- Title: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo
- Author: Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
- Genre: Children
- Publisher: Chronicle Books
- Pages: 40
- Price: $26.50
In a literary moment that could have only happened in today’s political climate, two picture books about an identical rabbit are currently battling it out on the bestseller list.
On March 19, Regnery Kids published Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President. Penned by Charlotte Pence and illustrated by Karen Pence, the respective daughter and wife of notoriously conservative American Vice President Mike Pence, the book is a simple, dry story narrated by the Pence family’s pet rabbit.
Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT attitudes were the subject of the March 18th episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, a satirical, left-leaning current events show hosted by comedian John Oliver. Oliver’s style oscillates between self-deprecation and self-righteousness, and though one imagines his audience is composed strictly of people who already agree with him, his rants are backed up by meticulous research. His show is frequently described as cathartic, especially in Trump’s America. His episode on the vice president concluded with a description of the Pences’ upcoming kids’ book, and then Oliver made an announcement of his own.
“It turns out in a complete coincidence, we also wrote a book about Mike Pence’s rabbit that has also been published,” he said to an audience that predictably drowned him out in applause. He held up a copy of A Day in The Life of Marlon Bundo, which was written by Emmy Award-winning comedy writer (and Last Week Tonight staffer) Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller (Chronicle Books, 40 pp, $26.50).
In this parody version, Marlon Bundo falls in love with another boy rabbit, only to have a stink bug that resembles the current vice president announce that “boy bunnies can only marry girl bunnies.” The stink bug is described as “In Charge and Important,” but the other animals decide to challenge his authority and vote him out.
On his show, Oliver announced that the book would be available for sale right away through Amazon (beating the release date of Pence’s book by half a day). It immediately became a number one bestseller on Amazon, and has been on the New York Times Children’s Picture Books Bestsellers List for three weeks, recently coming up at number one (the original Bundo book comes in at number 7). It has finally become available for sale at Canadian bookstores on April 13.
“It’s kind of a funny thing. None of the bookstores knew what was happening,” says Liz Johnston, manager of children’s bookstore Mabel’s Fables in Toronto, on the surprise announcement of the book. “We were watching the show, and got excited. We’re really happy whenever there is a children’s book that everybody is talking about.” They had customers coming in and calling the store for weeks asking about it, and immediately put in a large order with the Canadian distributor. When I ask Johnston if there was any interest in the original book, she says, “We did have one customer ask about ‘the Pence book,’ but then she followed it up by saying ‘The one about the bunny that falls in love.”’
Bundo isn’t the only recent children’s book release that serves as a response to the Trump administration. Chelsea Clinton has published two books with Penguin Random House illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. Last year’s She Persisted focuses on “13 American Women Who Changed the World” and was followed up by with the recent She Persisted Around the World. (The title, of course, is a reference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shutting down a speech given by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren by stating, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”) Clinton’s books are perfectly fine, joining a rush of anthologies of varying quality about inspiring women aimed at children. Hers will appeal to Democratic parents and similarly liberal women who will proudly announce their continued support of Hillary Clinton, though the significance of the title might be lost on the books’ intended young audience. There was also The Pink Hat, a shallow book about the Women’s March (a movement originated by American women) that was questionably penned by Australian author Andrew Joyner.
What makes A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo particularly strong is that, while an unabashed political parody, it also stands on its own as a children’s book. It would have been easy for John Oliver’s team to lean heavily on the gimmick of satirizing a loathed figure in American politics, but they instead focused on developing a charming story with genuinely funny jokes, making a story for kids that have little interest in keeping up with the news (which would be most kids). Proceeds from the book sales will also going to noble causes The Trevor Project and AIDS United. There have been worse gimmicks.
Anna Fitzpatrick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. She reviews picture books for the Globe and Mail.