Published by Good True Media on February 22, 2022
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Why did he have to work late again? I know, I know. He has to work. He has to help Save America...
During this exciting and spirited tour of our nation’s capital, readers are introduced to Braven Young, a ten year old boy who just wants to play catch with his dad. But his dad is always busy working to “save America” whatever that means. While waiting up to see his dad, Braven falls asleep and dreams about having the time of his life in Washington D.C.. Finally, he is free to do whatever he wants with the National Mall as his playground! However, things quickly start getting out of hand and Braven realizes that with great freedom comes responsibility. As Braven’s American Dream begins to spiral out of control, he starts looking for the one person that can help him…his dad.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on how I felt about this one. The American Dream of Braven Young is an illustrated children’s book by Brooke Raybould (known as @thesouthernishmama on Instagram) that follows the son of a Congressman as he dreams about freedom. Basically, Braven discovers that freedom isn’t about doing whatever you want, but that “Freedom is doing what is right.”
When the story begins, we see Braven sad that his dad is late coming home from work and won’t be able to play with him. Braven can’t sleep, so he sneaks into his dad’s home office and finds part of a speech his dad had been working on about freedom. Then, Braven drifts off to sleep. In his dream—The American Dream of Braven Young—he finds that there are no adults anywhere. Kids are just doing whatever they want. They’re free!
Braven bungee jumps off the Washington Monument, slip-n-slides down the White House lawn, rides go-karts through the Natural History Museum. You get the idea. But then…things start to go wrong. With a little help from the statues of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and MLK, Braven is reminded that freedom is “best experienced when used to do what is right.”
It’s difficult, particularly in these times, to write a children’s book that hinges on American ideals and not make it propaganda or partisan. Even in the most neutral take, people can read their own biases into the text. Raybould is generic enough that, wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you can find an application you like. That’s calculated, I suppose, but that kind of leaves the moral value up in the air a bit.
The basic theme of the book is that unchecked freedom leads to destruction and that true freedom requires regulation and a desire to do what’s right. If I wanted to read this like someone who leans left, I might come with an application that people who refuse to submit to health and safety regulations during a pandemic are abusing their freedom. And I think that’s a valid application. If I wanted to read this like someone who leans right, I’d be pointing toward the section saying that our freedom is slipping away. That vagueness will maybe help sell books, but I’m left unsure of precisely how Raybould would apply the book’s theme.
I’m also unsure of what I think about freedom being defined as “doing what is right.” I understand that The American Dream of Braven Young is designed for kids, but we should be careful with our definitions. In what way is freedom doing what is right? The book never gives any detail. The Confederate States would say they fought for freedom. Were they doing what was right? Since what is “right” is never defined, we end up with no real definition of freedom, either. The book would have been much better to have simply talked about freedom within boundaries or how, in a society, we lay down our rights for the well-being of others.
The American Dream of Braven Young has a muddled message that’s too generic to be of much value. It’s not bad, but it’s not good, either. It reads like it was written by an Instagram influencer without a background in either government or children’s literature, which is exactly what it is. There are worse books on the market—I’m looking at you Donald Builds the Wall—but the story is simply too generic to make much of an impression.