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The Kids Are All Writing
June 9, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Glee's Chris Colfer is writing a children's book. The Land of Stories, aimed at middle grade readers, will come out next year. He joins many other famous folks who have decided to write for younger readers. Perez Hilton is doing one. Madonna's done many. Even the "stars" of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice got in on the kidlit craze. Of course, many of these authors don't actually write the books they publish. Even if/when they do, many readers find the results underwhelming. "If you are looking for the next Beatrix Potter or Maurice Sendak, you will not find it here," claimed the Guardian. There are exceptions, but it seems that for a lot of celebrities, literature for children has become merely another form of brand extension. Author, Adam Rex has countered with "An Open Letter to Everyone Who Thinks it Must be Easy, Writing Kid's Books" Or, as EB White said, "You have to write up to children, not down..."
posted by cal71 (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Honestly, I don't care whether he actually writes it. Increasing Chris Colfer's profile, especially with adolescents, can do nothing but good in my eyes.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:24 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Chris Colfer or not, you know you should listen to Adam Rex. Perhaps I am partial to him because he drew a really awesome l'il Cthulu when I asked him. (He drew it in his Frankenstein Sandwich book, which I bought for a friend's birthday.)

Nevertheless, he is a wise man! Heed his words, potential childrens book authors!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 8:27 AM on June 9, 2011


I check out like 30-40 children's books a week and I evaluate even more than that. I can say without hesitation that while the proportion of children's books that are terrible probably higher than 70%, the proportion that are both written by celebrities and also terrible is over 99%.
posted by DU at 8:28 AM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh and the #1 reason celebrity children books are terrible is that it is blindingly, glaringly obvious they have never read a single (good?) children's book in their (adult?) lives. "I know what! I'll tell the 3 Little Pigs story from the wolf's POV!!! So fresh!"
posted by DU at 8:30 AM on June 9, 2011


You left out Julie Andrews.
posted by underthehat at 8:31 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Children's book author Jon Scieszka's comments on celebrity authors on NPR.
posted by eye of newt at 8:31 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The other day I was dropping my 16-month old off at a friend's for playdate, and we were musing about how knew certain books by heart because we had read them to our kids so many times. It struck me that I probably spend more time reading children's books to her than I do reading adult books to myself. This predates becoming a new parent - long before she was born, much of my book reading time had been replaced by screen time, either computer or ipad.

This led me to wonder whether, in the near future, children's books will be the only books that are still published, sort of like how toy telephones still look like old-school phones that people rarely use anymore. Every parent I know, no matter how much or how little they might read on their own, has a huge shelf of books for their kid. And books still are a great fall-back gift for a kid.

More to the point, while I love my ipad (and so does my daughter) there's still something more tactile and visceral about reading an actual book with her. Children appreciate the materiality of books - their size and shape and the texture of the pages - much more than adults do. My daughter loves her soft Elmo peekaboo book, her Good Night Gorilla with the thick cardboard pages, and her oversize picture books, each of which seems to provide her with a qualitatively different experience. There's something about reading a children's book with my daughter that has reminded me why books are so damn awesome, and reawakened in me a passion for them. I'm very grateful to her for that.
posted by googly at 8:34 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


You left out Julie Andrews.
No, I didn't. She's the exception!

Children's book author Jon Scieszka's comments on celebrity authors on NPR.
Thanks for sharing that!
posted by cal71 at 8:35 AM on June 9, 2011


Sorry, my fault for not checking the links. I feel dumb. Think I'll go read a book now.
posted by underthehat at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2011


I should also confess down here, so I'm not accused of self-linking, that I write children's books and so, have a bias in this, although my bias is towards whatever gets kids reading. I love the kind of out and proud role model Colfer is for gay kids and I love when reading and writing seems cool. And I certainly can't fault them for wanting to make a buck...I don't write for free. I just wish there was more respect for the craft and more respect for the audience in how many of these celebrities approach "writing a children's book." It sounds like Colfer's got a story he needs to tell, so I'm rooting for him and I welcome him to community of children's authors.
posted by cal71 at 8:40 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Colfer does have some writing experience already under his belt; he wrote an series pilot for Disney, and another screenplay of his will be produced this summer. (Deets) He may well be writing this on his own. Unlike my reaction to @#(* Snooki's book deal, I'm kinda looking forward to this one.
posted by headspace at 8:46 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


(And full disclosure, I write YA novels, so I get equally irritated at the celebrity cash-in.)
posted by headspace at 8:47 AM on June 9, 2011


Along these lines, your illustrator friends really love it when you tell them you've got a great idea for a kids book, and that they should totally illustrate it for you.
posted by usonian at 9:00 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Glee's Chris Colfer is writing a children's book. The Land of Stories, aimed at middle grade readers, will come out next year.

Eponysterical?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:10 AM on June 9, 2011


"With fun, colorful and endearing characters, Perez [Hilton] reminds readers that by simply accepting our differences we can find the things that unite us all."

The book will be the story of Mario, a lonely, unhappy little boy who wants to be famous so he spreads gossip and draws semen, cocaine, and grade-school taunts on photographs of celebrities.

Possible title: Hilton Jeers At You!
posted by mattdidthat at 9:10 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seriously ... I know there's a buck to be made here. And he's a talented fellow; more talented than me, certainly. I'm sure it will be a good book. Good luck to him.

But we all know what it's going to be about. You could write this book right now, without any other starting point than "A book by Chris Colfer," and it will sell some copies. Same with Snooki, Paris, etc.

It's an exercise in brand extension, as the post says. But branding, it seems, now extends to mere feelings and emotions, rather than any content.

Of course, this didn't start with Chris Colfer, as the editors of Oprah's magazine will tell you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:14 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


And somewhere, Hubertus Bigend smiles with perfectly white, shark-like teeth.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:15 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What puzzles me about most children's books is that a lot of them seem to have been written by authors who somehow forgot what they liked reading when they were kids themselves.

Case in point -- the preachy, moralize-y tone a lot of these celebrity books seem to take. I don't know a kid alive who actually likes that kind of "there is a lesson here and you must learn it" tone, and I don't know a single kid who doesn't have the finely-tuned bullshit detector that lets them pick that moralizing out at twenty paces and avoid it. I remember thinking those kinds of books were boring bullshit when I was eight. And yet...that's the tone so many books take, so many of these "a book about Heather dealing with her cat dying" or whatever. I'd pass up a lot of those kinds of books and head straight for Charlotte's Web or The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. Kids know when you're trying to preach to them -- a moralizing lesson doesn't feel any less like a moralizing lesson if you're trying to make it look like a cute story about a moose.

And they try to twee it up so much, too -- and I don't remember buying that as a kid either. In 1993, The New Yorker ran a sort of editorial comic that had been jointly done by Art Spiegelman and Maurice Sendak, which featured a conversation the two had about children's books, and the vapors that some people in the public were getting at the time because Sendak had actually written a children's book about homelessness. About halfway through the strip, "Sendak" goes off on a rant about how everyone seems to think childhood is this innocent and precious idyllic time -- but he insists that "Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth!" I was already grown when I read that, but when I read that, I just nodded and thought, "see, yeah. That's why Maurice Sendak does so well - he didn't forget that."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Agreed, Empress. One of my favorite quotes about writing for kids is from one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pinkwater:

'I imagine a child. That child is me. I can reconstruct and vividly remember portions of my own childhood. I can see, taste, smell, feel, and hear them. Then what I do is, not write about that kid or about his world, but start to think of a book that would have pleased him."
posted by cottoncandybeard at 10:07 AM on June 9, 2011


It's easy to SAY "you should remember what kids like to read" but even while saying it you will actually WRITE a moralizing, "Heather's cat" book. I've tried it, it is super hard.
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2011


The fact that it's "super hard" is kind of the point of this FPP, ultimately.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2011


Let's not leave out Weird Al.
posted by DanSachs at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2011


Oof, that Weird Al book was BAD. I was really bummed out by that one.
posted by TheCoug at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2011


Who the hell buys a book for their kids just because it's presumably written by a celebrity?

I shudder to think what's in the rest of their house. Did everything in their kitchen have to be celebrity-endorsed to pass muster?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:12 PM on June 9, 2011


Childless people writing books for children isn't at all cynical or lazy.
posted by basicchannel at 12:51 PM on June 9, 2011


Childless people writing books for children isn't at all cynical or lazy.

The childless author Lauren Child is quite successful.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:09 PM on June 9, 2011


*honestly baffled* How did this get to be about childless children's authors rather than celebrity children's authors?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:49 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like most of us parents of young kids, I read a shipload of kids books (~10 new books a week from the library or so) plus daycare, restaurants, doctor's offices, etc and all the other fun places where kids books get stashed to occupy the little buggers while they wait.

I've tried it, it is super hard.

I have conflicting emotions here. Is it hard to write a great kids book? Definitely. But the thing is, kids don't always like the best books. My daughter (2) loves a book called The Wicked Big Toddlah. It is not a great kids book (imo), but it's relatively funny and the pictures are good. Likewise, see Tacky the Penguin.

Oh and the #1 reason celebrity children books are terrible is that it is blindingly, glaringly obvious they have never read a single (good?) children's book in their (adult?) lives. "I know what! I'll tell the 3 Little Pigs story from the wolf's POV!!! So fresh!"

I found that comment odd. Isn't that basically what made (the aforementioned) Jon Scieszka famous? Or are you subtly hamburgering (I'll listen to that NPR interview) ...

Now Mary Had a Little Lamp I think is fantastic (maybe just too old for her), but while she loved the initial conceit (she's big on changing words), she never wants to read it (just took it back to the library).

Dunno what I'm getting at, but I guess I don't think it's that hard to create a decent kids book that someone somewhere will love. I'm not a great composer, but I make up stories on the fly for my daughter and they are not half bad. If only I could draw ... I guess I'm saying that the illustrations are probably more important than the story/text. (I'm looking at you, Jessie Bear.)

While we're here, anyone have any favorites for young kids (2-4). I like ...

Julia Donaldson - Snail and the Whale, Room on the Broom
Amy Krouse - Little Pea/Little Oink/Little Hoot, Spoon
Richard Scarry - can't really lose here
Laura Joffe Numeroff - Mouse+Cookie, Moose+Muffin, Pig+Pancake, What Mommies Do Best
Marla Frazee - Hush Little Baby, All the World (beautiful illustrations)

My daughter is a big fat scaredycat. I can't wait to read her Tailypo.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:24 PM on June 9, 2011


mrgrimm: "While we're here, anyone have any favorites for young kids (2-4). I like ..."

Books that we loved when Boy was that age, (and even now will sometimes sneak into a story time)

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck and Mark Buehner - Pretty much anything that has Mark Beuhner as an artist, I would buy, even when some of the authors weren't as good as the art...because the art is amazing. There are little hidden things everywhere, it's a wonderful book. His Watilda the Witch is hysterical, even if the rhymes don't quite work.

Shel Silverstien books. (except Giving Tree, which I think is a horrible horrible book...that may just be me) Kids love the rhythm of his poems, and his imagry is easy to understand. It also has that touch of scary that Grimms Bro tales have, but the illustrations make it funny...I've never known a kid that was scared by Shel stories.

Other big format picture books I really liked (and have kept because I'm a sentimental softie):

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood and Don Wood

Where's My Teddy? And Other Stories by Jex Alborough
posted by dejah420 at 9:15 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


While we're here, anyone have any favorites for young kids (2-4).

You need to get yourself acquainted with The Pigeon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2011


Oh, I know the Pigeon. Not really for me. I think those books are too short/young for my daughter now anyway. I've only read 2 (the original and Things that Go), but they seemed like they were for slightly younger kids.

I've never known a kid that was scared by Shel stories.

*raises hand*

Ok, it wasn't the stories, it was those weird drawings. Too chaotically amorphous for me. Also, the cover of Where the Sidewalk Ends is kinda scary if you're afraid of heights. ^_^

And Lafcadio might be one of the saddest kids books I've ever read. Maybe not scary, but very unsettling for me when I was a kid. (Maybe that was the point.)

My Monster Mama Loves Me So and The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear look fantastic. Thanks!
posted by mrgrimm at 2:49 PM on June 10, 2011


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