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Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature Paperback – March 15, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Tales for Little Rebels anthologizes 75 years of radical children’s literature. It’s a rousing, relevant chronicle of teaching kids about social and environmental justice, civil rights, and their power to challenge the status quo.”

-Julie Hanus,The Utne Reader

“A ribald, witty, sometimes fun, sometimes thoughtful examination of a wide swath of too little-known literature.“


“Financial behemoths have been nationalized. There are even rumors of universal health care. Socialism is on the march! As we leave capitalism behind, the traditionalists among you may be wondering: Will they come for our children? Too late. As Mickenberg and Nel document in Tales for Little Rebels, Marxist principles have been dripping steadily into the minds of American youth for more than a century. . . . As America backs cautiously away from its laissez-faire disasters and reluctantly into an unfamiliar, communal style of politics, some of us may find ourselves wishing we had been scared with such rhymes in kindergarten instead of having had to live through them as adults.”

-The New York Times Book Review

Tales for Little Rebels is indeed a timely collection and one that serves as an excellent touchstone for future research into a ‘usable past’ for contemporary academics.”

-Children's Literature Association Quarterly

“As an educator, I share the belief that all of the authors in this collection must also have held as truth: that children are indeed the future, and to bring about social change, one needs to begin by changing the hearts and minds of children... I believe lovers of social/political history and inquiring minds in general, [sic] would find this collection appealing.”-Style Substance Soul

“This book reveals a unique, vibrant, imaginative, and energetic left-wing tradition of writing for young people. It is an invaluable resource for progressive educators and hopefully will inspire teachers to write and even publish their own children’s books dealing with sensitive political and social issues.”
-Rethinking Schools Online

"Children's literature with timeless philosophy for grown-ups."-Maria Popova ,Brainpicking

“Julia Mickenburg and Philip Nel have edited a collection of children’s literature that represents the left-wing-oriented, oppositional tradition in children’s literature in the United States. And a lovely collection it is!... Mickenburg and Nel have done all of us —parents, activists, writers—a service by providing examples of what has been done. The task remains to carry this forward.”-Science & Society

“Mickenberg and Nel have switched on the power of radical children’s literature to maximum wattage, revealing a rich, compelling tradition that deserves our attention. Creating an archive that will have authority and endurance, they have recovered stories encouraging children to engage with social, economic, and environment challenges and to become agents of change.”
-Maria Tatar,Harvard University, and author of The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen

“Readers looking for the animals, sprites, and other characters common to children’s literature will find them, with a twist.”
-The Chronicle Review

“A rarely discussed aspect of children’s literature—the politics behind, or part, of a book’s creation—has been thoroughly explored in this intelligent, enlightening, and fascinating account. Even those who have spent a lifetime studying children’s books will find incredible surprises, such as Walter Crane’s ‘Happy Valley’ or information about Lynd Ward’s political activism. But the book is not merely a history; it is a very timely exploration of the appropriate inclusion of political/social content in children’s books, and it provides examples of titles that succeed as literature and those in which politics overwhelm the story. Every academic and public library should own a copy; every children’s literature professor needs to read it; all children’s book enthusiasts will want to share it with their colleagues.”
-Anita Silvey,author of 100 Best Books for Children

“Mickenberg and Nel fill a gap in scholarship on children’s literature.”

"The collection focuses on a fascinating combination of ideology and creativity introducing its readers to a multiplicity of ways didactic messages were presented to a children’s audience. This anthology is important for scholars of Russian literature because it shows the inherent elements of children’s literature that permits its use (and abuse) for ideological purposes."-Working Group for Study of Russian Children's Literature and Culture blog

“By introducing kids (and their parents) to a wide range of forgotten and overlooked texts addressing progressive themes, and by provoking a closer look at what the books we already own imply, Mickenberg and Nel have done parents and kids alike a truly important service.”
-The Texas Observer

“Sure, this is an important work. But it ain’t stuffy. Mickenberg and Nel have created a book that fascinates and entertains. A must for any student of history or children’s books.”
-Lane Smith,author of John, Paul, George & Ben and illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man

“A remarkable book. . . . The prose excerpts are fascinating; the illustrations are perfectly fabulous and, very often, really funny. . . . There is so much here, and something unique for everyone except sourpuss defenders of the status quo.”
-Paul Buhle , Monthly Review

"I have a soft spot for beautiful and thoughtful children's books, especially children's literature with timeless philosophy for grown-ups...Tales for Little Rebels made me think of the subtle ideological messages in some of my favorite recent children's books."
-Maria Popova,The Atlantic

“For those who want to understand a time when radicals could think of themselves as having a central place in U.S. culture, right down to science instruction; for those who cherish beautiful, playful, wistful and stark illustrations; for those who can use reminders, after horrors and defeats, of the bedrock ethical bases of socialism, for those who want to know where a Dr. Seuss came from, and what he was part of, and for those who still think the world could use more little and grown-up rebels, this is the book.”
-David Roediger,University of Illinois, and author of How Race Survived U.S. History

“While is clearly intended as a textbook for a college course on this subject, the variety within this anthology should suggest it is well worth extended investigation. We may even begin questioning the degree of propaganda that surrounds our daily life as adults and realize such story-telling is no longer limited only to the realm of childhood.” -American Communist History

“Mickenberg and Nel have done a real service in reclaiming these selections of children’s literature, some by such well known children’s book authors as Julius Lester and Dr. Seuss but many from writers whose reputations were made and works published on the barricades of the Left.”
-The Horn Book Inc.

“Consistently fascinating. . . . Boast[s] authors as skilled as Carl Sandburg, Munro (Ferdinand the Bull) Leaf, Dr. Seuss, Eve Merriam and Langston Hughes.”
-Toronto Globe and Mail

About the Author

Julia L. Mickenberg is Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Learning from the Left: Children’s Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States.

Philip Nel is Professor of English and Director of Kansas State University’s Program in Children’s Literature. His most recent books are Tales for Little Rebels (NYU Press, 2008, co-edited with Julia Mickenberg), The Annotated Cat (2007), and Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 313 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (March 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814757219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814757215
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.8 x 10.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By AmazonJavaJunki TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is SUCH a neat book - I barely know where to begin to describe how unique and fun it is to read. First of all, it is unlike anything else I've come across on the subject of children's books; a great blend of history, text book and literature it is as educational as it is fascinating.

First a few comments - I've never given much thought to the topic and those with more than a passing interest may find some of the information rudimentary. However, there is a good balance between "background info" and the stories themselves. If you have a strong interest in this topic then here is a great collection of what must surely be hard to find stories that represent foundatonal examples. If you are like myself with a limited background on the topic then the additional material is helpful - and the stories are simply fascinating.

The authors do a great job of providing a brief background on the author, era and environment of the original writing then the story itself is reproduced. The version of the book I'm reading is an uncorrected proof so the text/other isn't much to go on at this point but they have also taken steps to reproduce some of the original sketches along with the story which is a nice touch to give the full impact of the original.

Another aspect of the book that I really enjoy is the variety of subjects included...from basic primers to more advanced levels these present a diverse look at how childrens literature and learning presents agenda's ranging from science to socialism. As you might expect, religion plays a significant role in some of the oldest examples but perhaps the most stunning examples are those concerning politics. Examples like "The Story of your Coat" and "The Socialist Primer" are simply fascinating.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Understanding "radical" as wanting "to explore the essence of phenomena, experiences, actions and social relations to enable young people to grasp the basic conditions in which they live", Tales for Little Rebels takes 8 social/cultural themes and examines how they have been addressed by liberal children's authors. Many of the featured pieces were obvious in their efforts to influence the behavior and thought of readers, particularly those written for Socialist or religious publications, but the vast majority simply wove the values into a story that children could enjoy. It was interesting to read about the personal experiences of the authors and to see them reflected in their stories, particularly writers like Syd Hoff and Wanda Gag who also wrote for Marxist publications. Much of children's literature has the underlying theme of make order out of disorder/good conquering evil (although who and what is good is not necessarily the same for all people) as well as giving kids the encouragement to find their own solutions to the riddles of life. (which means that it is all political ~ commenting in some manner on social relationships) With the glut of choices, it is important that adults choose well and encourage their children to experience a wide range of literature that can entertain, reassure, inform, challenge, empower and invite them into a large and diverse world. It is also important for adults to read to and with their children and help make connections between the story in the book and their own stories. The authors have included a list of radical reading which includes old as well as new works, organized by theme. We live in a time when critical thinking skills are essential and the ability of enough people to do so is inadequate; radical literature will help with this.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
TALES FOR LITTLE REBELS: A COLLECTION OF RADICAL CHILDREN'S LITERATURE took me by surprise, twice. At first, I thought the book was going to be filled with funny cartoons and stuff like that...but when I got it, it was knee-deep with analysis. Thinking I made a mistake, and flashing back on my college years, I begrudgingly forced myself to start reading.

And what I found was my second surprise: it was interesting! Yes there was some semiotics involved, but the editors Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel did an excellent job of compiling the book and explaining things in simple to understand language.

It's broken down by themes, i.e. rebellion, organization, justice etc., and each theme has an introduction that helps the reader understand what was going on at the time when these stories were published. This is followed by information regarding the author and illustrator of the piece (if known), followed by the actual story.

All of the works are from the 20th century and many are taken from Socialist, Marxist and Communist papers or books. Likewise, many of the writers and illustrators were part of either the Communist or Socialist movements and many turned to children's stories because those stories weren't heavily scrutinized by the censors. And for many it was the only job they could find after being blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

The editors did a fair job in presenting the reasons many of these authors and illustrators/artists turned to Socialism etc. because of a reaction toward unfair labor practices and living conditions that affected adults and children alike.
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