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9 Kids Books That Stick It to The Man

By Madeline Holler |

best books, stories for kids

Ferdinand goes his own way

Ursula Nordstrom wanted to accomplish one thing in her job as children’s book editor: publish good books for bad children. And she did. Lots of them.

But she’s not the editor behind the Wimpy Kid books or Captain Underpants. Nordstrom aimed for subversive kids lit decades ago. From 1940 to 1973, she brought to print much of what we consider the canon for children, works like Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web and Harriet the Spy. See? Not just funny or gross-0ut stuff. But books with characters that encourage kids to think for themselves.

MSNBC has come up with a list of nine subversive children’s books — some of which Nordstrom had a hand in, other simply influenced by her.

Where the Wild Things Are

The Red Balloon

The Little Engine that Could

The Story of Ferdinand

The Lorax

Yertle the Turtle


Curious George

Click Clack Moo

A dozen other contemporary kids books are listed but I’m curious about the books that surprised you when you read them.


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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “9 Kids Books That Stick It to The Man

  1. Read Aloud Dad says:

    Zen Shorts is a real subversive book for the 21 century.

    Read Aloud Dad

  2. AwesomeCloud's mom says:

    When I was a kid, I found a book in the library that fascinated me. It was about a beaver who wished to live forever. Beavers never stop growing, so as time went on, he grew and grew until he was a giant beaver. At the end, he had the opportunity to recant his wish, and he did, and then (IIRC) he died.
    I wish I could remember the name of the book. Nowadays, i almost find it unbelievable that such a book existed. But I signed it out so many times that I can’t possibly be misremembering.

  3. Abby says:

    I love Ferdinand! We own most of the books on this list. But Curious George, subversive? I don’t see it. Though I have always wondered why he doesn’t have a tail if he’s a monkey.

  4. I know, right, Abby? Was curiosity once something only rebels did? ACM — that beaver book sounds fascinating! And it just reminded me of a maybe-not-subversive-but-still-surprising book I read my daughter a few years ago (also can’t remember the name) where these kids got a pet something — turtle maybe? — and all is well and good and suddenly it dies! They’re really sad and they organize a funeral, but it wasn’t done in a way that made the kids seem wise beyond their years. It was just very real (I’ll admit, I choked up when I read it aloud).
    Zen Shorts … good stuff! Thanks RAD!

  5. Jodi says:

    I read Henry Climbs a Mountain– a book based on Thoreau’s thoughts on civil disobedience. My kids (and I) LOVE it!!

  6. Marj says:

    I was given Ferdinand as a baby gift, and was so happy. Hadn’t seen that little red book in years. I love Ferdinand.

  7. homepage says:

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