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.

Keeping Children Safe during the Pandemic: Self-Published Picture Books

An obvious advantage of self-publication is a quick turnaround time: a writer can respond to rapidly shifting social currents faster than with a trade publisher, who may be reluctant to move quickly on a subject whose relevance may wilt within weeks or months.  A full-service self-publishing outfit like Zuri Book Pros, for example, offers an author plenty of options for the book’s look and feel.  Depending upon the desired illustration style, the $40-60 per page charge includes layout, unlimited changes, and no royalty fees.   A flurry of picture books explaining the concept and practice of social distancing, the necessity of wearing masks, and the challenges of on-line learning entered the marketplace of ideas in May via self-publication and they can be identified on the final page with the colophon “Made in the U.S.A.” with the date of printing in Middletown, Delaware (most often), which may indicate printing on demand at an Amazon facility.

Another reason many authors like self-publication is greater control of self-promotion on an Amazon store,  YouTube channel, and social media accounts, on top of the more traditional methods of an illustrated series list or author bio prominently placed within the book.  Several of these timely titles are the latest additions to well-established series featuring signature characters like  Little Spot, who helpfully reminds little distance learners about one of the most important things to do before an on-line class in the pamphlet on dos and don’ts of distance learning. The early childhood educator, Shondra M. Quarles (@eyeheartteaching), lists her award from the National Celebrity Educators and being selected as a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Indie Author Award competition.  Artist and proud mom of two, Diane Albers tries to increase the instructional value of her “Inspire to Create a Better You” series by offering free “printables” and worksheets on her website on the final page of advertisements.  The slickest of the three is the MyDragonBooks.com. The creator Steve Herman reveals nothing about himself beyond a self-characterization as  “passionate about teaching children valuable social and emotional life lessons through his cute, fun, and relatable dragon children’s books.”   The merch has been thought through carefully: stickers, soft toys, audio and activity books, and art prints (no artists credited) plus bulk shipping for orders over $25.  Any visitor to the site can download for free a high-res coloring sheet, which the author encourages customers to return to him filled in with crayons.

The two most successful of this group of pandemic picture books—and by “successful” I mean are good reads and have a fair chance of  influencing children’s behavior for the better–are the most lively and life-affirming. Shondra M. Quarles’ No, Calvin! could only have been written by a teacher.  The twenty-five word text is brought to life by the Turkish illustrator Hatice Bayramogul ‘s pictures of Calvin forgetting all the rules his teacher is trying to drill into him.  He’s an energetic, exasperating little sweetie and when the mask finally goes on the right way, Calvin and his teacher flash heart-hands and she tells him that she loves him. Katie Sedmak recognizes the difficulty of teaching children to push down their natural desire to express affection by squeezing, kissing, and bouncing.  Her If You Can’t Bear Hug, Air Hug! is an adorable illustrated poem that models how to communicate friendship through laughter, listening, gift-giving, and smiling acted out by jolly,  even boisterous, animals.  The lion recommends, “If you can’t share snoring / Share roars,/ Chests puffed, manes fluffed, / We see who growls the loudest.”   The tough reality of social distancing is acknowledged with a light touch, while presenting the alternatives as proof of people’s capacity to adapt and to enjoy  it. 

School is Different this Year and That’s Okay co-authored by Susan Leininger and Julie Bair tries hard to normalize the extraordinary with reassurances that different solutions for different families and different reactions by different kids to the same circumstances is perfectly normal, which is true.  The happy  community of  birds and beasts are quick to see the upside of a year that promises to be anything but business-as-usual.  On-line shopping sure beats dragging the kids from store to the store for non-existent packs of toilet paper.   The mice mask, the giraffes do not, and it’s all cool.   Unfortunately, the authors’ depiction of a complete and easy-going tolerance within the community hits a false note when over the summer we have all learned how quickly the act of mask-wearing could be politicized and used as a divisive symbol of political affiliation.   

Steve Herman, the creator of the My Dragon Books series, takes a stricter approach to training children the way they should go, as demonstrated by his young dragon whisperer Drew.  His hapless pet Diggory Doo looks like a cross between a rhinoceros and some species of dinosaur, not a miniature menacing Smaug sleeping on a mountain of glittering ill-gotten gains.  Diggory is a creature to whom Drew can quite sharply order not to torch his mask accidentally, finger sternly raised.. (Herman failed to take it into consideration that Diggory’s compliance with Drew’s prohibition would require the fire-breathing pet to hold its breath the entire time it was masked.) Poor old Diggory gets in more trouble for coveting his friend’s  smart face-covering so much that he suggests a swop (a complete non-starter) and for giving Drew a mighty snap in the face with a mask cum sling-shot.   Eventually  the miserable beast confesses how much he hates wearing a mask and tearfully concedes that he will try to be a good sport and wear it because Drew tells him to, but  he still doesn’t understand why.  After Drew patiently explains it all to Diggory. he realizes that by wearing the mask, he is nothing less than a public health superpower and is inspired to contribute to the cause of containing COVID-19.

Lucy’s Mask by Lisa Sirkis Thompson builds to the same realization, but tries to engage the little reader’s moral sense through the main character’s imaginative flight about all the exciting things she can be as soon as her mother finishes making her a mask.   It takes just a few words from her mother to convince Lucy that she will be playing a much more important role than an ordinary superhero when she wears a mask that covers her mouth instead of her eyes.   Off they go in their masks to visit Grandmother while keeping them all safe.  That is a kind of everyday heroism we can all  emulate…