The world of children’s literature can be surprisingly controversial, especially when same-sex penguin parents or school officials in their tighty-whities are concerned. Usually it’s conservatives who are pictured waving the pitchforks, but last March the mild-mannered Children’s Book Council (CBC) came under fire from the left.
That’s because the author of a time-travel story for first- through fifth-graders titled Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims was nominated for the annual Children’s Choice Award as author of the year. That author is Rush Limbaugh, whose very name causes hives to break out in certain quarters. Limbaugh says his wife encouraged him to start writing novels for children as a way to counterbalance the negative perception of America kids gain from their history classes in the public schools. But skeptics saw plain old profit-seeking at work, practiced on his hoards of gullible listeners. In answer to the protests, the CBC posted an open letter on its website, explaining that author-of-the-year selections are based entirely on sales. They acknowledge that a popular radio talk-show host may have an unfair advantage in driving sales (as well as votes) that may warrant some procedural changes in the future, but they weren’t going to strike Limbaugh’s name, after the fact, as a result of criers crying foul.
Good for them. Not surprisingly, Limbaugh won, and good for him.
As a children’s author, I have a natural negative reaction to celebrity-penned children’s books. In general, celebrities should stick to their day jobs. As far as storytelling, voice, and production value goes, Limbaugh’s contribution to this limited genre is no exception to the rule: The prose is clunky, the plot has huge believability gaps, proofreading is spotty, and the illustrations are basically clip art. But his trademark humor and sly asides come through, and young readers have been eating it up. The CBC award is called “Children’s Choice,” after all. Some commenters have sniffed that Limbaugh’s 6 million listeners prodded their kids into voting. It’s likely that parents directed most of the voters to the CBC website, but once there the kids had no problem expressing their own enthusiasm.
Let them have their say. They have time to become more discerning, both about literature and about their country’s shortcomings. Limbaugh’s intention was not primarily literary anyway. “I love America,” he said in his acceptance speech last week. “I wish everybody did. I hope everybody will.” Meanwhile, his time-traveling horse Liberty gallops on through American history with Rush Revere and the First Patriots. Maybe the author will take some time to hone his craft and hire a better proofreader along the way.