Don't Judge a Book By Its Author's Controversy

It Takes A Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us

By Hillary Rodham Clinton

Simon & Schuster

319 pp., $20

Disputes encircle Hillary Rodham Clinton like eddies at low tide off Hilton Head, N.C. What should not be overlooked amid the political fray, though, is her new book. It deserves to be read, whatever might be said by pundit or critic.

"It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us," conveys the personal views and experiences of the first lady about what matters in the rearing of children.

Certainly, there is disquietude about how we raise our children. When William Bennett's "Book of Virtues" (Simon & Schuster, approaching 3 million sold) burst upon the national psyche two years ago, its overt moralizing struck a chord. Calvinist and individualistic in tack, Bennett's book addressed widespread concern about the felt absence of moral instruction in the contemporary lives of children.

"It Takes a Village" offers a different approach. From its opening sentence, Clinton travels a more collective road: "Children are not rugged individualists." She stresses the importance of communal effort in raising a child and develops the idea of a child within a community.

Does politics enter this book? Certainly. But here, Clinton is more interested in telling the country about herself and the causes and policies she champions than scoring political points.

Conservatives will cringe at the praise she heaps on nationalized day care in France. Many will reject her support for the early childhood development model in Hawaii. Both smack of bureaucratic intrusiveness in family matters and will recall her failed national health-care plan.

But only the most partisan will object to her call for simplification of adoption laws, sexual abstinence for teenagers, and vigilant parental scrutiny of television programming. She encourages parental choice in education and champions charter schools. Church and organized religion play a central role in the life of her daughter and should in the lives of all children, she says.

The book's relative freedom from jargon easily communicates the complex social issues she explores. Most telling are her experiences as a wife, mother, and professional woman in a period when the roles for each are in transition. She slips into the idiom of social science occasionally, however, when she looks at schooling and medical theories of child development.

The presentation of Clinton as the sole author of the tome is the subject of debate. Her publisher said last June at the American Booksellers Association convention in Chicago that it was to be co-authored.

The many personal vignettes (my favorite, how as a child in a Christmas pageant, bedecked in angel wings, she fainted in an overheated Methodist sanctuary), are worth the purchase price. She also recounts how the 10-year-old Bill Clinton bumped into a school chum on Thanksgiving morning, as the boy sat at a counter with a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and no turkey to look forward to. Immediately, the future president's arm was around the friend, urging him home for turkey dinner with his family.

Clinton's account of raising a child while running an election campaign in today's media-saturated culture is also touching.

Comprehensive and topical, if not original; breezy and conversational in a didactic way; autobiographical, yet clearly the work of a policy wonk shaping national policy, "It takes a Village" concerns a subject that should have no rival for our attention. However much one might differ with Clinton's politics, it would be a loss if the nation missed this opportunity to address the issues she raises.

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