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.

If It’s Christmas, It’s Time for Swedish Dala Horses! Part 2.

Decorated Dala horse gingerbread cookies or pepparkakor

Domesticating the Dala Horse in America

No shortage of hits on Google for Dala horse” or “Swedish horse”—Target©, Etsy, Wayfair and more all offering an array of products, some for Christmas, others more along the lines of “ethnic décor.” More than a symbol of Sweden (see in part 1), the Dala horse has been integrated into Americana as an object lesson that exemplifies how immigrants  contributed to the landscape onto which “old country” traditions are projected, reflected, and refracted.  But how did this Swedish toy  cross over to the other side of the Atlantic? Clearly this is due partly to the elevation of the Dala horse and Dalarna traditions as emblematic of the newly constructed notion of Swedishness at the turn of the last century.  But more answers can be found untangling the threads of heritage, tourism, and consumerism.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair is credited as the site where the Dala horse was introduced to America.  If the 20,000 horses commissioned from G.A. Olsson’s workshop (Fig. 1) to sell to visitors were not enough, a massive Dala horse statue was erected outside the Swedish Pavilion (Fig. 2), essentializing a particularly Americanized version of “Sweden.”

Fig. 1: Olsson’s first ad describing their success at the NY Fair.

Fig. 2: Fashion shot by Louise Dahl-Wolfe in front of the Swedish Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Harper’s Bazaar, August 1939.

Perhaps inspired by the Dala horse at the Swedish Pavilion, similar statues popped up in Minnesota and Michigan–areas with large Scandinavian-American populations (Fig. 3). The statue in Mora was presented to the community “as a reminder of their cultural heritage and as a tourist attraction, making the connection between immigration, heritage, and commerce.  But these gigantic statues also fit into the mid-century American landscape constituting one of the many “educational” destinations along the family “road trip” of the 1950s and 60s. [1].

Fig. 3. Gigantic Dala horse statue in Mora, Minnesota (1971). https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story.

These monumental statues, were not the first sightings of Dala horses in the U.S., however.  These came in the form of children’s picture books.

Dala Horses in American Children’s Books:

In 1927 Swedish artist Elsa Hammar-Moeschlin, who had lived in Dalarna from 1907-1914 before moving to Switzerland, simultaneously published The Red Horse [3] in English and German [Das rote Pferd].  Although there was no Swedish “original” edition, the setting, the illustrations, and the Dala horse central to the dream journey all speak to its Swedish origins. Moeschlin  departs radically from the conventions of Swedish children’s stories discussed in Part 1 after its rather conventional opening where Peter receives a wooden Dala horse for Christmas from his mother.  Peter first talks to the horse, wishing he were bigger, and when he answers, and Peter begins to feed it.  The horse, “Trott-trott,” grows so fast that Peter has to hide him in the attic and then smuggle him into the backyard summer house.  When Peter realizes it’s nearly time to open the summer house, he and Trott-trott set out for “home” (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Peter and Trott-trott embark on their adventure in The Red Horse (1927).

Traveling so long and far that they “no longer had to be afraid that the police might be following them,” Peter grows weary of what should have been a grand adventure, and longs to sleep again in a bed.

Then “one morning they met three strange girls upon a street (Fig. 5). These girls were really almost as strange to him as the little red horse itself. They had on red bonnets and red jackets, and aprons that were as bright as their jackets. When Peter looked at these girls, and compared their bonnets and jackets and aprons and the flowers upon them with his own riding horse, he said to himself quietly that, surely pretty soon he would be reaching Trott-trott’s home.”   While Moeschlin is identifying here that the horse and girls are from Dalarna, she was not especially attentive to the accuracy of  details.  Writing for a non-Swedish readership, her illustrations are evocative, not ethnographic.

Fig. 5: Peter and Trott-trott encounter the three “strange” Dalarna girls.

 Trott-trott’s “home” is the woodcarver’s cabin in which he was made.  After arriving, Peter tells the story of their adventures on the journey.  After several day’s rest, the old man accompanies Peter home by train, but without Trott-trott who refuses to go.  Peter’s mother is overjoyed to see him, but makes the strange admission that the police “really did not know how to look for little children.” The woodcarver says goodbye after eight days, and discovers upon his return that Trott-trott has changed back to a little wood horse because “life isn’t always gay.”

Fig. 6: Inside the woodcarver’s cabin, where Peter recounts his adventures

Elsa Hammar-Moeschlin’s highly idiosyncratic story was published by Coward McCann Publishers in 1927 and again in 1944.  It was given new life in Taschen’s anthology A Treasury of Winter-Time Tales (2014, c. 2011). A misguided reviewer  asserts that The Red Horse was traditional tale, even oral in origin because it “comes as close to a standard Aarne-Thompson classification as we see in this volume. (Magic Items…numbers 560 through 649).”  Actually what Moeschlin’s original story does is present an ersatz Sweden and Swedish tradition to American children, complete with the Dala horse.

Fig. 7: Nerman’s image from Resan till Pepparkakslandet on the cover for the Taschen collection A Treasury of Winter-Time Tales.

    

 A Treasury of Winter-Time Tales also includes a reprint of Einar Nerman’s Resan till Pepparkakslandet (1934), translated as A Trip to Gingerbread Land and published by Whitman in 1939) and a detail from an illustration was used on the cover (Fig. 7). In Sweden, Resan till Pepparkakslandet  has gone through six different editions, the latest in 2016, but Whitman’s 1939 edition was its only separate appearance in the United States. The story of children riding on Christmas gingerbread animals to a fantasy land where they gorge themselves with sweets is familiar to Swedish children, but not to Americans ones.  Similarly the gingerbread animal that come to life, whether horse, pig, goat, is a pervasive visual motif in Sweden that has no counterpart in the United States.

 Whereas the quirky picture books by -Hammar-Moeschlin and Nerman did not go into multiple editions in the US, the opposite was true for Maj Lindman’s Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Magic Horse (Fig. 8),[4] a translation of Snipp, Snapp, Snurr och trollhästen (1922), which had a sustained and lasting presence in the American picture book scene, going through at least eight editions, the last in 1964.

First published in 1933 as part of a set by the Albert Whitman Co., and promoted by the Junior Literary Guild, the timing of their release during the Depression was critical to Snipp, Snapp, Snurr series’ success.  Although not a book about a Dala horse, Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Magic Horse nonetheless had important connections to contemporary Swedish stories incorporating the motifs of a magical flying horse, a fairy tale kingdom full of sweet treats, and the safe return home.  Lindman’s implicit message to appreciate one’s lot in life resonated to Americans living through hard times and her skewed, reductive vision of Swedish life reflected in the formulaic, very white world of her triplets must have somehow satisfied American nostalgic fantasies for some imaginary “old country” where time had held still.  That the books no longer had a place in children’s reading in their country where they originated did not matter.

Fig. 8: Cover of Maj Lindman’s Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Magic Horse (1933).

A fuller understanding of how the Dala horse established itself in the American imagination can be seen in the publishing history of a fourth translation of a Swedish picture book.  In 1934, Whitman published Annie Bergman’s Dalahästan (1923) as Karl’s Wooden Horse (Fig. 9). Bergman’s book was originally published in 1931 by Laidlaw Brothers in Chicago.  Laidlaw was bought by Whitman, a subsidiary of Western Printing in Racine, Wisconsin, to gain a competitive advantage in the emerging market for low-priced children’s books.

Fig. 9: Covers of Annie Bergman’s original Swedish edition of Dalahästan (1923) and the Whitman adaptation Karl’s Wooden Horse (1934).

Translating and/or adapting books from other countries without proper credit to the creators had been a cost-saving strategy utilized for decades by nineteenth-century firms with lines of picture books.    All the American editions of Karl’s Wooden Horse (1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1944 and 1970) attribute the story to Lois Donaldson and only the illustrations to the real author/illustrator Annie Bergman.   At Whitman Donaldson “authored” several other fantasy books by European authors that credited just the artists. They included another of Maj Lindman’s books, retitled Greta in Weatherland (1932); Smokey, the Lively Locomotive (1933),  a free prose adaptation of the 1926 rhymed Die liebe Eisenbahn [The Dear Railroad] by Professor Wilhelm Schulz; Runzel Punzel (1933), derived from Aleksej Remizov’s 1928  Runzel-punzel: Die Geschichte Zweier Mäuslein Erzählt, illustrated by Mathilde Ritter; and In the Mouse’s House (1936), an English version of  Albert Sixtus’s 1930 Im Mäusehäuschen, also illustrated by Ritter.   Clearly Whitman was looking to these European books as ready-made material to boost overall the number of publications.  Ironically, this strategy, aided by lax copyright restrictions and perhaps war-time confusion, allowed a selection of cultural effects, including the Dala horse, to circulate in America.

Dalahästan and Karl’s Wooden Horse are clearly the same story — Christmas, after-bed dream adventure, palace, princess — with some minor, but telling modifications. There is no father-son contest over the nature of the horse, the motivation for the nocturnal journey, in Donaldson’s version.  Instead of the boy’s father telling him it is not a real horse, which sends him to bed sad, in the American version, the father assures the boy (renamed Karl) “Now you have a real horse,” and Karl goes to sleep.  In Donaldson’s revision, Karl just “sees” that his horse has grown into a big wooden horse, “all at once,” requiring an additional image by Bergman, which was not present in the original Swedish (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10: Additional page in Karl’s Wooden Horse. Annie Bergman signed it in the lower left-hand corner.

Bergman’s Dala horse story, like Lindman’s Snipp, Snapp, Snurr series, never made it out of the 1920s in Sweden, but maintained a presence in American children’s book publishing well into the late 20th century.  This gives a new insight into the Dala horse’s meaning as a cultural symbol: if, from the American perspective, Sweden is held in the “ethnographic present” then references to a “traditional past,” however commoditized, maintain meaning.

Dala Horses’ New Place in an American Context

Over time, the Dala horse has been decoupled from specific Swedish children’s books and more generally associated with Swedish tradition and Christmas in the United States.   As a free-agent,  the Dala horse plays a role in new(ish) narratives, or at least stories in which the Dala horse had never been a character. In a plot line reminiscent of the 1986 David Bowie/Jim Henson movie Labyrinth, Ursula K. LeGuin’s 1992 Ride on the Red Mare’s Back (Fig. 11), conflates the journey on the Dala horse with a changeling story (a  traditional Migratory Legend, in which trolls have abducted a small human child). In Le Guin’s version, the older sister’s rescue of her abducted little brother would not have been possible without the magical transformation of her beloved toy Dala horse, who leads her to the trolls’ lair. This journey is no longer to a fantasy dreamscape in the sky, full of candies and cakes, but to the underground lair of horrible trolls.

Fig. 11: Cover image to Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back (1992)

Two more picture books demonstrate how the Swedish wood toy has been Americanized into a kind of ersatz “Scandinavian-esque.”(Figs. 12-13).

Fig. 12: cover to Per and the Dala Horse (1995)

Fig. 13: Cover to Kathy-Jeff Wargin’s D is for Dala Horse (2010).

Per and the Dala Horse inserts a Dala horse into a standard fairy tale plot of the unpromising youngest brother of three, who proves himself.   Per succeeds with the aid of his magical helper, the wooden horse, in rescuing a golden chalice (!) which has been stolen by trolls.  Very little in the story originates in “Swedish village from long ago,” including the costume (the shoes are very inauthentic), but the tale can now pass for Swedish tradition in the American context. Similarly, D is for Dala Horse: A Nordic Countries Alphabet [sic] has abandoned all of the Swedish context: the Dala Horse is stripped of both narrative context and the associated magical properties.  Now it is simply a wooden toy — a miniature metaphor functioning like its gigantic predecessors to signify a generic “Swedishness” that can be consumed.

And so, the Dala horse’s journey, from Dalarna cottages to homes in Stockholm, to children’s books and store shelves in America is complete.

Snipp snapp snut – och så var sagan slut!” — God Jul!Online Christmas Card, avail. At www.vistaprint.com

[1] https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/16565

[2] See Conrad, “Mapping America: Re-creating in the Cartographic Imagination,” Cultural Analysis, 9 (2010) https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~culturalanalysis/volume9/vol9_article1.html

[3] Cotsen Eng 20Q 2540

[4] A copy of the 1944 translation is available online Online – HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access » Eng 20 12895