Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and purchase something putrid. If you as a librarian live by the oft-quoted phrase “A good library should have something to offend everyone,” then sometimes you have to buy things that you find offensive. We purchased Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed! at a patron’s request, and I’d like to heartily encourage other libraries to feel very free to ILL it rather than purchasing another copy. I couldn’t find any reviews of it in the major journals, so I thought at least I would do the public service of reviewing it now.
DeBrecht, Katharine. Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed! Illustrated by Jim Hummel. Kids Ahead/World Ahead Publishing, 2005.
A pair of brothers long for a swing set, but their parents insist that “having everything given to them would not make them feel good about themselves, and that earning things on their own would make them feel proud and become better people.” Since in a happy coincidence they have a lemon tree growing in their yard, Tommy and Lou get the great idea of selling lemonade. They then fall asleep and dream that they live in a nightmarish world called “Liberaland”. Their lemonade stand is initially a huge success, and they even begin putting money aside for kids with no shoes, but then a liberal comes along and takes half of their earnings in taxes and uses the money to buy dustpans for the children who need shoes. The boys are also forced to take down their picture of Jesus and replace it with a picture of a big toe, and after many other unreasonable changes are made to the stand, the liberals take it over altogether.
DeBrecht’s clumsy writing style (“‘Well,’ the liberal’s red cheeks smiled”) reads like someone who hasn’t read children’s books thinks children’s books sound. Hummel’s cartoon illustrations, while better-executed, fall into the same trap with such clunky cliches as all of the children’s signs using backward letter E’s. Any witty moments are thoroughly mired in nastiness, and none of it makes sense anyway–who paid for the sugar in the lemonade? Who paid for the glasses? How could a lemon tree have “hundreds of lemons on each outstretched branch”? Dustpans? Sometimes random things aren’t funny, they are just dumb.
But to be fair, the book is exactly what it attempts to be: A satire on liberals. It is unintentionally satirical at times as well, as in the portrait of Ronald Reagan in the boys’ living room with his eyes gazing upward just like in many home portraits of Jesus. But make no mistake, this satire on liberals is very pointed, with many references to recognizable politicians such as Hilary Clinton (seen teetering on her high heels in a pink pantsuit) and Jimmy Carter. The author and illustrator apparently so despise Teddy Kennedy that they have put him in twice, physically as Mayor Leach but also as the senator from Taxachusetts. Adults of a conservative mindset will get several chuckles from this picture book, but they are its only likely audience.