Our own Michael Roberts recently reported on HBO’s John Oliver and his March 18 takedown of Mike Pence, specifically regarding the vice president’s history of opposition to the reality of homosexuality and his support of the extremely anti-gay Colorado Springs outfit Focus on the Family. In Oliver’s methodical skewering of Pence, James Dobson and their anti-gay-agenda, the comedian brings up the Pence family’s most (and possibly only) endearing aspect: that they have a rabbit named Marlon Bundo.
Marlon Bundo got a book written about him (Marlon Bundo's A Day in the Life of the Vice President), which inspired Oliver and his staff to write another book, a gay-friendly book…also starring Marlon Bundo. (One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to support the Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, as well as AIDS United.)
This noble project — already number one on Amazon's bestseller list and temporarily out of stock as of this writing (though the Kindle edition is still available) got us thinking: There seem to have been an awful lot of children’s books in recent memory that were on the subversive side. And some have just plain been for adults. What are some of the best? Here’s a list of ten kids’ books that might be suited for your adult bookcase, too.
1. Goodnight Bush, Erich Origen and Gan Golan
Let's start with one of the most famous examples of its kind: the Goodnight Moon parody written in response to the disasters of the Bush Two political era. Written by former employees of Bush-era Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the book used the original’s rhyme scheme, color palette, and even the same ink and paper stock, and turned the bedtime story into a “traumedy” of torture policy, Hurricane Katrina response, 9/11, and war profiteering. It closed the chapter on the Bush era with a goodnight to “failures everywhere.”
2. All My Friends Are Dead, Avery Monson and Jory Jonn
This 2010 book gained massive traction in the zeitgeist when its first ten pages were released by animated gif to Tumblr, and soon became one of the most liked and re-blogged posts in that platform’s history. With the dinosaur on the cover, the premise seems pretty clear, but the interior pages, which include a tree saying “All my friends are end tables” and a houseplant saying “Please stop buying my friends if you are just going to slowly kill them,” really hit home: You might not have been aware of all the things in your house that were saying (screaming?) this all the time.
3. Go the F*ck to Sleep, Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
Another legend of the genre, this was a book that started out as a frustrated Facebook post from author Mansbach when his daughter — you guessed it — wouldn’t go the fuck to sleep. Mansbach, bowing to pressure from parents who wanted to read the book to their kids but didn’t have the cojones to use the word “fuck,” also wrote a G-rated version called Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, but like radio edits, that pretty much takes all the fun out of it.
4. It's Just a Plant: A Children's Story About Marijuana, Ricardo Cortes
There are a lot of pot-related picture books out there, some more serious than others. But all of them really do mean well, from If a Peacock Finds a Pot Leaf to Mommy’s Funny Medicine to Stinky Steve Explains Medical Marijuana. (All of those are real. Seriously.) But It’s Just a Plant seems to have risen to the top of the hemp heap, perhaps because its author is Ricardo Cortes, illustrator of the aforementioned Go the F*ck to Sleep. Even though the former are designed for kids and the latter is decidedly not, there’s clearly a crossover audience there.
5. K Is for Knifeball, Avery Monson and Jory Jonn
Another entry from Monson and Jonn (All My Friends Are Dead), this book’s subtitle is “An Alphabet of Terrible Advice.” Which is exactly what it is: a rhyming book (mostly, anyway) that is all about things that kids should definitely not do. Such as: “D is for Drifter, who’s out on your lawn. Bring him inside when your parents are gone.” Or: “J is for Justice. Make sure things are fair. If somebody wrongs you, just cut off their hair.” Think of it as Richard Scarry by way of Edward Gorey.
6. Nearly Anything by Dr. Seuss
People tend to forget just how political and full of social commentary Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) really was. Some of it’s clear: the environmentalism of The Lorax, the anti-commercialism of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Hitleresque Yertle the Turtle, and the anti-anti-Semitism of The Sneetches. Already a lot, right? But consider that Horton Hears a Who! was written after Geisel visited Japan in the rebuilding following the atomic bombs dropping, making the slogan “A person’s a person, no matter how small” about respect for humanity (and not anti-abortion; Geisel’s wife has gone on record saying he was pro-choice, and has fought attempts to co-opt the slogan for the so-called Pro-Life movement). And the fact that the lesser-known Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! became (as borrowed by Washington Post satirist Art Buchwald and approved for use by Geisel himself) about Richard M. Nixon leaving office? That’s an awesome that you can’t touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.
7. Nobody Likes a Cockblock, R. Swanson and Jess Jansen
It’s the book that we’ve all been waiting for: forest animals bemoaning the barriers that children invariably put between parents and a little nooky. Do you want to read this to your kid? No, you don’t. And really, aren’t we all wondering if the “R” in R. Swanson stands for…Ron? Maybe Duke Silver isn’t Ron Swanson’s only alter ego.
8. Baby, Mix Me a Drink, Lisa Brown
Speaking as someone who learned at an early age to make a perfectly balanced gin and tonic for my mom to enjoy most evenings, this book is really just an exercise in nostalgia for me.
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9. B is for Beer, Tom Robbins
Yes, that’s right, the same Tom Robbins of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Jitterbug Perfume wrote a children’s book for adults. Or, as the cover claims, a grown-up book for children. Either way, it’s supposedly a book for kids, all about beer. So, yes, it’s about beer, but it’s also not about beer. It’s whimsical and surprising, and there’s a “butt-kicking intruder from a world within our world” involved. Because it’s Tom Robbins. And we just expect these things, even when it’s a book for kids.
10. Frog and Toad Are Friends, Arnold Sobel
Arguably the sweetest title on this list, this ’70s-era classic series began with Frog and Toad Are Friends in 1970 and continued through Days with Frog and Toad in 1979. The same-sex devotion between the nattily-dressed Frog and Toad was an amazing and subtle pro-gay message in a time when LGBTQ issues were still only a year out from Stonewall. Author Arnold Sobel came out as gay in 1974, and his daughter Adrianne said that not only were Frog and Toad probably gay, but their creation may have been instrumental in her father’s acceptance in being homosexual himself. This is a book drenched in positivity, love and sincerity — and probably the most beautifully subversive book in your elementary school library.