[Monday Reading] Recognizing Tyranny and Dictatorship in Picturebooks for Children


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

One of the ways through which we are able to prevent oppression even before it happens is if we are able to recognize signs of tyranny the moment we see it, and call it out, and speak truth to power. These two picturebooks are effective in raising children’s awareness of fascism and the various forms of resistance that are within our disposal.

The King’s Golden Beard [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Klaas Verplancke
Published by MineditionUS (2021)
ISBN: 1662650396 (ISBN13: 9781662650390) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

This is an entertaining parable about a vainglorious King who was so fascinated by his beard that he has decreed that it could never be trimmed and that anyone who grows a beard “would be cut into a thousand pieces with a pinchy pair of nail scissors!”

This drives home the important message of how arbitrary most rules are, yet for some strange reason, people scramble to heed laws that do not make any kind of sense and would even worship the self-entitled fools who promulgate such decrees:

The ending reminded me so much of the classic tale Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman (Amazon | Book Depository) with its cautionary tone that I am sure mischievous children would enjoy (even while adults may cluck-cluck at its appropriateness). I personally love stories where foolish people get their comeuppance in the end – it somehow sets the universe to right once again.

This Is A Dictatorship (Amazon | Book Depository)

Idea And Text by Equipo Plantel Illustrated by Mikel Casal Translated by Lawrence Schimel
Published by Book Island (2021, first published 1977)
ISBN: 8575594664 (ISBN13: 9781911496205) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I remember hunting down a copy of this book while I was in Madrid with a friend. While I purchased the original version in Spanish, I was thrilled to find an English version online.

The endpapers introduce young readers to dictators from around the world who have managed to awaken the basest and most despicable instincts in human beings and reigned in fear and tyranny for quite a period of time in their respective countries, the Philippines included.

This astounding book is a primer on the face of fascism – written in such an engaging manner that can easily be understood by young readers.

The art of Mikel Casal also adds another chilling dimension to this seemingly-innocuous tale that depicts how punitive, unjust, and flat-out absurd dictators are. The layout and design also serve to highlight both the sinister and dangerous aspect of what, in essence, is a laughable human being.

All the signs of tyranny are here, and how goosebumps-inducing that I see it clearly in my own home country, the Philippines, whose citizens have fallen prey to misinformation and historical revisionism and the popular appeal of “strongmen” who are nothing but big bullies and are revealed to be cowards in the face of an even bigger bully.

What is even more atrocious is how Ferdinand Marcos’s son is even allowed to run for the highest office in the land – yet he refuses to attend any debates nor entertains any questions from the press (see image above). How absolutely surreal when what you read in a book is being played out in contemporary life – it makes me think that I am living in a distorted parallel reality of sorts where people would rather be deliberately misled than use their minds and the resources at their disposal to research and gather facts on their own.

What is heartening, though, is the book’s depiction of the power that is also in the citizens’ hands if they choose to remove their blindfolds and unshackle their minds and spirit to reveal fundamental truths that are being obscured by so much smoke and mirrors, lies and deceit, because according to Ferdinand Marcos’ wife: “Perception is real, truth is not.” Unless of course, we exercise our voting rights as citizens and elect servant-leaders who inspire and advocate for transparency and accountability.

For Filipinos who are eager to share this book to their young children, there is actually a Filipino translation of the book published by Adarna House entitled: “Ito Ang Diktatura” which you can purchase online here.

At a certain point in our lives, we will be called on to take a stand against oppression, injustice, and tyranny.

And so I claim with utter conviction and clarity:

Never again to Marcos and Duterte.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 37-38 out of target 100

May 2, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal