Kids solving problems and getting out of predicaments on their own without the help of adults (indeed, often with their hindrance) is a common theme in children's literature. But some books go even farther, diving straight into outright anti-authoritarianism. Good for them—if you're going to impart moral lessons in children's literature (not always a good idea), why not impart the ones that are most sorely neglected in the real world?
Here are sixteen that stand out:
The kids are the heroes in this thrilling WWII story, based on real events. Nazi troops have occupied a small Norwegian village. The townspeople fear that they will steal all of their savings—nine million dollars worth of gold—but they have no way of getting it to safety . . . except for a bunch of kids on sleds. An action-packed look at finding creative ways to work around official control and theft.
Young entrepreneurs figure out how to make a better, cheaper, toothpaste, and become wildly successful. They also learn about corporate malfeasance when one of the big players doesn't like the competition. Fun for the whole family! (Unless you're a corrupt toothpaste dynasty family.)
Beloved Pippi is a nine-year-old girl with extraordinary strength and no parents, which is "…of course very nice because there was no one to tell her to go to bed just when she was having the most fun…" When the police come to take Pippi away to a children's home, she tells them she already has one, and then plays tag with them, traps them on her roof, and sends them away with cookies.
Just because something is in print doesn't mean it's true. And controlling what people believe is one of the greatest tools of every authoritarian. Even a little spider knows that.
5. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has come under the control of the Ministry of Magic, and students are prohibited from learning the magical skills they will need to defend themselves against evil.
Harry Potter and his friends decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a secret group and teaching each other the skills they need. This volume contains one of the best ever depictions of a petty, vindictive, authoritarian personality, in the deliciously detestable Dolores Umbridge.
The seventh book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic "Little House" series chronicles the early years of a settlement becoming a town. The townspeople solve problems and resolve disputes on their own, and narrowly escape having their burgeoning literary society bogged down by politics and bureaucracy. A testament to what people can accomplish when unencumbered by "organization."
7. Three Lads and the Lizard King
Can an economist write children's fiction? It is a question that has dogged literary critics for ages, and economist Robert P. Murphy puts it to rest here, with his tale of three boys who enter a magical world to fulfill a prophecy and destroy the evil Lizard King.
The boys choose their powers (no prizes for guessing what happens when one chooses the power to create money just by wishing for it) and set off on an adventure filled with danger, friendship, a few lessons in economics, and a unique insight into the desire to rule others—and its cure.
"I am the ruler of all that I see!" proclaims King Yertle the Turtle, before convincing all the other turtles to form an enormous tower so that he can stand on them and see more and more things. When the bottom-most turtle complains, he barks back, "I'm king, and you're only a turtle named Mack!" Finally, Mack has had enough, and burps Yertle down off the tower and into the mud.
An inspiring story that only applies to turtles.
An arms race between the butter-side-uppers and the butter-side-downers is the stage for exploring the absurd reasons for hating others that ordinary people are given by those hungry for war.
One of the most disturbing children's books you'll ever read. Maybe because it hits a little too close to home these days, when a few ill-intentioned people can convince mobs of monkeys and even baby kangaroos to go after those who don't see the world the way everyone else does. Fortunately, Horton knows what he knows, and he doesn't give up on his tiny friends.
What do you do with evil laws that turn people into property? You break them. That's what young Tommy learns in this fictionalized account of a boy and his father defying the Fugitive Slave Law in order to help a family of escaped slaves find freedom.
12. Huckleberry Finn
Huck's soul-searching about the evils of slavery and the distinction between what is legal and what is right is one of the most important passages in all of children's literature. It's a conversation all children should have with themselves at some point. (Be sure to read the uncensored version, because a history tidied up is a history forgotten.)
Good citizens don't listen to foreign radio broadcasts—it's illegal in 1941 Germany. But that's what 16-year-old Helmuth Hubener does, and he learns something interesting: His government has been lying to the German people. Helmuth tries to spread the truth by printing leaflets, but he is discovered, charged with treason, and ultimately beheaded. A true story that raises important questions about what it means to be a "good citizen," the morality of being "law-abiding," and the risks that can sometimes accompany exposing the truth.
14. The Wizard of Oz
Lost in a strange land with no idea how to get back home, a young girl and her friends put all their hope in the Wizard—the ruler of Oz who can make their dreams come true. After risking life and limb to please him, they learn that he is no better equipped to fix their lives than they are, but that he does have some shiny trinkets to hand out.
Best possible lesson anyone could ever learn. And the earlier the better.
The state pitting its victims against each other to keep the focus off of itself. And the violent revolutionaries becoming the new state. What more needs to be said?
16. Winnie the Pooh
Pure anarchy: A bunch of wild animals of varying species, all living out in the woods with no-one to rule over them, and all getting along just fine. Sure, they'll sometimes take an especially difficult problem to Christopher Robin, but he's more a trusted advisor than an authority figure. Sure, Rabbit will try to impose needless rules or restrictions from time to time, but it generally ends with everyone deciding it's time to go celebrate something with a picnic and cake in the woods.