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A book for small hands

I’ve been following the criticism of Scholastic’s biography of Trump for younger children, President Donald Trump, with interest but I only got a hold of a copy today, and thank you, Scholastic, for sharing it. By Joanne Mattern and illustrated with photographs, President Donald Trump is in the Rookie Biography series published by Children’s Press, a Scholastic Inc. imprint.

While Children’s Press stopped submitting review copies to us in 1999 (when it was acquired by Scholastic, it seems), the company has a long history in nonfiction publishing for children as an independent company settled deep in the heartland of Elgin, Illinois. Enchantment of America? Yup, that was they. The biggest part of their publishing was/is in series books but there was the odd single title, too–I remember an excellent stand-alone YA book about AIDS  published by Children’s Press in 1988.

Books about the presidents, like books about the states or community helpers or species of birds, are a staple of this kind of publishing tilted mainly toward schools. I reviewed the first post-election Trump bio last year; Mattern’s book, published in February of last year, is similarly anodyne although devoting far more attention to Trump’s three marriages and five children than did Gimpel’s Donald Trump, which didn’t mention either. Otherwise, it’s boyhood-real estate-The Apprentice–The White House, and is careful only to impute opinions of the man to other people. “The race was close, but Trump won. Many people were happy.” The editorial voice of the book offers neither praise nor blame for anything Trump has said or done.

As Teaching for Change’s review acknowledges, the problem is not that the biography is inaccurate, it just that it leaves out anything remotely critical of its subject. But that is the genre, which is all about conveying very basic, uncontested facts about a subject in a way that will assist primary-graders in writing school reports. And that is the format: I’m going to go out on a limb to say that every Rookie Biography includes a dopey quatrain about its subject, as well as a timeline, glossary, and an index. And that is the audience: classroom and school libraries that are happy that these books, anyway, won’t get them in trouble with parents or the school board, and will fulfill an assignment’s demand for a print source.

I guess the book would horrify me more had I not been familiar with its ilk. But I think this president, alone among the dozen I have lived through, anyway, presents a unique challenge to the genre, particularly as his crimes are very much in the present, unlike say, Nixon’s. What can one–truthfully–say about Trump that would cause us to want second-graders to be writing reports about him?  (Even Nixon was smart.) Not much, if this book is any evidence.

 

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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  1. Correction: The review referenced in the next to the last paragraph, “As Teaching Tolerance’s review acknowledges, the problem is not that the biography is inaccurate,” is from Teaching for Change. The link is correct. Social Justice Books is a website of Teaching for Change, not Teaching Tolerance.

  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Thank you! I’ve edited the post to provide the correct source.

  3. Ed Sullivan says:

    You are likely correct that the people most outraged by this book are those least familiar with this kind of series publishing. I remember Rookie Readers from when I was an elementary school librarian. They are nonfiction books for PreK-1 audiences. I don’t recall having any presidential biographies but I’d be surprised if any them discussed the subjects negatively. Does the bio of Andrew Jackson discuss his campaign of genocide against Native Americans? Does the George HW Bush bio examine his disgusting exploitation of the Willie Horton murder in his campaign? Does the Bill Clinton bio discuss the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Does the Thomas Jefferson bio say anything about Sally Hemings? I’m sure the Nixon bio gives minimal background on what led to his resignation. Granted, Trump is extraordinarily exceptional in his complete and utter wretchedness, but how exactly is one supposed to approach that in a bio written for that audience? It’s a series on American Presidents. Scholastic cannot ignore Trump because he’s the worst yet.

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