An un­for­get­table ele­phant dis­cov­ers U.S. his­tory

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - By Michael Taube

WSWEET LAND OF LIB­ERTY By Cal­lista Gin­grich Il­lus­trated by Su­san Arciero

rit­ing a book of fic­tion or non­fic­tion is a dif­fi­cult task. There’s an enor­mous amount of choice for read­ing ma­te­rial. It’s a highly com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. Prop­erly gaug­ing your au­di­ence can be hit or miss. Read­ers can also be fickle crea­tures.

This is noth­ing com­pared to writ­ing a chil­dren’s book, how­ever.

The Rus­sian writer Maxim Gorky said, “You must write for chil­dren the same way you write for adults, only bet­ter.” Chil­dren are picky read­ers and tough con­sumers. They know ex­actly what they want in a book, and will ig­nore what they per­ceive as in­fe­rior prod­ucts. Ac­cord­ing to chil­dren’s literary agent An­drea Brown, “the best chil­dren’s book writ­ers are not peo­ple who have kids, but peo­ple who write from the child within them­selves.”

Cal­lista Gin­grich, wife of for­mer GOP House Speaker and CNN’s Cross­fire pan­elist Newt Gin­grich, fits this bill per­fectly. Since 2011, she has writ­ten three su­perb chil­dren’s books on im­por­tant events in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Young read­ers are guided by the smil­ing El­lis the Ele­phant (who is bound to make some Repub­li­cans happy), and will en­joy Su­san Arciero’s beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions. Each book also con­tains a list of re­sources for cu­ri­ous young minds who crave to learn even more.

Mrs. Gin­grich told “Fox and Friends” in Sept. 2011 that the first book in her se­ries, “Sweet Land of Lib­erty,” was “re­ally a pa­tri­otic book. It’s not a Repub­li­can book, it’s not a con­ser­va­tive book. It’s a pro-Amer­i­can book.” It’s true: there’s not a whiff of pol­i­tics to be found in El­lis’ jour­ney to “the li­brary, an amaz­ing place” to learn about great Amer­i­can achieve­ments. Chil­dren from ages 4-8, there­fore, live vi­car­i­ously through El­lis to gain a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of their coun­try’s rich and vast his­tory. It helps ex­plain why this book, and the fol­lowup “Land of the Pil­grims’ Pride,” in which “El­lis packed up his trunk and hit lib­erty’s trail,” both reached The New York Times’ best­seller list for Chil­dren’s Pic­ture Books.

Mrs. Gin­grich’s new­est ti­tle, “Yan­kee Doo­dle Dandy,” which is about the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, fol­lows the same suc­cess­ful for­mula from the two pre­vi­ous vol­umes. She uses rhyming cou­plets to sum­ma­rize great his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, land­marks, bat­tles and mo­ments. Young chil­dren will see that his­tory can be fun — and their par­ents will ap­pre­ci­ate that they’re learn­ing at the same time.

Here are some ex­am­ples of her rhyming cou­plets. Mrs. Gin­grich deftly ex­am­ines the Bos­ton Tea Party and the ac­tions of the “brave Sons of Lib­erty”:

“They climbed aboard boats, dis­guised in the night,

“and pro­claimed to the King, ‘This tax is not right!’

“They threw the tea over­board into the bay.

The Bos­ton Tea Party is what we call it to­day.”

She ex­plores as­pects of the Sec­ond Con­ti­nen­tal Congress: “In Philadel­phia, the Found­ing Fa­thers gath­ered to pro­claim,

“‘All men are cre­ated equal, with lib­erty just the same.’

“‘This,’ they told the King, ‘we be­lieve to be true,’

“‘our rights come from God — they don’t come from you!’ ”

El­lis, who “loved Amer­ica’s story,” ap­pears in ev­ery his­tor­i­cal ac­count. Some­times, he’s dressed in tra­di­tional civil­ian garb. Other times, he’s wear­ing a wig or an Amer­i­can In­dian head­dress. Through it all, the happy ele­phant is learn­ing about the birth of a new na­tion — and his young ad­mir­ers are right there be­side him.

In “Yan­kee Doo­dle Dandy,” “El­lis was sur­prised to learn the peo­ple had no say, about the rules that gov­erned their lives ev­ery day.” Chil­dren will wit­ness Paul Re­vere’s fa­mous ride (“The Bri­tish are com­ing!”) and pay ho­mage to Pa­trick Henry’s pow­er­ful state­ment (“Give me lib­erty or give me death!). They will learn more about John Adams’ re­la­tion­ship with his wife, Abi­gail, who “wrote many let­ters to her dear hus­band John, shar­ing ad­vice and cheer­ing him on.” They will even find out “Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton was a King they could all get be­hind. But to El­lis’ sur­prise, the Gen­eral po­litely de­clined.”

By the book’s end, the lit­tle smil­ing ele­phant is wav­ing an Amer­i­can flag and beam­ing with pride. Her con­clud­ing cou­plets have a heart­warm­ing and pa­tri­otic tone, “El­lis re­mem­bered those who had sac­ri­ficed so much to cre­ate a bet­ter life, and he was truly touched. Now El­lis un­der­stood how our in­de­pen­dence was won. With faith, hope, and courage, a new na­tion had be­gun.”

Cal­lista Gin­grich has cre­ated one of the most im­pres­sive chil­dren’s book se­ries in re­cent years. Her love for her coun­try can be seen in ev­ery foot­step El­lis takes in th­ese three mem­o­rable vol­umes. As this small ele­phant dis­cov­ers U.S. his­tory, young chil­dren will never for­get his great adventures. Michael Taube is a con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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