Public controversies over the books children read in school are not going away. Numerous disputes have arisen as local school boards in states such as Texas, Virginia, and Tennessee have worked to make changes to the secondary literature used in classrooms. These efforts have been uniformly labeled “book banning,” which makes it difficult to distinguish possible infringements on free speech from what RealClearInvestigations’ Mark Hemingway has argued is part of a process in which localities make “necessary decisions about what reading material is age-appropriate or meets community standards.” In the midst of these ongoing clashes, a series of children’s books entitled “Heroes of Liberty” promotes patriotic role models for young students.
“Parents who are sick of what’s going on in their children’s schools are at a loss right now,” states Bethany Mandel, the series’ general editor. “The way to counter radical ideas is to tell vivid stories that can capture a child’s imagination. These books provide parents a way to make their values alive and take back their children’s bookshelf.”
Historian and journalist Gadi Taub says that by offering compelling biographies of important yet underappreciated Western statesmen and thinkers, the series gives parents the “means to bequeath to their children a worldview that will protect them from anti-American propaganda.”
Designed for parents who homeschool their kids or teachers who are looking for alternative content, the books aim to provide children with “entertaining, engaging, story-driven, visually stunning” children’s books that speak of “love and admiration for the American values that made this country great.”
Taub says that though the books are written for children between the ages of seven and twelve, younger kids can still get a lot out of them: the books’ magnificent “illustrations are rich enough in themselves for a four-year-old to understand why Winston Churchill is important without needing the ability to be able to read every word.”
Hearing stories, Taub notes, is far more formative for children than hearing a long list of principles or preaching. “We don’t just want to offer a bookshelf of role models – storytelling is an auxiliary to civic education,” he argues.
Each month, subscribers will receive a new, hardcover biography, available to them one month before public sale and at a price below retail. Recent books have covered Alexander Hamilton’s rise from obscurity in the Caribbean to becoming a great American statesman and the life and work of Thomas Sowell, one of the top economists of our time. Since last year, books detailing the lives of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Amy Coney Barrett, Douglas MacArthur, and John Wayne have been published.
Mandel says that Wayne, the only non-academic or politician profiled, was chosen in order “to exemplify manhood and honor in a healthy, yet strong, way that hearkened back to classics like the Hardy Boys series and Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn.’”
The books follow a path marked out by classics of children’s literature such as “Peter Pan” and “Anne of Green Gables,” Mandel notes. They offer kids a challenging read that can “teach and inspire them rather than dumb things down.” She says that these books are intended to be conversation starters rather than teaching unquestioned, rigid doctrines. Taub adds that the books were conceived with “mainstream American values” in mind, not necessarily “conservative values.”
Critics contend, however, that the series is a “conservative echo chamber” that looks to “pack the minds of unsuspecting kids with . . . political brainwashing and to prejudice them against any progressive program of social uplift,” as a reviewer for Current Affairs recently wrote.
In response, Mandel says that the reviewer is “part of a generation who think Ronald Reagan and Thomas Sowell are in the same league as Mussolini, and it’s exactly people like him we’re trying to raise our children to not be. We want to teach them that they should be men of honor, men who value manhood and hard work instead of worshiping at the altar of socialism.”
Mandel argues that, in fact, these books contribute to reviving a capacious understanding of American civic education. Too many schools stop teaching American history after World War II. Learning about statesmen like Reagan and Thatcher is necessary to give students a lens through which they can think about the latter half of the twentieth century.
Future books in the series will cover men and women who made important contributions to Western civilization, including Mark Twain (coming next month), Winston Churchill, Clara Barton, Elon Musk, Harriet Tubman, John Adams, Pope John Paul II, and Abraham Lincoln.
Taub and Mandel say that American cancel culture has affected the series to some degree. At first, American artists whom they contacted did not want to be associated with the project. They’ve since added an American artist due to the series’ subsequent success. Another hurdle: in January, Facebook permanently banned the series from advertising on its platform.
Mandel contends that one of the series’ virtues is its lesson that freedom requires a healthy skepticism of authority; children should be taught “not to follow blindly with what they are told.” As a key section of the book on Margaret Thatcher states: “Freedom is never simply given. We always need to preserve and nurture it.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by RealClear Books & Culture on June 22, 2022 and is crossposted here with permission.