Vice President Mike Pence’s bunny just can’t catch a break. Last Friday, Will and Grace creator Max Mutchnick donated a copy of John Oliver’s parody children’s book “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” to every elementary school in Indiana, where Pence once served as governor. Oliver’s “Bundo” riffs on Pence’s opposition to same sex marriage by taking pot shots at a real children’s book Pence’s family recently wrote about their pet rabbit.
The joke is simple. In the original story, “Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President,” Marlon Bundo hops around the White House, learning what fun “Grampa” Pence has all day helping President Donald Trump run the country. In the Oliver parody, Bundo sulks around until he becomes “a Very Special boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny.” Then he becomes happy, dons a rainbow bow tie, and teaches his Grampa about his unique rabbit love.
Now Mutchnick is letting unwitting kids in on the joke too. In a memo addressed to “Every Grammar School Library in Indiana,” he told librarians about how Oliver’s book left him “blown away” and that every child should have access to this heartfelt story of how “love and community can rise above intolerance.” Hilarious.
Both books are propaganda and don’t belong in any elementary schools. Young children should not be reading stories freighted with political ideology. While the Pence family’s book is fairly benign — like those accessories that every presidential administration tries to pass off on the public (here’s looking at you, Billy Beer!) — children shouldn’t be induced to Make America Great Again just because some elected official owns a cute bunny. And they definitely shouldn’t be reading up on queer studies because some TV show producer thought it would make for a funny tweet. Oliver’s joke is already in bad taste; don’t force it on the kids.
As someone who didn’t learn how to read until third grade, I know how important it is for kids to start reading young — and start by reading the best books. So here’s a list of five children’s books I wish Max Mutchnick had gifted to Indiana kids instead of “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.”
1. ‘Love You Forever’ (1986)
Robert Munsch’s classic story of a love between mother and son. The book centers on a four line poem the mother sings to her child while he sleeps: “I love you forever/I’ll like you for always/As long as I’m living/my baby you’ll be.” The boy grows up and, in adolescence, he rejects his mother’s love. It is not until he has a family of his own that he realizes the full power of his mother’s love. When she is too old to leave her home, he visits her and sings the same song, changing the word “baby” to “mommy.” The book is a beautiful illustration of the interpersonal unity of familial love.
2. ‘Corduroy’ (1968)
The story about the bear and the missing button. With “Corduroy,” author Don Freeman shows readers how important friendship is in a gigantic and sometimes incomprehensible world. The titular bear hangs out in a department store all day, waiting to be bought. When the little girl Lisa finds him, her mother won’t let her buy Corduroy because he is missing a button on his overalls. The search for a new button ensues, and Corduroy eventually ends up hugged in Lisa’s arms. This book is already a well-circulated classic, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if every library in Indiana had another copy?
3. ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ (1974)
Shel Silverstein’s poetry — and his illustrations too — open children to the beauty of absurdity. In Silverstein Land, language makes the world infinite and accessible all at the same time. Poems like “Sick” follow a screwball internal logic: I’m too sick to go to school — oh it’s Saturday? I’m going out to play!
What’s more, Silverstein wrote “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash. So that’s always fun to show kids who like “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
4. ‘C D C ?’ (2008)
Both adults and children can enjoy this book. Written and illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist William Steig, “C D C ?” is a series of phonetic puzzles. Pairing capital letters and numbers with cartoons, Steig tells one-frame stories that require both the eyes and the ears to understand. Just one example: the picture accompanying the title page depicts an older man with one hand on the shoulder on a little boy and the other hand gesturing out toward the ocean. Get it?
5. ‘Goodnight Moon’ (1947)
For many people, this is the first book in memory. It is The Bedtime Story. And like both Oliver’s and Pence’s books, “Goodnight Moon” focuses on a bunny. Unlike the other two books, however, it doesn’t dirty its narrative through references to political figures or ideological movements. Instead, it tells a simple story about going to bed in peace. The book endures because it soothes the child’s active mind with the going-to-bed routine.
“Goodnight Moon” provides what all the voices shouting about Marlon Bundo need: a quiet old lady whispering, “hush.”