Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Rise of the Insensitive Picture Book

Yes, I stole this one from Amazon. You can't really click to look inside!
 It's happened, and some of you will probably remember this. There was an episode of Sex & the City a bazillion years ago when Carrie Bradshaw ended up in a publishing office and pitched a ridiculous idea for a children's book for adults about a little girl named Kathy and her cigarettes. The editor looked at her crossways at first but then started to clue in on the irony and suddenly it became a BRILLIANT idea! One that did not fly, unfortunately.

Now it seems the "ridiculous" idea of children's books--not remotely meant for children and bordering on crass--has come true as evidenced by Adam Manbach's Go the F to Sleep and another book I read last weekend: The Littlest Bitch by David Quinn and Michael Davis.

People are either ok with these books or hate them to the depths of their very souls. Bottom line. End of story. Case closed. Of course, probably unsurprisingly, I am totally fine with it. Easygoing liberal right here! When I first heard about Manbach's Go the F to Sleep I immediately jumped on YouTube and watched a reading of the book and laughed like a maniac. The poetic verse always ending with some derivative of "go the F to sleep" along with the lighthearted, almost whimsical, illustrations hit the perfect note.

Two weeks after Greyson was born, still sleep deprived and recovering from a C-section, I got together with a group of girlfriends from high school. It was the first time we'd all been in the same room since graduation in the late 90s. At this point we have all have kids, husbands or steady "others", and we had plenty to catch up on. I will NEVER forget my friend Crystal's advice and admission that went something like this.

"You will not always like your child. There will be moments when you decidedly dislike your child. Let's face it, at this point in the game he's a stranger who doesn't speak your language and will often scream at you for hours at a time. It's OK not to like him sometimes."

Holy liberation, Batman! Crystal is, like, perfect -- so to hear her say something like this was a lightbulb moment!  There are times in parenthood when every person faces THE FRAYED NERVES (all caps for a very good reason), and that's what Go the F to Sleep really touches on -- those long nights when you've done everything in your power and nothing seems to work. When you give up, doze off, and later find your child sleeping of his or her own accord because they decided it was time. In that way, it's really a preview of the teenage years. Ha!

It's good satire. It works!

The Littlest Bitch is quite a different story. It's about a little girl, mature beyond her years, who is...well...a bitch! She has a business executive mentality from her childhood on up through adulthood. She reads Newsweek in pre-school, counsels her parents on investments, and ends up running her own company. Physically, she never grows, and in fact, as she ages and becomes progressively nastier, she begins to shrink until she disappears in an ironic turn of fate.

There's not so much of the satirical in The Littlest Bitch. It's just funny to say, funny title, funny story, but doesn't ring with the same aching truth that Go the F to Sleep manages to pull off. In this way it was a sub-par "adult" picture book and far less effective for me personally.

So that's it. I suppose my attitudes about this trend speak to my laid back parenting and my realist attitude. My child is a turd sometimes. I'm OK with that. We do our best to raise them super-right, but there are days that are grand and there are moments that suck, and that's what makes it all so memorable and worthwhile. Some of the tongue-in-cheek picture books will succeed in capturing these moments and others just go for an easy joke. I will be interested to see if and how this trend grows in the future. For now, I will be keeping an eye on Adam Mansbach.

Ratings:
Go the F to Sleep - Snuggle
The Littlest Bitch - Skewer

Go the F to Sleep
Pub. Date: June 14, 2011
Publisher: Akashic Books
Format: YouTube video
ISBN-13: 978-1617750250
Source: Also YouTube


The Littlest Bitch
Pub. Date: March 8, 2010
Publisher: Sellers Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1416205685
Source: Read in-store at my local indie: A Real Bookstore



Postscript: And it should be noted that Mansbach is certainly not the first to write a subversive book like this. And there have been many subversive books for children. However, this trend seems to have become one of those media and ideological storms that come around every so often.

14 comments:

  1. I feel half shocked (that would be the prude in me) and half thrilled by Go the F to Sleep. While it's funny, it's sad, too...hopefully no parent ever really reads that to their child! It's better kept for those hours between friends, as you mentioned, when you feel you're really going to pull your hair out.

    Lane Smith's It's A Book as a vaguely similar irreverence for children, and compassion for readers. I loved the ending on that one!

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  2. My best friend had her third baby this week and now has a newborn, 2 year old and 3 year old, so I bought her Please Go the F to Sleep. I thought it was perfectly apt! Like you said though, the reactions to these books can be completely polarizing. I love reading the Amazon reviews for amusement!

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  3. Bellezza, having seen Adam Mansbach interviewed, that was certainly not the intent that it would be read to children. And I would hope any moron who would actually read this to a child is sterile! :D

    This is one of those books for a very high shelf. :) I haven't heard of Lane Smith's book -- will have to check it out!

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  4. Lola, a very apt choice! It's been fun to see the faces of co-workers when they read this one! Ha!

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  5. Love it. I've also seen/read this book and think it's hysterical. In my humble opinion, the people who are really offended by this book are taking themselves too seriously. It's supposed to be funny. It's supposed to be for adults. Relax. :)

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  6. Kate, I couldn't agree more! :)

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  7. This book sure is getting a lot of attention. When I first read it in the store, I was a bit shocked and disturbed. But then I listened to Samuel L. Jackson reading it here and couldn't stop laughing. I remember those long, frustrating nights as if they were yesterday.

    BTW, we have the book coded/shelved in our humor section. NOT in the Children's Dept.!! :)

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  8. I liked Go the F to Sleep too. I thought it was funny and charming, and obviously not meant to read to an actual child. People are so silly freaking out about it. (Katie Roiphe didn't like it. I don't have an official policy of liking everything Katie Roiphe criticizes, but nearly.)

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  9. Les, I think that's a great place to shelve it! LOL Hearing it read aloud is really effective. I haven't heard Jackson's reading, but the reading I did listen to was really good too. The inflection is everything!

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  10. Jenny, right on! Charming indeed. The illustrations crack me up every time. While this poor dad is struggling the kid is hang gliding. Awesome!

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  11. Thanks for today's laugh! As long as those books are i the adult section, we should be fine.

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  12. Thanks for stopping by, aloi! I totally agree. :)

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  13. I can definitely see how Go the F to Sleep would ring with a truer truth (eh, that sounds weird -- but you got me, right?) than The Littlest Bitch. And how funny that you remember that SATC reference! Awesome!

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  14. When my son was a baby and even into his early toddler years I would have LOVED the Go the F to Sleep Book. I'm not offended by it at all. Now that I have a teenager I am waiting for the Wake the F Up book to come out...hmmm, maybe I should write it???

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