief:”

“Dumpty suggests disinfectant injections/ To save us from COVID’s pernicious infections, / Or a frontal attack to defeat it outright / By blasting our lungs with salubrious light, / A blithering idiot, gone round the bend: / When in the world will this lunacy end?”

Two journalists, Carol Vinzany and John Connolly try another approach to summing up 2016-2021 in Don’t Be Like Trump: The Smart Kid’s Guide to President Trump.  It’s the book they wish they had had to explain to their children the impact of Trump administration policies on American society instead of library biographies, which they felt were short on history, biography, and analysis.  Chapters about “Is It Okay to Make Fun of the President?” “Dictator Word Search,” “Activities to Annoy Your Parents with Trump,” are mixed up with others about the rollbacks of environmental protections, the Mueller investigation, the impeachment trial, police brutality, and the 2020 election.

Picture books about the tumultuous transition after the election, culminating in the January 6th riot in the Capitol Building, could appear within months.  No account of the Trump presidency from the left or right should omit it, but who will  touch it?   That remains to be seen.   This motley crew of picture books and their even scruffier friends, which didn’t make the final cut, will surely give future historians pause.

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