Like most boys their age, my sons would much rather play video games than read for pleasure, which they consider an oxymoron. I still buy them books, but every year it gets harder to find titles where the focus is on storytelling rather than politics.
Recently, I perused three emails from bookstores offering children’s book recommendations from a national “Indie Next” program organized by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Amid 93 new books, all published since May, I couldn’t find one that would appeal to my boys. The choices included a “feel-good contemporary romance” about a young trans athlete fighting against a “discriminatory law targeting trans athletes”; a book about a young lesbian with pansexual and nonbinary friends who denounced her white privilege; a “queer coming of age story” about a young lesbian who joins the boy’s football team; a young-adult novel about genderfluidity by a non-binary writer who is the mother of a transgender child; a “tale of self-discovery” about a bisexual love triangle; a book about a transgender witch named Wyatt; and a “fabulously joyful” novel about “drag, prom, and embracing your inner queen” that featured “a fat, openly gay boy stuck in a small West Texas town.” Other titles included the tale of a Puerto Rican eighth-grader who “navigates . . . the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn”; a young-adult thriller with a bisexual protagonist that explores the “politics of systemic racism”; and Don’t Hate the Player, a novel about gamers I thought would appeal to the boys until I realized it was about a young feminist battling misogyny from the “male-dominated gaming community.”
A host of new children’s books available on Amazon appeals to the same set. These included a new release for 8–12-year-olds about a young Muslim living in a xenophobic town in Texas where “hostile” townspeople protest the construction of a new mosque; a “swoony” gay pirate adventure story heralded by NPR; a queer ghost story featuring a bisexual teenage paranormal podcaster; and a polemic for 7–12 year-olds called Palm Trees at the North Pole: the Hot Truth About Climate Change.
The protagonists in these books included pigs, porcupines, dogs, cats, dinosaurs, mice, Navajos, immigrants from Vietnam and Pakistan, transgender witches, a lonely raccoon named Grub, gay pirates, lots of young feminists, and very, very few straight, white males. If a story is a page-turner, the complexions and identities of the characters are irrelevant; my priority is to give my children good books. But the focus of many of these woke new children’s titles appears to be identity politics and indoctrination, not storytelling. Moreover, the lack of representation for one group in particular is striking. As a recent analysis in the Wall Street Journal recently illustrated, men now make up just 40 percent of college students. Enrollment rates for poor and working-class white men are now lower than those of young black, Latino, and Asian men from the same economic backgrounds. Given that reality, and the fact that boys read for pleasure far less than girls, shouldn’t there be a push to get underprivileged white boys reading at an early age?
Literary agents serve as the gatekeepers for the publishing industry. Many explicitly advertise that they’re looking for books by and for “marginalized and underrepresented communities.” A nonprofit called We Need Diverse Books also strives to help authors publishing books with “diverse characters.” But diversity of thought and opinion isn’t a priority in the publishing world; neither are poor white kids who live in gross exurbs or in the sticks and have parents who voted for Donald Trump. I asked a representative from the ABA about the left-wing slant in their recommendations and was told that they represented “the titles (booksellers across the nation) are most excited about recommending to customers.” As for conservative books, when I asked for such titles at my local Barnes & Noble, a bookseller looked at me as if I’d asked her for child pornography and replied, “There could be some on our website but without knowing the name of the book you want, I have no idea.”
If I have little in common with my sons on the literary front, there was a television show we all used to watch as a family once a week. For years, Survivor was the one cultural offering we could all agree on, but the show has inserted its own left-wing talking points. I gave up on the show after its host, Jeff Probst, gleefully cancelled his signature, 20-year-old “Come on in, guys!” call to the castaways based upon the objection of a single contestant, a gay man with a pregnant “husband” (that is, a transitioning female) at home.
My new goal is to try to turn my kids on to classic literature. But the word “try” is operative: my kids say they hate reading “old books,” though they’ve enjoyed classics such as The Outsiders, The Hobbit, White Fang, and a few others—if I buy them a brand-new edition. Some contemporary children’s books are written by conservatives. Dan Crenshaw has a new book that warns kids about the dangers of cancel culture. Dennis Prager’s nonprofit Prager U produces excellent books and videos for children, including recent titles on September 11 and a forthcoming book on Columbus Day. Andrew Klavan has a series of thrillers for teens that looks like it might appeal to my kids.
The glut of lefty children’s lit comes at a time when the National School Board Association would like to have conservative parents investigated, and potentially prosecuted as “domestic terrorists,” if they object too strenuously to what’s being taught in their classrooms. But the government doesn’t have time to investigate half the parents in the country. If you’re not already paying close attention to what books your children are reading, now’s the time.