Monday, January 23, 2006

Book Review: Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!, by Katharine DeBrecht

by Katharine DeBrecht; illustrations by Jim Hummel.
World Ahead Publishing: 2005; np

As the eye-catching title and funny cover suggests, this is a fully-illustrated children's book -- but with a difference. It could have been subtitled "A Child's Introduction to Conservatism."

In easy prose, the author introduces us to brothers Tommy and Lou, a couple of good kids who "ate most of their vegetables, did their chores, tried not to fight over their toys ...said their prayers at bedtime" -- and decided that they wanted a swing set. Mom, who has a picture of Ronald Reagan on her wall, suggests that they'll appreciate the swing set if they work hard for it, and earn it. From her, the boys hit on the idea of earning the money by opening a lemonade stand, using the fruit-laden tree in their own back yard.

That night, both boys dream a strange, extended dream, "about a very strange place called Liberaland." Their lemon stand is very successful. Not only do they make enough money to head them towards their goal, they elect to set some aside for poor kids with no shoes. Then they're set upon by Mayor Leach, of Liberaland -- a man with an uncanny resemblance to Sen. Ted Kennedy. He knows far better than they how to spend their money, so he takes half of it. However, to the boys befuddlement, he later uses it to buy dustpans.

Nonetheless, the boys are so grateful to God for blessing their efforts, that they put up a picture representing Jesus. This offends a bypasser, Mr. Fussman of the LCLU, who demands that they replace it with a portrait of a big toe -- because "According to our research, a big toe is one of only two things that do not offend anyone." He leaves the boys chagrined, but still intent on working hard.

Then, all dressed in pink, along comes Congresswoman Clunkton, whose real-life inspiration isn't hard to divine. She's passed a law to make sure all children eat properly, because "It takes a village to get kids to eat their vegetables!" She demands that they pass out two pieces of broccoli with every glass of lemonade, and further meddles with their formula.

The story actually continues to progress from there. I read it to all of my family, possibly in a total of a half-hour, including time to show the pictures and stop for laughter. Everyone enjoyed it at one level or another, everyone chuckled or laughed aloud . My boys Jonathan (6) and Josiah (10) loved it, and have looked at it since. It became a good basis for discussing what liberalism is. (How would you explain liberalism to a six-year-old?)

The ideas are very good. It felt as if the humor could have used a bit more polish and honing, the analogies a bit more work. My family observed that the title doesn't actually work into the story at any point, clever though it is. Nonetheless, if the target is younger children, it was a total success with mine; and the back of the book suggests that more are on the way.

NOTE: I received this book as a gift from the publisher through Mind & Media.

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