Author Dan Gutman didn’t expect to wake up this morning and see a book he wrote 20 years ago fly up the Amazon charts.
But thanks to a segment on Sunday night’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” Gutman’s 1996 children’s novel “The Kid Who Ran for President” suddenly has a renewed life.
Prior to Oliver’s segment, Gutman said the book usually hovered between Nos. 15,000 and 30,000 on Amazon’s ranker of all books on sale. But as of Monday morning, “The Kid Who Ran for President” had already skyrocketed to No.
198 148 128 110.
“That’s the highest any of my books have ever been in my 30-year career,” said Gutman, who has written tons of books over his successful career, including the popular kids’ series “My Weird School” and “The Genius Files.”
Gutman said Oliver’s major endorsement of “The Kid Who Ran for President” came as a complete surprise.
“I watch the show religiously, but I usually watch it a week later,” he said. “I knew nothing about it last night. This morning I got a text from somebody I know saying, ‘Did you see John Oliver last night?’ I instantly watched it with my wife and we were slapping each other with glee. It was really fun. Because the book is 20 years old. And I didn’t expect to get any publicity for it at this point!”
Oliver’s team saw a clear parallel between Judson Moon, the 12-year-old who is elected in “The Kid Who Ran for President,” and Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Here’s how School Library Journal describes the novel: “How is he different from other candidates? First of all, he is 12 years old. Second, his friend and campaign manager, Lane, came up with the idea, and Judson is going along with it because it sounds like fun, not because he has a real understanding of the issues. And third, his running mate is an elderly African-American woman who used to be his babysitter. Judson’s campaign is more successful than anyone could have predicted. Supporters even start sending him money to help out. The boy begins to realize he is in over his head, but still he goes on to debate the other candidates on national television. The voters love him and vote for him, but in the end, he decides to give up the presidency.”
Oliver showcased the book as a blueprint for how Donald Trump might be able to exit the presidential race without having to either admit that he lost, or take a job that he doesn’t really want. “This book is your only way out from two equally unappealing scenarios,” Oliver intoned. (To illustrate parallels between the book and Trump’s campaign, “Last Week Tonight” even tapped Will Arnett to voice excerpts, like the one below.)
Gutman said several people have pointed out the real-life similarities between Trump and “The Kid Who Ran for President” this election season.
“It wasn’t the first time that somebody pointed out to me that there were some startling parallels between what I wrote and the 2016 campaign,” he said. “A few people have mentioned to me that they thought there was a possibility that once he realized the reality of the situation that Trump might so the same thing that my character did in the book. If he did it and it helped me sell the book, I’d be very happy.”
Gutman hasn’t written a book for Scholastic (which published “The Kid Who Ran for President”) in a decade, but his agent is already inquiring to see if the publisher might be able to capitalize on the burst of attention.
The author said “The Kid Who Ran for President” gets a bit of a bump every four years during a presidential election, but never anything like this. He last updated the book in time for the 2012 election, revising outdated references to now-obsolete technology like fax machines and CompuServe.
Gutman suspects that someone on Oliver’s writing team, perhaps now in their 20s, read “The Kid Who Ran for President” while in school, and remembered the plot. “The book has sold probably over a million copies in the last 20 years,” he said. “But it’s nice to have it get a little publicity now of all times.”
He also wrote a sequel, “The Kid Who Became President,” in which Judson changes his mind and takes the presidency after all. “The book is about his first year as President of the United States,” Gutman said. “I’d like the people of America to know about it, but Trump doesn’t need to.”