A book that teaches children about communism has caused an outcry from a faction of conservatives. Communism for Kids, released in March, is billed by publisher MIT Press as a fable with illustrations of “lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.” But vocal critics have called the book's publication, at best, in poor taste and, at worst, dangerous.
The response to the book, which was originally published in German and translated into English, has come as a surprise to its publisher. MIT Press director Amy Brand acknowledged that she “expected a range of feedback" to the title, but added that she "did not anticipate the extent and tone of the response."
OneNewsNow, which is a wing of the Christian American Family News Network, decried the book as an attempt to “sell children a new brand of the failed economic and social system of government.” In a lengthy review, Breitbart News said, snarkily, that a book about communism should not be sold, but “distributed free” by its publisher. National Review described the book's artwork as “propagandistic” and “creepy.” On Twitter, some detractors went so far as to call for the book to be “burned and banned.”
For Brand, who joined MIT Press in 2015, the book's publication has proven "a revealing experience." It has highlighted "the polarizing power of ideas and words," reminded her "about the swarm mentality fueled by social media," and driven home "the serious responsibility of being in a profession dedicated to protecting fundamental freedoms of expression.”
The press is not bearing the brunt of the anger the book has caused alone, either. According to Brand the book's author, Bini Adamczak, has received “hateful communications," some of which have been “blatantly anti-Semitic.”
That people would misunderstand the press's intent in publishing the book is, for Brand, another surprise; she said she was shocked by the notion that the press's intent is "to indoctrinate small children.”
MIT Press publishes widely in the areas of political science, public policy and philosophy. To Brand this book "builds on a European intellectual tradition," that fits squarely with the mission of the press. That mission, she elaborated, is to "help build bridges between ideas and people--to inform, to encourage conversation, and to develop greater worldwide understanding."
Since the start of the controversy, sales of the book have remained steady, with no significant decrease or uptick. Trade and museum accounts have accounted for most of the sales, along with wholesalers and Amazon. The book is currently #2 on the Amazon bestseller list for “Communism & Socialism.”
The controversy, Brand noted, has not been without some positives. A stream of supportive comments have come in from readers, publishers, and librarians.
Despite the uproar, Brand said the press does not intend to make any changes to the book. If anything, the experience has taught her to be mindful not just of what you publish, but how you publish it. “In hindsight,” she quipped, “a better title for the book might have been Communist Ideals for People of All Ages.”