By Austin Considine
New York Times
June 15, 2012
WHEN Really Big Coloring Books published a 32-page children’s book about the Tea Party in 2010, the book received a lot of unwanted attention. The Los Angeles Times called it “kiddie propaganda art;” its author and publisher, Wayne Bell, said he received death threats.
“There was even a group of guys in New York that wrote a manifesto of how they were going to come down here and put me in chloroform headlock and throw me in the back of an ice cream truck,” Mr. Bell said.
But publishing houses like Mr. Bell’s have discovered that selling political literature to children is also good business. The Tea Party coloring book sold well, generating more than $100,000, at $3.59 each, in the first thirty days, Mr. Bell said. That may explain why, despite the threats, the St. Louis company released a sequel a few weeks ago, Tea Party II, Why America Loves You! The Social-Activist Coloring Book for Kids.
Political coloring books aren’t new, nor are they limited to one side of the ideological spectrum, said Fran Walfish, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychotherapist who specializes in children and families. In the 1990s, she said, there were coloring books about changing families, addressing themes like gay parenting.
Recent years have seen a resurgence. PM Press, based in Oakland, Calif., has published coloring books like the feminist-themed Girls Are Not Chicks, and Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon, which challenges gender norms. Ramsey Kanaan, the publisher, said the books teach young readers “diversity or tolerance or creative thinking.”
Like Mitt Romney bobbleheads and Hillary Clinton nutcrackers, most political coloring books are aimed at adults, like The Bush Years: Celebrating the Beginning and End of an Error, or the overtly sexist The Official Geraldine Ferraro Coloring Book: V.P. or K.P.? from the 1980s.
But the Tea Party II book is very much geared for younger minds. “Don’t be intimidated by political correctness!” one caption reads, and there are color-in drawings of conservative figures like Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. The caption under drawings of the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and the Senate majority leader Harry Reid reads: “These people need to improve their behavior and get better at what they do or resign.”
Mr. Bell says he’s no activist. He has also published pro-Democrat books like President Obama, a Coloring & Activity Book: Yes We Did and nonpartisan volumes like We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom. The goal of the company, he said, “is simply to make money.”
But Dr. Walfish says that children are particularly susceptible to activist messages disguised as fun drawings. Coloring books like Tea Party II, she said, could “raise a young child’s anxiety rather than provide a healthy realm for exploration.”