The Washington Wives’ Book Club

Children’s books – “by women named Gingrich, Cheney, and Biden. Could this be an election year?”

Doesn’t take much to have a children’s book published lately – writing talent is not a prerequisite. In Pamela Paul’s article for the New York Times Book Review – The Washington Wives’ Book Club – the list of new bestselling authors married to politicians has exploded. No royalties for these scribners – profits usually go to charities (hopefully not politically connected).  Their reward is a modicum of respectable literacy (until you read the book in some cases).

Famous Americans writing children’s books is not new; Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge wrote Hero Tales From American History six years before Roosevelt became President. Today, some politicians’ wives consider writing a children’s book a perk of position. Lynne Cheney, when wife of the former vice president, wrote six children’s books, all exploring American history. Unfortunately, they all carried a skewed political view – unlike the classic children’s series by Jean Fritz who added humor to Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, and other American heroes, without the didactic underpinnings.

Carole Geithner (wife of the current Treasury Secretary), has a new book, and notes “I want people to read the book for the topic (a teenage girl coping with her mother’s death from cancer)… rather than an extension of {my husband’s} persona.” If she were serious about standing on her own, she would use a pseudonym; singer Julie Andrews writes under her less-known married name – Julie Edwards.

Children may be tolerant literary critics, but they are discriminating.   They are grateful to anyone who will sit and read a story; remember President George W. Bush’s reading of “The Pet Goat”?  But for a child to ask for the story to be read again, it better be a good one.

When I taught a course on children’s literature, at least half the students in the class had the dream of writing the next Charlotte’s Web – and often proffered their drafts to me in high hopes of getting published.  But writing good children’s literature is not as easy as it seems.  Regardless of quality, for the politically inclined, getting a byline is easier.

Not everyone can write a good children’s book, but these days anyone can get one published.

2 thoughts on “The Washington Wives’ Book Club

  1. Perhaps that should be revised to read “anyone with a famous name can get published”. This then fills the publishers’ quotas for children’s books, and causes some really good books by unknown authors to go unpublished. Screwy world 🙂

    • Children’s book author Jane Yolan agrees with you: “Publishers are in the business to make money. The old adage was – Those books make the money to publish the Good ones. (And as long as there is money coming in, what do the publishers care about reputation anyway?) But that adage no longer holds. When even B and C list celebs are now writing their own children’s books, there is less and less room for new, untried, but wonderful young talent. And sometimes less room for old valued midlist authors as well.”
      Unless, of course, you self-publish.

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