John Oliver’s parody of Mike Pence’s Rabbit Book happens to be a delightful work of children’s literature

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He had silky black ears and a dapper bow tie. He was the Vice President’s pet, owned by the Pence family; it was an instagram star, alongside Whoopi Goldberg. He accompanied his “grandfather” to the Oval Office and the Capitol; he married a bunny boy.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of two bunny books. Rabbit Book 1,”A day in the life of the vice presidentwas written by Pence’s daughter, Charlotte, twenty-four, and illustrated in understated, low-key watercolors by second lady Karen Pence. It follows Marlon Bundo, the real “Bunny of the United States of America”, or BOTUS, as he follows Vice President Pence through a typical day in Washington. (The forty-page volume, rated at a second-grade reading level, sits at No. 4 on Amazon’s bestseller list at the time of this writing. A portion of the proceeds from the sale is donated at A21, an anti-human trafficking organization, and at Riley Hospital for Children, in Indianapolis.)

Bunny Book 2 was imagined by John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” It was written by comedian Jill Twiss; whimsical illustrations are by EG Keller. Entitled “A day in the life of Marlon Bundo“, the tale is both a satire on the Pence product and a sweet stand-alone story about love, acceptance and civic responsibility. In this version, BOTUS is snatched off his feet by a dark-haired handsome named Wesley — his aquamarine glasses match Marlon Bundo’s plaid bow tie — and the two overcome the dogged objections of a mean bug (who looks like Mike Pence) in order to get married . (All proceeds from the book, Oliver announced, will go to Project Trevor and AIDS United.)

While Charlotte Pence, whose father is infamous for his opposition to LGBT rights, cheerfully welcomed the news of unauthorized companion work (“We have two books that donate to charities that talk about rabbits, so I’m all for it,” has she Recount Fox Business), its publisher, Regnery, lamented that “anyone would feel the need to ridicule an educational children’s book and turn it into something controversial and partisan”. Grumbling aside, Oliver’s parody topped Amazon’s bestseller list, beating not only Pence’s book, but also the memory of former FBI director James Comey. A new printing was ordered to replace the one hundred and eighty thousand copies that sold out in forty-eight hours.

The less said about the Pence book, the better, alas. He attempts a loose anapestic trimer which is mostly awkward:

Some people call me BOTUS

A name any bunny would love.

It means “Rabbit of the United States” –

A work of which I am very proud!

This Marlon Bundy finds Grandpa extremely impressive. He remarks that people “often line up in the streets” and “wave their flags” at Grandpa’s motorcade, and Grandpa “always gives them a thumbs up.” The vice president works hard presiding over the Senate, advising the president and speaking to “people from all over America” ​​who “come to share stories, questions, and issues.” (Grampa “helps answer each,” Marlon Bundo marvels.) The word “important” appears three times on four pages. As night falls, Grandpa and Marlon pray together, and the bunny reflects on the day’s events: “I remember how blessed I am / To call this great nation my home.”

I feel sheepish telling a children’s story about the least conniving member of the second family, but the complacency and mediocrity on display here is maddening. Meanwhile, Oliver’s parody is genuinely delightful – full of thoughtful detail and poetic notes of grace that set good children’s books apart. (The vice-presidential residence is a “stuffy old house”; two insect friends lean over a miniature checkerboard; the thumbtack podium is adorned, wonderfully, with a thumbtack logo.) That the joke version of the product seems more real and truer than the product itself somehow suits our post-fact world, salted with “fake news” and cable news chyrons that turn out to be stranger than fiction. “Marlon Bundo” pays homage to classic children’s titles (a spray of purple lupins on the cover evokes “Miss Rumphius”) and replaces Pence’s stilted rhymes with a freer set of rhythms and repetitions, some of which also make a poignant gesture to our leader’s pre-Wesley sadness. “I woke up on my own. Then I ate a good rabbit breakfast by myself, while I watched the news. . . alone,” says Bundo.

Oliver’s book offers sub-text treats for adults. Here’s the not-quite-sure account for the work of Marlon Bundo and Wesley getting to know each other: “Once we’d walked all the parts of the garden, we didn’t want to stop. So, we jumped inside the stuffy old house. We jumped up and down the squeaky stairs and made some nice squeaky stair music together. Never in the annals of understatement have windchests creaked so delicately. The dashing Wesley first appears in a halo of golden light that seems precisely designed to annoy evangelical grampas. (“That’s when I saw him,” Marlon Bundo swoons, capitalizing the H. “He was handsome as a rabbit.”) Twiss tackles the elements of gay acceptance with a gentle, moving didacticism. When Bundo announces that he and Wesley are engaged, all of his friends shout “Hooray!” . . . Because that’s what friends say. If the implicit theme of “A Day in the Life of the Vice President” is Pence’s power and importance, his goodness and his piety, the explicit message of Oliver’s book is, in the words of Scooter the Turtle, “Everyone is different. And different is
not wrong.” (“I’m different too,” Mr. Paws, a dog, offers on the funniest page in the volume. “Sometimes I sniff cigarette butts and I don’t know why.”)

BOTUS and Wesley manages to get married after they and their friends band together and vote for his podium thumbtack. (Subtle.) In this sense, the second Rabbit Book highlights the beauty of American democracy, its ability to fulfill people’s hopes and aspirations, more effectively than the first, with its lukewarm talk of “this great nation”. Oliver’s title has the added benefit of dramatic stakes: Will the wedding happen? Will Marlon Bundo ever soothe his loneliness? There’s, come to think of it, no metric by which the Parody Bunny Book doesn’t outperform the original, unless you want to blame Twiss and Oliver for not explaining what EEOB means. (Eisenhower’s executive office building; thank you, Charlotte Pence.)

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