Two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, some progressive parents (and savvy publishers) have turned to children’s books as a kind of palliative political education for the young during uneasy times. Among the recent offerings in this vein, there’s Jill Twiss’s A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a defense of same-sex marriage and a satire of the children’s book written by Charlotte Pence, the vice president’s daughter, about the Pence family’s pet rabbit. There’s All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold, a gentle and yet pointedly utopian portrait of a school day when children of all races and religious backgrounds assist one another in their tasks with kindness and tolerance. And of course, there’s Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted, an illustrated homage to glass-ceiling shatterers such as Sally Ride, Sonia Sotomayor, and Hillary Clinton, the author’s mother. Oppositional politics, in other words, is now available in colorful, digestible tracts for even the youngest readers.
But if attempts to steer children toward politics through literature feel somewhat of-the-moment, they aren’t new: More than 100 years ago, British socialists undertook a similar, if decidedly more militant, project. A new book, Workers’ Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories From Great Britain, exhumes several dozen fables and stories that first appeared in late-19th- and early-20th-century socialist magazines. The collection—edited by Michael Rosen, a British children’s author, political columnist, and (as it happens) the son of communists who fended off marching fascists at the Battle of Cable Street—contains an assortment of moral tales, mysteries, and reworkings of traditional folk legends by a variety of authors. Intended to educate and inspire children and adults alike, these stories, Rosen writes in his introduction, “reveal the fault lines and viewpoints that ran through the world of socialists then, but which persist today.” As plain-language, kid-friendly introductions to socialist politics, they are at once intriguing historical artifacts and, in a few cases, striking allegories that remain pertinent now, even on the other side of the Atlantic.