Last week, amid disturbing news of layoffs and contractions at all kinds of media businesses—Reader's Digest, the Los Angeles Times and our own beloved Doubleday, among many, many others—the story that struck me was the one about the little book from tiny Tricycle Press that has become exhibit A in an ad campaign supporting Proposition 8 in California, which aims to overturn legalized gay marriage in the state.
King & King, a children's picture book by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, which was originally published in the Netherlands, is cited by a New England mother and father who were horrified that their son was exposed to the book—a kind of fairy tale in which a prince falls in love with a prince—at school. As PW's Wendy Werris reported, this was hardly the intention of Nicole Geiger, the Tricycle Press editor who published the book in 2002. She told us she's “devastated” that the picture book, which is meant to promote tolerance of diverse lifestyles, is being used, in her view, to promote the opposite. “I'm saddened by any association [with] politically motivated attacks on civil rights,” she said.
Naively perhaps, I thought we were past co-opting pieces of art for political purposes. I remember when Bruce Springsteen threw a fit over Ronald Reagan's attempt to appropriate his Born in the USA as a campaign theme song; more recently, there were squabbles over McCain commandeering songs by Bon Jovi, Tom Petty and others. But a children's book? I can't think of the first or last time a political campaign tried to use one (okay, Michael Moore made hay with Bush's reading of My Pet Goat, but the book was incidental).
Ordinarily, I might try to find some way to see this as a good thing, kind of the way I decided that Sarah Palin's alleged book banning proved that, at the very least, books still matter. But I can't seem to locate any optimism here. What's more, this time I can't even invoke the all-controversy-is-good-for-business theory: according to Nielsen BookScan, the book has sold only 100 or so copies each week over the last fortnight. There's simply no way around the bad news: a book made of socially liberal intentions is being used to defeat those intentions—against the wishes of its publisher and, perhaps, its creators, who are Dutch and, so far, silent on the matter. That's kind of creepy, and I feel for the publisher as she watches this story unfold.
Of course, the couple featured in a pro Prop 8 television ad, clearly uncomfortable with homosexuality, are even more so leafing through the pages of boy-meets-boy. I feel for them, too. Yet to see a book (ab)used in this manner is appalling—an innocent prop employed to hammer home a politically contentious, well, Prop. Everybody's entitled to his own opinion, of course, and nobody says you have to like King & King, or any other book for that matter. (NB: Neither PW nor its sister SLJ was more than lukewarm about it as a literary offering.) I just wish those with political agendas could articulate them without maligning an earnest book written, and clearly published, in the spirit of tolerance.
Agree? Disagree? Tell us at www.publishersweekly.com/saranelson