Chelsea did it, so why not Hillary?
Next week, the former secretary of state and presidential candidate will publish her first picture book, "It Takes a Village," a 117-word adaptation of her best-selling 1996 book of the same name.
Unlike Hillary Clinton's memoir, "What Happened," also coming out on Sept. 12, the book contains no revelations about Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump; Clinton herself does not make an appearance. Aimed at the preschool set, "It Takes a Village" offers a universal, unifying message. It captures perfectly Clinton's vision of a multicultural America working toward a constructive goal. So hopeful and forward-looking, the book might even be called "What Didn't Happen."
The book begins with essentially a blank canvas — a stretch of denuded ground — on which a group of people set out to build something beautiful and useful. Not a health-care plan or a safe space for refugees, but a playground.
Over the course of 28 pages, Clinton explains how to turn this vision into a reality. Not surprisingly, “it takes a village,” the African proverb at the center of Clinton’s previous book, is the underlying message here.
The children have ideas; the adults have ideas — they must learn from one another, share, be kind and caring and find “the right tool to get the job done.” There are the literal tools — ropes, hammers, shovels — but also the philosophical ones — “the village needs every one of us to help and every one of us to believe in each other.” There are faces of all shades here, helpers of all ages and abilities; one striking scene shows a girl in a wheelchair being pushed up a hill, ready to lend a hand.
“We all have a place in the village, a job to do, and a lot to learn,” Clinton writes. Formulated, it seems, with parents in mind, some lines might be lost on the youngest members of the audience. (“Children are born believers. And citizens, too.”)
Clinton hatched the idea for the book "long ago," according to her publisher, Simon & Schuster, and worked on it during the campaign. While Clinton was on the trail, the book's illustrator, Marla Frazee (of "Boss Baby" fame), sent Clinton drawings "to see and comment on at quiet moments." On the back cover is a picture, taken by The Washington Post's Melina Mara, of a young girl, embraced by Clinton at a town hall event in New Hampshire during the primary campaign. The hug came, Mara recalls, after the girl asked Clinton whether a female president would get the same salary as a male president.
Despite the name of the author or the American flag-themed endpapers, the book avoids being overtly political. But the author’s note, written in the spring of 2016, haunts.
“Now more than ever,” Clinton writes, “we need to support children and families. And when the news is grim and or the odds seem long, look into the faces of children you know, and imagine what kind of country and world awaits them. . . . This book is meant to spark a conversation with our youngest about what children can do to help make the world what they hope it will be.”
Dedicated to her grandchildren, "It Takes a Village" the picture book will now go head-to-head with another heavyweight in that category: Chelsea Clinton's bestseller, "She Persisted."
Surely, that’s a contest in which Hillary Clinton won’t mind coming in second.
Nora Krug is an editor and writer at Book World.
By Hillary Rodham Clinton. Illustrated by Marla Frazee.
Simon & Schuster. 40 pp. $19.99