New illustrated book reminds friends love is not political


Courtesy Billy O'Keefe

Billy O’Keefe released his new illustrated novel on Oct. 25 about accepting friends and family for their political views even if they may differ from one’s own. 

By Brooke Pawling Stennett

Billy O’Keefe said he was waiting for his friends at a restaurant when he began watching the table of strangers next to him have a lively discussion. It was toward the end of the 2012 presidential election, and President Barack Obama was up for his second term. The group was having a normal night out—or so it seemed, O’Keefe said—before one of them brought up politics. 

The result was a hostile, noisy back-and-forth, according to O’Keefe. But the fighting abruptly stopped when a friend cut through the chaos and said, “What are we arguing about?”

Everything went back to normal, he said, but he was struck by the encounter, which inspired the title of his new book, “These Are My Friends on Politics: A Children’s Book for Adults Who Occasionally Behave Like Kids.”

“People are crazy about [politics], and we know we are, but the funny thing is, we all have these different viewpoints,” O’Keefe said. “We all think the other side is crazy for the exact same reasons.”

The book is an illustrated, quirky guide to navigating life when friends, family and differing political stances collide. O’Keefe, a 2000 journalism alumnus, said he went through about 20 drafts before reaching the final product, released Oct. 25.

According to Michael Hays, an illustrator and adjunct professor in the Design Department, the genre of children’s books written for adults is a growing category, citing the release of “Go The F–k To Sleep” by Adam Mansbach, a popular adults-only bedtime story featuring illustrations styled after children’s books with vivid color, detailed patterns and cute characters.

Hays added that books like O’Keefe’s appeal to adults who remember being a child, and most people have emotional connections to children’s books.

“You are protective of your memories of wonderful children’s books, and it is hard to recreate them for other people,” he said.

Originally, O’Keefe said, the idea of the novel felt like a one-note joke that could only sustain a few pages. 

“For a while I was struggling to bring it back to a sense of ‘my friends are my friends for a reason,’” O’Keefe said.

He added that after the recent presidential election, people left comments online  saying O’Keefe’s book helped them cope.

Alejandra Ibanez, a program officer at Woods Fund, a local grant-making foundation, said she would not talk about her politics with friends in college because it might damage her relationships, but when she got older, she realized she had to stand up for her beliefs. 

“If personal relationships are important to us, we need to be honest about why we feel strongly about [politics] and create a safe space,” Ibanez said.

O’Keefe said he recognizes that even he cannot always escape politics.

“I am presenting myself as this reasonable outsider, and I’m writing it for other people who think they are the same way,” O’Keefe said. “But everyone has that thing that drives them crazy.”