- - Tuesday, July 16, 2013

By Susan Allen
Illustrated by Leslie Harrington
Regnery, $16.95, 36 pages

Shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a children’s book arrived at Van Duyn Elementary School in Syracuse, N.Y., about the childhood of the recently slain president.

Even to the unsophisticated third-grade mind, there seemed something amiss in the book’s story and art. It depicted a teenaged JFK, disheveled, shirttail hanging out with a piece of toast in his hand getting into a public school bus late that delivered him to a public school.

The book then later showed the young JFK in a messy bedroom, with clothes falling out of dresser drawers as he argued with his best friend, an equally young Mexican boy.

In hindsight, the book was more than ludicrous. Kennedy probably never set foot in a public school in his life, on a school bus in his life and the first time he encountered anybody of Hispanic origins may have been someone tending his father’s estate. He himself admitted the Great Depression never touched him, and he never understood its deprivations.

The Kennedy book for children was all a prevarication, though in JFK’s defense, his heroic stewardship of a PT boat in the South Pacific in World War II certainly qualified as public transportation.

There is the dubiousness of young George Washington and the cherry tree and then there is the farcical.

Of course, one cringes at the idea of a children’s book depicting the life and times of Bill Clinton. It might give new meaning to the phrase “child pornography.” History written for children can be dangerous and could earn a “PG” or even “R” rating.

All presidents are subjected to some sort of mythology or revisionism. To wit, the baseless charge that a union of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings produced children. DNA testing only shows her heirs to have Jefferson male DNA and that could have come from any number of Jefferson men who frequented Monticello.

We all know about the young Lincoln doing long arithmetic with a piece of coal on a shovel. Whether this is true, it is certainly more enjoyable and harmless than reading that his father quite probably often beat the young Abe.

Now comes a delightful children’s book titled “The Remarkable Ronald Reagan,” by Susan Allen, former first lady of Virginia, published by Regnery Kids.

The nice thing is that it is all true. Nothing had to be made up because he really did live a heroic and “remarkable” life, but it does not overlook his setbacks, as in losing the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976.

The book, written for third- and fourth-graders, breaks no new ground and yet it is groundbreaking in that a modern conservative is being presented as a positive role model to children. The liberal educational establishment has done a good job eviscerating any of the goodness of American conservatism from the history books.

There was a reason Reagan was so popular with young Americans. The focus of his message was always about the future, freedom and opportunity. Plus, he constantly challenged the status quo, and anyone with children knows they live to challenge authority.

In Mrs. Allen’s book, children will not read about moral ambiguity, but that hard work and optimism and self initiative and faith were the tools that propelled him ever forward and upward. The story goes chronologically, from his birth in Tampico in 1911 to his death in 2004, but the emphasis is on his many accomplishments, especially, of course, as one of America’s greatest presidents.

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