If you’d have told me even a few years ago that Rush Limbaugh would become one of the best selling authors of historical children’s books I’d have looked at you pretty funny. Conservative commentators pumping out history books has become big business, but few have impacted the genre as Limbaugh, though I guess in hindsight that’s hardly a surprise. Love or hate him, Rush Limbaugh has a gift for gab, and these books take full advantage of that particular talent in ways that might surprise his biggest detractors.
Frankly, the only controversial thing about these books is how uncontroversial they are. Go ahead, sift through them with a fine tooth comb and try finding something subversive enough to make your progressive blood boil. It’s not there. That fact I that I even have to waste time writing that and sound like an apologist makes MY blood boil, but some people need kid gloves, even about a book for kids.
Rush Revere and the First Patriots, the second book the series, doesn’t stay from the formula established in the best-selling Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. But as it stars persons and places that are more recognizable than the first its easily the better book, and may even inspire a few trips to the local library (or Wikipedia) to flesh out their own personal knowledge. Isn’t that what a good book is all about, anyway?
At front and center is Rush Revere, Limbaugh’s tea-selling spokesman-turned-history teacher, and his wise-cracking, time-traveling horse Liberty. As before, much of the book’s humor stems from the lightning-fast quipping between Rush and Liberty, which comes off here like a classic mix-matched buddy comedy team.
The rest of the central cast of Manchester Middle school returns, once again led by Tommy, the school’s quarterback and secret genius, feather-loving Freedom (who now shares a telepathic link with Liberty), and, of course, the school’s requisite bully and principal’s daughter, Elizabeth, who may or may not have a few lessons coming to her. (spoilers: she does)
New to the cast is Cameron, i.e. Cam, Tommy’s new neighbor and instant buddy. Cam is black, which becomes a major plot element when the gang visits a particular point in the United State’s colonial past. I’ll give Limbaugh credit for not shying away from such a controversial topic, but for the most part Cam is just a regular kid with a real love of history.
So with Rush Revere in the lead our intrepid groups of time-traveling pals head make way to one of America’s most crucial periods: the Revolutionary War. Or just before to it, letting Rush and Company meet luminaries like Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and even the Rush character’s personal hero, Paul Revere. Founding Fathers (and future Presidents) John Adams and George Washington also make too-short appearances, though I imagine we’ll see more of them in future adventures.
But the real highlight is a bizarre visit to George III, the King of England, presented here in a way unlike anything I’ve ever seen. If you’re reading this one aloud to kids and the portraits of poor King George III start popping up, better get ready for a lengthy discussion on eccentricities and mental illness.
Illustrator Chris Hiers returns to help bring Limbaugh’s historical silliness to life, though I’m not sure that counts as a positive. A frequent contributor to The American Conservative magazine (shocking, I know), he’s definitely got the skills, so it’s a shame his work here continues to look and feel cheap, often so disconnected from the source material I’m curious if he even read the book before illustrating it.
A prime example has the Rush Revere character explicitly saying he was taller than Benjamin Franklin, described at 5 foot 9 inches. But several pages later one of the illustrations shows Franklin towering over Revere by several inches.. Or another where the text has a bucket of sloppy mud being tossed at a certain character, only the illustration shows the offending material as water. Kids notice things, and having an otherwise decent story illustrated with artwork that borders of grotesque (the Photoshopped faces are creepy) may put those reading this aloud on the defensive.
By far the most offensive thing in the book is a miscalculated and cringe parody of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, reworked here as Liberty’s “stomp act about the Stamp Act”. Here’s a sample of the ‘updated’ lyrics:
“Because your taxes aren’t fair
You make us so mad
You make us so mad
You make us so, so mad”
Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Like so, so bad.
One thing I do admire about these books, for what its worth, is how Limbaugh acknowledges causation on a level that’s surprisingly honest, and will most likely prompt interesting conversations with some readers.
Cam, who’s black, is forced to confront the issue of his skin color in a way that might startle some readers, and his reaction is inspiring. The slavery issue, while a historical fact, has largely been whitewashed from most history texts designed for younger readers. Its refreshing to see it acknowledged and tackled here in a way that’s far more empowering – and interesting – than simply ignoring it.
Or when the Rush character ponders what the imminent start of the Revolutionary War means in terms of human suffering, which is about as political as the book ever gets:
“Simply, war means death. The men, women, and children that I had seen in Massachusetts and Virginia, the families in all the colonies, would sacrifice so much for something many Americans today take for granted. Freedom.”
Rush Revere and the First Patriots continues the historical misadventures of Rush Limbaugh’s fictional tea-selling spokesman and his wise-cracking, time-traveling horse without missing a beat. It’s pure silliness, wrapped around a history lesson that’s largely apolitical. Props to Limbaugh for touching on issues few in this politically correct world would dare touch, and many interesting conversations are sure to follow the book’s more controversial bits. Some parents and educators won’t be able to get past the name ‘Rush Limbaugh’ on the cover, but to them I’d recommend sneaking a copy when nobody is looking and making up their own minds.