Suggested Audience: Upper elementary
Up front note, it pains me to have to do what I am about to do to this book. I want books like this to be a huge success, and I don’t have a problem with Limbaugh putting it out there. But…a good book is a good book and a not-so-good book is a not-so-good book.
Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims has been on the New York Times Middle Grade Best Sellers list for eight weeks as of the January 5, 2014 Best Sellers list. I had high hopes for the book, but unfortunately I was not impressed.
The book is a strange mixture of science fiction and American history. The basic premise is that Rush Revere, a substitute teacher at Manchester Middle School (he also works at the Two if By Tea factory), and his time-traveling, talking horse, Liberty, takes students back in time to the Pilgrim’s trans-Atlantic voyage and subsequent landing in America.
I’m a big fan of historical fiction. And I’m a big fan of narrative non-fiction. Those two genres work and make sense. They are outstanding ways of exposing young kids to history as story. A sarcastic time traveling talking horse and his owner are not the best way to expose kids to history.
The time traveling elements of this book do not work. The constant appearing and disappearing of Liberty, Revere, and the two students into the timeline of the Pilgrims is odd. They are not passive observers of history. Revere befriends William Bradford, and throughout the story Bradford seems to have a respect for Revere. So much so, that one would expect Rush Revere to end up in the historical record. This creates problems because they are becoming active participants in recorded history, and as science fiction fans know, this is a big no-no. This may seem nit-picky, but science fiction has rules and when you bend those rules you create problems.
Another major problem with this book is the prose is not very good. I genuinely believe Limbaugh wrote this himself based upon the author’s note at the end of the book. He seriously should have considered a ghost writer for this book. The word choice is limited, and Limbaugh overuses dialogue tags to the point of pain. I hate to admit this, but I fell asleep twice reading the book and couldn’t count the amount of times I lost track of what was happening.
I listened to Limbaugh as a teenager quite a bit, and I still turn him on from time to time. As Limbaugh has often said, you can’t just turn his show on once, you have to listen to a little bit to get him and his voice. This rule seems to apply to this book because the first person narrative and Liberty the horse both remind me of Limbaugh’s sarcasm and typical rhetorical flair. I really thought it didn’t belong in this book. Limbaugh tries to hard to be funny with his characters, and by the end of the book I was literally scoffing at some of the annoying, sarcastic quips in the dialogue.
The book is short on history and long on other components of the story. The body of the text is only about 200 pages. If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say that at most the book was 60 percent historical story. Every time I got interested in the historical elements, it was time to teleport back to the present.
I found nothing wrong with the historical aspects of the book. I just wish Limbaugh had sourced where he was pulling historical fact from. There should be some kind of source notes in the back of the book. Critics of the book, and especially critics of Limbaugh, have footing to stand on because he omitted this part. This is something that has to be corrected in later books in this series.
There were a couple of positives about the book. First, it is an attractive book, and I did enjoy some of the photos that were included with the book. Second, I also appreciated that Limbaugh included how the Pilgrims struggled when their community was set up as a collective with community property. Collectivization has always failed throughout human history, and it is an important part of the Pilgrims story. This is an idea that today’s youth need to be taught.
Realize that I am an adult reader of what is intended to be a middle school book. In fairness, I may be a little too critical of some components, but on the other hand, some middle school readers are quite astute. I believe that many seventh and eighth grade readers would easily find similar faults with the book. Part of me wonders if the target audience for the book is too high. It may be more appropriate for upper elementary readers instead of the intended middle grade audience. I fear that the book does not find much of an audience outside of conservative households that listen to Rush Limbaugh. The goal of literature like this should be outside of our conservative echo chamber.
Have you read this book? Did your child read this book? What do you think? Have a book that you think ought to be reviewed? Comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts even if you completely disagree with me.