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Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 09/29/2011

Callista Gingrich, children’s author: Political VIPs can sell books, but can they write them?


Callista Gingrich and Ellis the Elephant pose for a photo. (Courtesy of Gingrich Productions)

Newt Gingrich may be at the bottom of the polls, but his wife is at the top of the charts. Callista Gingrich’s new children’s picture book, “Sweet Land of Liberty,” made the top 10 of Amazon’s sales list within days of its publication Monday.

Meet Ellis, a young elephant who travels through U.S. history in rhyme: “Abraham Lincoln was a president who did a lot of reading t o be well-prepared for the country he’d be leading.”


"Sweet Land of Liberty" by Callista Gingrich. (Regnery Publishing)
“It’s not a Republican book, it’s not a conservative book,” the first-time author told Fox Tuesday. “It’s a pro-American book.”

Well, maybe a little conservative: It’s released by Regnery Publishing, known for high-profile conservative authors like her husband, who touted the release as a corrective to “the elites [who] have quit teaching American history,” he wrote on the Human Events website: “For two generations our children have been denied the opportunity to learn about this land we love.”

Lots of politicians in kids’ books these days: Barack Obama’s “Of Thee I Sing;” Laura and Jenna Bush’s “Read All About It;” Meghan McCain’s “ My Dad, John McCain;” and Ted Kennedy’s “My Senator and Me” narrated by his dog, Splash. All landed on the New York Times bestseller list; Obama’s sold more than 250,000 hardcover copies.

But are they any good? Nah, say experts in children’s publishing.


"Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters," by Barack Obama. (The Associated Press)
“When you’re starting with a message, you’re sort of doomed from the start because a message doesn’t begat a story,” said Roger Sutton, editor of Horn Book magazine, which covers kid’s books and authors. He hated the Bush book (“terrible”) and said most of the patriotic, feel-good tales fade quickly because they’re not handled by experienced children’s publishers.

Politicians “always have such good intentions,” said Elizabeth Bird, librarian and author of the influential “A Fuse #8 Production” blog on children’s literature: And they think it’s easy. “But it’s very hard to write a picture book, like writing a beautiful haiku.”

Famous names are often paired with excellent illustrators. But the results are usually a disappointment, Bird said: Kennedy’s book “wasn’t that bad;” Obama’s was just okay. “I sometimes feel the publishers aren’t as critical as they should be,” she said.

Bird told us she declined an offer to review Gingrich’s book. “They offered me a copy but I turned it down.” No political agenda; she just doesn’t care much for celebrity children’s books. “I’ve never seen one that would win an award for writing.”

By  |  10:00 PM ET, 09/29/2011

 
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