It’s debatable whether or not Donald Trump is making America great again, but he, his family, and his administration certainly are keeping comedians and satirists busy after eight years of what many have called the “No Drama Obama” presidency. As the second anniversary of Trump’s inauguration approaches, political satire and humor books are flooding the marketplace—some of them in the guise of children’s books, along the lines of Michael Ian Black’s A Child’s First Book of Trump, published before the 2016 election, and more recently, John Oliver’s A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. That picture book, released in March, satirized Vice President Mike Pence’s position on marriage equality in such a way that it could be read aloud to children. According to its publisher, Chronicle Books, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo has sold 800,000 copies and is in its 10th print run.
While major publishers—such as Little, Brown and Simon Schuster—are publishing such titles under signature imprints for adult books, so is Regnery, a publisher best known for its list of conservative titles. But most of the recent parodies—just over a half-dozen in number—that have been produced in formats that evoke traditional children’s books are being published by small companies, including Akashic Books—which is known for another picture book for adults, Go the F*ck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortés; the book has sold three million copies worldwide since its release in 2011.
These parodies may look like typical picture books, but their content is decidedly adult, and they are not all being marketed towards the children’s market. In some cases, however, adults are reading these books to children, which is something that publishers may not have expected, but all but one (Schiffer Publishing) are embracing the development. Comedian Julia Young said in response to PW’s query about her book, Please Don’t GRAB My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide (Animal Media Group, Nov.), written with Matt Harkins and illustrated by Laura Collins, “If you want to read it to your kids, God bless; we don’t judge!” Describing Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y as a “rhyming book for adults,” Young said that after the 2016 election, she channeled the anxiety she felt about Trump into what she does best: comedy. This is her first book.
[“I came up with the idea for a rhyming book,” she recalled, “and I roped my best friend Matt into helping me come up with the rhymes and structure the book. I knew I wanted to write something that would immediately grab people—no pun intended—based on the title.”
“The only way to express my anger and frustration with Trump is in the form of a kids’ book,” Young said. “Using very inappropriate rhymes feels like the only way to properly convey how upsetting his rhetoric is. We’re dealing with a very child-like person in the White House, so the book is written for his comprehension level.”
As for My Amazing Book About Tremendous Me: Donald J. Trump, Very Stable Genius (Media Lab, Sept.), it came about because the publisher wanted to release a humorous, illustrated compilation of Trump’s statements and tweets. “We thought about presenting them as a Mean Girls-style ‘burn book,’ as well as a number of other similar approaches, but found that direction too limiting,” publisher Phil Sexton said. “A generous reading of the quotes suggested they lacked maturity and any sort of critical thinking, so we opted to present them as if they were entries in a kindergartner’s fill-in-the-blank book, similar to the Dr. Seuss classic, My Book About Me.”
The premise of the book is that, to keep Trump out of trouble, a White House staffer has given him a fill-in-the-blank composition book that provides space for children to share information about themselves, such as their likes and dislikes. Each page in the book has been filled in with actual statements made by Trump, and is enhanced with artwork and collages purportedly created by Trump. The book is being marketed as having been “leaked” to Media Lab, which is distributing it.
The staff of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert also produced a book that was crashed onto SS’s list for November, which is filled with verified quotes and tweets by Trump—this time, his public responses to September’s Hurricane Florence—Whose Boat Is This Boat? Comments That Don’t Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane (SS, Nov.). According to SS associate editor Zack Knoll, Colbert and the Late Show staff came up with the idea as part of a segment on Trump’s pronouncements following natural disasters.
“They created a fake book to use as a prop,” Knoll said, “but then thought, why not turn it into a real project and raise money along the way?” Proceeds from book sales will be donated to disaster relief organizations. SS has printed 500,000 copies over five print runs, and Knoll insists the book is “easily recognizable as the parody that it is intended to be,” although marketing materials provide a tongue-in-cheek mixed message about its intended audience, proclaiming that it is “the first children’s book that demonstrates what not to say after a natural disaster” and that “the only way that [Trump’s] comments would be appropriate is in the context of a children’s book.”
Referring to Trump congratulating hurricane victims in New Bern, N.C., after a boat washed ashore in their front yard, the marketing materials note: “Whose Boat Is This Boat? is an excellent teaching tool for readers of all ages who enjoy learning about empathy by process of elimination. Have a good time!”
A Plethora of Political Satires
Not all of the political parodies being published in the guise of children’s books poke fun at Trump. Donald Drains the Swamp by humorist Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Tim Raglan (Regnery, Oct.), is being promoted by its publisher as a “whimsical fable for the current political moment.”
Regnery publicity director Alyssa Cordova explained that Donald Drains the Swamp is a political humor book for adults written in the style of a children’s book: a caveman who looks and speaks like an idealized and younger version of the 72-year-old president is asked to save the kingdom from horrible Swamp Creatures.
Cordova explained that at Regnery, “We thought it was a fun and unique approach to Trump commentary that had the potential to stand out in the midst of the deluge of Trump books that have been flooding out over the last two years” since the 2016 election.
“The format is perfect for this story because for the past two years people everywhere have been engaging in complex analysis of why Trump is so successful, but the reality is it’s quite simple to understand,” she added. “Donald Drains the Swamp captures the truth in a light and humorous way,” that a true leader listens to the people and acts upon their wishes.
While the company does not view Donald Drains the Swamp as a children’s book “per se” and is marketing it just as it would promote any other political release, Cordova said there has been “fun feedback” from readers who have also read it to their children. “Political junkies are buying it,” Cordova said. “We’re encouraging people to read it to their kids.”
Another parody with an evocative title bringing to mind a classic children’s book is Donald and the Golden Crayon (Schiffer, Oct.) by P. Shauers, the pen name of someone whom the publisher describes as a “New York Times bestselling author” who has written more than 45 books for children, including a series adapted by Netflix.
When contacted by PW, Shauers confirmed that Donald and the Golden Crayon was inspired by Harold and the Purple Crayon. “While thinking about Harold, the name Donald popped into my head and it took off from there,” Shauers explained. “Immediately, I thought about that gold Sharpie pen that Trump signs everything with, and it all clicked. To top it all off, Harold makes up his world as he goes, which is what Trump seems to do. The non-stop insanity from the White House was just too easy not to go after, and the format fit so well.”
Shauers said that Donald and the Golden Crayon is being marketed “strictly” to adults. “There’s nothing in it for children,” he insisted, explaining that it was written as a children’s book not only because Shauers’ previous publications were children’s books and he’s comfortable with that format, but also because he wanted to keep the book as reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon as possible.
“The great thing about a children’s book format is that it’s precise and contained. A great picture book is like a great pop song: it’s short, has a hook, is emotionally engaging and satisfying, and can be enjoyed over and over,” Shauers said, disclosing that he is using this pseudonym (a subtle (?) reference to an allegation about Trump’s sexual proclivities) so that any parent, teacher or children’s librarian searching for books won’t come upon Donald and the Golden Crayon and assume it’s for children, either because of its author’s real name or the book jacket.
According to publisher Peter Schiffer, which crashed Donald and the Golden Crayon, the company is marketing it with the phrase, “Make Picture Books Great Again.”
This month, Little, Brown is releasing Goodnight Trump by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, another parody emulating a children’s classic–this time, the soothing incantations in the pages of Goodnight Moon. Origen and Golan also wrote Goodnight Bush in 2008, a satire of the highs and lows of George Bush’s presidency that the authors called “a traumedy.” Little, Brown sold 120k copies of Goodnight Bush and has announced a first printing of 200k for Goodnight Trump.
According to Origen, Little Brown reached out to him and Golan, asking if they’d like to reprise their earlier success with a similar book about Trump. “We recognized the opportunity to create something that was a call-to-action,” Origen said. “A children’s book parody is a great vehicle for shining a light on the arrested development of a man-child,” he noted. “There’s also something heartbreaking about seeing the space that a child’s mind normally inhabits get filled with all these tragedies from the adult world—especially when those tragedies involve such things as children separated from their families.”
While, like most of the other such parodies being released this season, Goodnight Trump is not being marketed as a children’s book, and Origen does not recommend reading it to toddlers, he does advocate for older children to read it, to facilitate their processing emotions concerning issues that have a direct impact on their lives.
“Children are obviously very much affected by the actions of this administration and its toxic culture,” Origen said.” And yet, we should live in a world where children are protected from such things. That’s why we don’t market this book to children.”
Bestselling Author Makes Political Statement
In contrast, Laura Lippman, who is best known for her gritty thrillers for adult readers, has written her debut picture book, Liza Jane and the Dragon (Akashic, Oct.), illustrated by Kate Samworth, definitely for children. Adult readers, however, will likely recognize that this isn’t simply a tale about a girl and her dragon; it’s also is an allegory of the 2016 election: Liza Jane fires her parents and hires a dragon with an orange mane to be her new parent. The dragon’s one response to everything is to belch fire, thus chasing away Liza Jane’s friends. Every time Liza Jane complains, her new parent shrugs and says, “But I’m a dragon!”
Lippman said that she conceived of Liza Jane and the Dragon after Trump’s inauguration, when her daughter, who was six, asked her why Trump was president. “I thought she deserved an honest but thoughtful answer, one that didn’t demonize anyone, but also one that didn’t legitimize emotions I saw as deluded, paranoid, even dangerous,” Lippman recalled. “So I said [that] he was elected by people in our country who feel angry and scared about where the country is going. They’re frustrated and they think that no one listens to them.” According to Lippman, her daughter responded, “That sounds just like me!”
Lippman said that she modeled her tale on Aesop’s The Scorpion and the Frog, in which a scorpion stings a frog carrying it across a river, killing them both. But, she added, Liza Jane and the Dragon was also influenced by her own ideas about what is considered professional behavior, especially in the political arena.
“It always amazes me that people think it’s an easy job for craven people,” she said. “Granted, it’s a job that a lot of craven people have chosen, but I don’t think politicians are inherently bad, or that it’s a job that attracts only self-interested types. Maybe that’s because I, as a novelist, also have a job that looks easy to a lot of people.”
Lippman said that the protagonist originally shared her daughter’s name, but that she changed it to Liza Jane after an eponymous song relating both to her hometown, New Orleans, and her current town, Baltimore.
“My daughter lobbied hard to have her name used,” Lippman said, “but I said to her, ‘when you’re a teenager and other kids are coming up to you and saying, ‘But I’m a dragon,’ you’ll be so grateful I didn’t listen to you.’ ”