Celebrities writing children’s books are to the 00’s what celebrities’ “cutting albums” were to the 80’s. (Which reminds me: Thank you, Eddie Murphy, Don Johnson and Bruce Willis for sparing us your Seussian-like literary wisdom so far.)
To me these tossed off afterthoughts of a quick paycheck go far beyond just being your typical annoying celebrity vanity project. They’re a big “screw you” to actual professional children’s book writers. They say, rather defiantly, “See? I can churn out what you do in a matter of hours and still have plenty of time for my ‘real profession’.”
And writing a children’s book is unfortunately a fertile breeding ground for a celeb’s monstrous ego. Because the actual effort one needs to put into creating a lousy picture book (as opposed to a decent one) is virtually nonexistent:
All Madonna needed to do (or pick your favorite celebrity “author”: Jay Leno/Terrell Owens/Tori Spelling/Guy who did the funny voices in the Police Academy movies) was come up with a painfully obvious moral (“don’t eat poisonous mushrooms/ don’t stick crayons up your butt/ don’t de-pants the unpopular kid/don’t roll around in broken glass/ don’t drink out of the sewer”) or any trendy hot-button kids “issue” (“I get bullied at school/I crapped my pants/ my parents are gay/abusive/dead/French”).
If you can’t think of a new topic, you can always just toss together something about saving the sea turtles (Yes, I’m talkin’ to you, Gloria Estefan. Great idea, by the way: let’s teach kids about protecting the environment and saving the sea turtles… and chop down 10,000 trees in order to publish your book.)
Next, scrawl 200 or so words down on a the back of a dry cleaning ticket and send it to your publisher so that they can hire someone with actual talent to illustrate it for you. Before you know it — WHAMO — you’ve got yourself a best-selling children’s book!
And hey, this is impressive: Billy Joel managed to completely avoid writing anything new whatsoever when he crapped out his children’s book. He just hired someone to illustrate the lyrics to New York State of Mind and slapped it in between two covers. (In his defense, I can see how anything Billy does would be a big hit with kids. They may not be aware of his music, but he’s fat and bald with a grey beard, so he kinda looks like Santa.)
If it doesn’t sufficiently feed your ego by having your name plastered across the cover for writing two paragraphs of text, you can always indulge in the latest celebrity children’s book trend — have a child version of yourself as the protagonist of the story.
That’s right, follow along with the adventures of Little Terrell Owens, Little Queen Latifah (actually I’m not certain Queen Latifah ever qualified as”little”), and Little Spike Lee and they’ll teach you how to grow up and be really famous and self-indulgent just like them!
The childhood version of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez will even share with you his credo for success: “No matter what your dreams and goals, you can never go wrong if you give them all you’ve got.”**
(** Even if it involves taking substances banned by Major League Baseball.)
The real question is — why do parents think children want to read these books anyway? The kids have no idea who the author is. No child lays in bed in their footy pajamas and demands “Daddy read me the one written by Mario Cuomo! Then James Carville! And don’t forget my favorite author, Jimmy Carter!”
All that aside, my true rage is reserved for Madonna. Because her children’s book series is called The English Roses (after the accent she adopted sometime in late 1992). And because her books have sold over 5 million copies (which works out to approximately a million copies for each minute it took her to write them.) And because she claims she “had to write them” because she couldn’t find “any decent kid’s books to read my children.”
Yeah, screw Dr. Suess, that hack. You wrote Borderline.