02 March 2009

The Pitfalls of Picking an Official State Children’s Book

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting on an Ohio legislator's proposal to make Robert McCloskey's Lentil the official children's book of Ohio. McCloskey was a native of Hamilton, Ohio, and Lentil's fictional setting of Alto, Ohio, rather resembles that town. Which, not by coincidence, is the area that the act's sponsor represents. The town already has a Lentil statue, as I reported back here.

Curiously, this proposal wasn't initiated by a set of schoolkids cajoled into proposing a state symbol as part of a unit on government, the way the "third grade class at the Dean S. Luce Elementary School in Canton" made McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings into Massachusetts's official state children's book. According to StateSymbolsUSA.org, Massachusetts is the only state to have designated an official book of any kind.

Aside from lack of such grass-roots support, the major problem for the Lentil proposal is that Ohio, being a large state, has produced other important children's authors and illustrators: Natalie Babbitt, Virginia Hamilton, Lois Lenski, R. L. Stine. Here in Massachusetts we've addressed that problem by dubbing Dr. Seuss our official state children's author-illustrator so his partisans don't feel left out.

Another problem is that, with all due deference to Lentil, McCloskey's greatest Ohioana are the Homer Price books. Nothing else can compare.

(Thanks to Publishers Weekly for the pointer.)

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