Everyone should read Tom Scocca's great Ideas piece on the recent uptick in conservative children's books with very different messages from those presented by Dr. Seuss and other popular children's authors from years past.
I gave very little thought to the messages in the books I read (and was read) as a child. "Horton Hears a Who!," for example, I remember liking because... well, it was a cool story. And it rhymed! The actual moral content — "A person's a person, no matter how small," and all that — struck me as good and right and true in the way most of what we're taught as a child comes across as good and right and true. But that wasn't why I liked the book.
Scocca makes this point nicely:
The real classics chew up their own agendas and swallow the bones. Who cares that “The Cat in the Hat” was a pedagogical experiment, a paradigm-changing demonstration of how few words a book could really use? Who cares, for that matter, what it says about anarchy and authority and keeping secrets from parents? Literature and children alike are resistant to forced interpretation.
If you’ve read C.S. Lewis — and the cultural right loves C.S. Lewis — pause now and envision the land of Narnia. Did you picture it covered with snow? Everyone does. Lewis spent seven books developing Narnia into an all-seasons landscape of ever-more elaborate Christian allegory. But what sticks is the image from the very first book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” — the land of unredeemed, frozen fairy tale. Nothing in his dutiful theology can match the spell cast by the idea of a place where it is “always winter but never Christmas.”
That said, there are certainly children's books so transparently manipulative that their moral or political content overshadows any merits of the stories themselves. But in general, Scocca is right — a great story is a great story.