About Sugarfree Books

We don’t believe that the stories we share with children need to be candy-coated. Kids are resilient. They are capable of engaging in dialogue about issues vital to their lives and to sustaining a community. Keep reading to learn about Sugarfree Books – books for kids that assume they are great. Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate you!

Child and mother, sustaining relationship in a garden enclosed with a barbed wire wall. Sugarfree books for kids.

Sugarfree Books came about through the experience of its founder, Mark, as an educator and scholar working with children’s literature as a part of teacher education. He often heard prospective teachers (and parents for that matter) talk about children as innocent beings. These imagined children were products of media archetypes and generalized personal experience. On the contrary, he thinks kids are more complicated than that. They are capable of sophisticated thought. They have the same capacity as adults for right and wrong, happiness and suffering.

Girl sitting on steps alone, perhaps hopeful she's getting a Sugarfree Book.

Ultimately, we don’t need to make life any sweeter than it is. Sugarfree Books is about honest storytelling.

Read about the journey to our first publication. Peruse our blog posts.

Who We Are – Sugarfree Books

Founder, Mark McCarthy, PhD - About Sugarfree BooksMark D. McCarthy, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Literacy Education in Columbus State University’s Department of Teacher Education. He began his teaching career internationally, spending seven years teaching abroad in South Korea, Oman, and China. He received his MA and Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 2011 and 2018. His research investigates teacher preparation for literacy instruction, including the teaching of children’s literature. Interests bridging his research and teaching include critical multicultural education, and curriculum and education reform. He regularly presents his work at the annual conference of the Literacy Research Association, and his research has been published in Studying Teacher Education, Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, and WOW Stories.

Board of Advisors

We have begun the process of establishing a Board of Advisors to help set the course of the company and to ensure that we are hearing ideas and contributions from a wider variety of perspectives.

Our board members include scholars, librarians, and lovers of children’s literature.


We believe that fiction entertains while making important themes accessible for critical examination and dialogue.

We believe that children are capable of and should be included in the complex social dialogues that shape contemporary life.

We believe that kids are resilient and do not need to be protected from the knowledge of horrors that exist in our world–sometimes they are complicit, sometimes they are victims, but certainly they no longer should be made to believe they play no role in events that impact the world and its inhabitants.

We believe that children should see their realities reflected in the literature available to them.

We believe that children should have curiosity about the world, so that they might work to make it a better, more just place.

We believe that media should not project an ideal family if that ideal alienates children who come from single-parent families, or have same-sex parents, or whose families may be mixed or blended.

Mother pointing the way for child. Kids' books

Sugarfree Books’ Mission

While we may ultimately hope children have less sugar in their diet in order to live more healthily. The “sugar” we refuse to publish is the candy-coated stories. These make up a large portion of the books available to many US children: stories that uphold the values of White, middle-class, cis-heteronormativity while simultaneously silencing other narratives. Our mission is to publish stories that tell a variety of narratives that help children think critically about the world they want to create out of the world that already exists.

These stories often follow the broader trend of Disneyfication, wherein adults impose their vision of the naive, innocent child who must be protected from the evils of the world. These evils include death, racism, and imperialism, and the deep inequalities that emerge from the many hateful ideologies plaguing our world. While it is incumbent upon the able to protect the young, we believe the notion of protection is domain dependent: it does not follow that adult protection from physical danger also justifies the silencing of alternative worldviews, stifling of dialogue between disparate identities, nor sheltering of children from a diversity of experience.

Moral Voice in Books

Our mission follows a moral purpose. Sean Carroll writes in The Big Picture:

Ideas like “meaning” and “morality” and “purpose”…aren’t built into the architecture of the universe; they emerge as ways of talking about our human-scale environment.

The source of these values isn’t the outside world; it’s inside us. We’re part of the world, but we’ve seen that the best way to talk about ourselves is as thinking, purposeful agents who can make choices. One of those choices, unavoidably, is what kind of life we want to live.

Carroll, S. (2016). The Big Picture. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Random House.

Morality is too often monopolized by religious institutions, a conclusion similarly drawn by Carroll: “on questions of morality and meaning, religion and spirituality are given a preeminent place. Our values have not yet caught up to our best ontology.” Educators too often fear the backlash of bringing morality into their work if it might make parents or administrators uncomfortable. Our mission embraces that discomfort.

We will take a distinctly naturalist position while advocating for thoughtful consideration of the ethical and material implications of beliefs. We will not advocate for any particular religion, but we will share stories about characters who identify as religious. We believe a truly moral position should be dynamic, not founded solely upon a singular code of ethics. Morality is best built upon experience, relationships, care for geographically and temporally distant others, and as large a selection of good books as is realistically available.

Book provides girl shelter from the storm. Sugarfree Books