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Alex Beam

Hillary vs. Obama in the children's book smackdown

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / August 1, 2008

It's round two of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton smackdown. This time, it's about publishing: My soupy, shot-through-gauze children's book is more saccharine than yours.

Later this month, Simon & Schuster plans to release rival children's books devoted to America's favorite blue-state senators: "Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope," by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier, and "Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight," by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Amy June Bates. Editor Alexandra Cooper explains that the house commissioned the books around the turn of the year, before the race for the Democratic nomination had been decided. "The race was so heavily covered, we were very wrapped up in it here," she says. "It seemed like a great publishing opportunity, as they both have such incredible life stories and trajectories."

What, no John McCain? Wrong! Yes, John McCain! A week after the Clinton-Obama tomes appear, S&S will publish "My Dad, John McCain," a children's book by his daughter Meghan. "Once we were off and running with the other books, we got a lot of feedback internally," Cooper says. "People asked, 'Why aren't we doing all three?' We're giving them the same attention."

The Clinton book goes like this: Young Hillary dreams of being an astronaut. "One day, there was a girl who wanted to fly. She dreamed of zooming in a spaceship up through clouds into outer space . . ." Little Hillary Needs to Fly? No, this isn't Werner Herzog's wacky brilliance, this is Hortense Alger, dumbed down for aliterate, 21st-century moppets.

Can it get any worse? Oh, yes. The flying-astronaut image accompanies Hillary along her life's journey. "In her eight years in the White House, she was a new kind of First Lady, blasting off like a rocket," author Krull writes. "She flew into advancing the rights of women around the world. Always she was in the public, with no privacy."

Each vignette spews forth a bite-size, Hallmark micro-homily: "Find heroes to lift you up;" "Dare to compete," and so on. Speaking by phone from San Diego, Krull cheerily admits to being a Clintonista: "I was hoping she'd win, but I had finished the book before Obama had that final string of victories." Even allowing that her book is aimed for 5- to 10-year-olds, I asked, hasn't she crafted a fairy tale about one the of most divisive figures in American history? "I could see people saying that," she says. "Obviously I have to break things down, but I don't try to put spin in my books."

On her website, "Son of Promise" author Grimes says she blasted out the first draft of the Obama book in two weeks, as opposed to the several months she usually spends on a book. "This was the most stressful project I've ever undertaken," she writes. "By the end of it, I broke out in hives from head to toe!"

The Obama book takes the form of a mother telling her son about this wondrous man, Barry, who journeys to exotic lands, conducting an ongoing dialogue with Hope. The story is told in verse, sort of, e.g.:

"Barry's mind spun like a top.

How could he know

which way to go?

Listen, said Hope, and he did."

Obama also gets a word in with God:

"One Sunday when Barack was sitting in church,

Barack heard God say, 'Slow down,

Look around you.

Now look to me.

There is hope enough here

to last a lifetime.'

Barack smiled,

tears rolling down his cheeks.

Suddenly he knew for certain

Hope would last long enough

for him to make a difference."

So, who wins this race? Frankly, Grimes has better material to work with. (And a better illustrator.) Her guy lives in Hawaii, "breathing in the scent of ginger blossoms, Barry grew - swimming, surfing and spearfishing next to playmates from places like Portugal, China, India and Japan." Then he moves to Indonesia, "a land of pet gibbons and pet crocodiles . . . he caught crickets, flew kites and joyed in the jungle at the edge of his new home - a perfect paradise."

Meanwhile, Hillary is grinding away in her Illinois elementary school, ticking off the boys with her smarts and her ambition.

In the Battle of the Books, Obama triumphs again.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

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