Book review: A Child's First Book of Trump treats its adult readers like children
Press notes describe A Child’s First Book of Trump – a book of Dr Seuss-style verse about the presidential candidate – as a ‘parody picture book intended for adults’. Its author Michael Ian Black has said adults are the book’s intended audience.
This is just as well, since it fails on several levels as a book for children. First, it assumes readers are familiar enough with Donald Trump to save its author some of the burdens of basic storytelling, such as why the existence of his orange creation, the ‘Americus Trumpus’, is anything more than a nuisance. (Slack is picked up here by illustrator Marc Rosenthal, who portrays the creature as a source of fear and destruction.)
Second, much of the book would either make no sense or be too mature for a child of the likely reading age – references to Trump’s ‘manhood’ and his pledge to have Mexico build his wall being prime examples.
The book must therefore be read as a piece of anti-Trump entertainment for adults who are already critical or opposed to his campaign for president. If this sounds like a politically redundant project, that’s probably because it is one.
That said, the book is still worth considering as a political text. What is it actually saying to readers who hope to beat Donald Trump in November? Let’s take its second verse as a sample:
‘The beasty is called an American Trump.
Its skin is bright orange, its figure is plump;
Its fur so complex, you might get enveloped.
Its hands are, sadly, underdeveloped.’
One of the better stanzas, this contains both the literary potential of the concept and the flaws of both how this is carried out and the politics that inform those choices.
The joke about Trump’s hands being small is a staple of American late-night television, functioning like Pavolv’s bell on an audience keen to show how clever they are. Satire ought to do more than make you feel like one of the cool kids.
It should also draw blood, and though Trump is known to have a very thin skin, when given the opportunity at a televised debate, he not only dismissed concerns about the size of his hands, but went further and guaranteed that his cock was of admirable proportions. As with his hair and make-up, this is not a man who is easily embarrassed about his appearance.
Beyond the jokes, another flaw is the book’s advice on how to vanquish the orange narcissus. Having said the Trumpus lives on media attention, the book concludes ‘the best thing to do is … turn off your TV’:
‘Don’t respond to its brags, its taunts or its jeers;
Ignoring a Trump is a Trump’s biggest fear.’
Now, while it’s true that Donald Trump has benefited from excessive media coverage, it’s obvious bunk to say he would disappear – or ‘shrink to a sad, orange disk’ – if we ignored him.
Surely the ‘lesson’ of this presidential campaign (and other campaigns closer to home) is that problems neglected grow in the wild, and bullies and frauds need to be confronted, rather than wished away.
Beyond Dr Seuss, the ancestors to this book are TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and Hillaire Belloc’s The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts for Worse Children.
If either Eliot or Belloc had written A Child’s First Book of Trump, you can bet those TV cameramen broadcasting Trump to the world would have come to a sticky end, as would his anaemic Republican opponents and his complacent and snobbish liberal critics, in a manner likely to make readers wince with delight. At the very least, the Trumpus would have devoured a few children.
But for Black to do this would have meant a willingness to offend someone other than Donald Trump, and on this crucial test he comes up short.
Similarly, Black could have had Trump’s bragging and arrogance lead directly to his undoing, as in Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, rather than the morally empty fate described above.
Thus while Belloc and Eliot’s books were written for children but are more grown up than most books for adults, Black has written a children’s book for adults that treats them like children – and dullards at that.
If he fulfils his promise of further volumes, Black should look to giving his creature more bite.
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.