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.

Calendars – Paper or Electronic?

In one of my whirlwind attempts to eliminate clutter, my collection of annual pocket calendars came into my sights.  I save them like diaries, recording my daily appointments – some mundane, some eventful with editorial notes – and they sit quietly in a drawer, silently keeping the vigil of the past – to be discovered every now and then, and reread with nostalgia.  But my collection mysteriously stopped a year ago.  Had I committed everything to memory, trusting my scattered brain to alert me to places I needed to be?  Unlikely.  The gap in history started the day my iPhone took over with electronic finesse.

Pamela Paul addresses the paper calendar in her article A Paper Calendar? Hey, It’s 2011  – when she left hers at her office, and felt lost for direction – not possible if she had converted to “iPhone, Google Calendar, Outlook or any number of other electronic personal-information management systems” that can be shared, synced, updated – deleted.

Not everyone has gone over to the technology trackers.  The editor of the Paris Review still uses the New Yorker’s desk diary to note appointments, and I have a colleague who looks forward to his every year, with the daily cartoons on each page  – a good way to keep work bearable and home separate; he never syncs.  The family’s dentist appointments and softball games are scrawled on the free bank calendar on his home refrigerator – somehow, he makes all his commitments.

While efficient, the iPhone calendar does not invite those pre or post comments I made that sealed an event’s place in history.  Thankfully, only a little time has been lost – maybe I can make it up – back to recording my memories in a little appointment book while I can still remember.  I saw the 2012 weekly planners on sale today, and the calendar starts now in August, 2011.

What do you use – plastic or paper?

Related Post: Anne Tyler and Appointments

Happy Birthday Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is 95 years old today. She’s written two memoirs – The Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet, but it’s her award winning children’s books that endear her to readers.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review included a short anecdote about her fan mail being accidentally switched with that of Judy Blume, citing one reader asking Blume for her garbage, and a latch-key girl writing to Cleary to tell her how her books made her feel safe when she was alone in her house, waiting for her mother.  Cleary wrote back – she still does.

In her essay, Ramona Forever, Pamela Paul, the New York Times children’s book editor, clearly identifies the reasons for Cleary’s popularity and offers some of Cleary’s advice to prospective children’s book authors:

“Keep it simple…the proper subject of the novel is universal human experience grounded in the minutiae of ordinary life.”

I browsed the stacks for some old favorites to reread…while I have some jelly with my mashed potatoes.


Today is also Drop Everything and Read DayA Letter from Ramona Q.