A terrible trend has developed in the children’s book industry. Walk into any reputable bookstore, and in the children’s section you will find shelves lined with books written by celebrities. A rock star has written a book about “friends.” An anchorwoman has written a book about a tugboat. A comedian has written a book about holidays. What is the story about, and how well is it written? Who cares. A famous celebrity wrote it, and that’s all that matters.
Children Crave Good Stories
The fact that these celebrity books have become the latest rage is a sad statement about parents in the new century. Children do not buy books; their parents do. Children, especially young children, do not care whether a comedian that their parents watch on T.V. wrote the book they are reading. They don’t care if their mother’s favorite movie star wrote it. No, children crave good stories, words that dance on the page and enlighten them, pictures that inspire their imaginations and feed their dreams. When we choose a book for our child based solely on our admiration for the celebrity author, we are robbing that child of quality literature where the story stands on its own merits. The author’s identity should be secondary to the STORY, and not the other way around.
Publishing Afterthoughts Instead of Dreams
Publishing houses have a limited number of books they will release each year. When celebrities crowd out the better writers, the children’s book industry eventually suffers. Books by better authors… ones whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize… get passed over by editors. I know a great many authors and writers who struggle every day to make wonderful new books for children. Writing for children is their passion—their life’s ambition. And they work very hard at it. I fear that for celebrities, the idea to write a children’s book is more of an afterthought than a passionate dream.
When a celebrity decides, “Hmmm, I think I’ll write a children’s book,” his publicist contacts a publisher, who becomes interested in the possible proceeds of selling a book by a famous person. So right from the beginning, the name of the celebrity is the primary consideration—not the story. An experienced editor then molds the celebrity manuscript into something passable, to get it on the shelves. When this happens, the best writing available is not reaching your children’s eyes, ears, minds, and hearts. Why does this matter? Because your child matters. Your child is the future of our world.
Good Literature Matters
Part of the problem is the erroneous notion that it is “easy” to write a children’s book. Anyone can do it, right? Maybe so. Maybe anyone can write a children’s book. But so very, very few can write good ones. It’s actually quite difficult to do. For twenty years I dreamed of publishing a children’s book in the national market before I finally accomplished it. Ask any non-celebrity children’s book author and he or she will tell you a long, grueling story of the copious rejections received before being published. That author will describe how, even after having a manuscript accepted, there were a maddening number of revisions required to get the story right. Sometimes weeks are spent on a single sentence or word. That’s because words matter, their meanings matter; their ability to precisely convey the proper thought or feeling matters.
Certainly famous people should not be banished from writing children’s books. But I would challenge any famous person who is seriously interested in writing a children’s book to travel the difficult road of rejection and revision that ordinary writers do. I would challenge celebrities to use a penname and enter the murky waters of manuscript submission anonymously to see if their writing makes the grade.
I happen to like Jamie Lee Curtis’s books. I think she’s got a real knack for speaking to children in a way that is naturally humorous and “real.” But she began writing children’s books before it became a trendy notch on celebrity belts. Unfortunately, too many famous people have followed her lead, saturating the market.
Parents, Like YOU, Direct the Children’s Book Market
Why are publishing houses willing to sacrifice good literature for celebrity books? For their own survival. And that is the sad truth. Publishing houses are like any other business. They have to make a profit to continue operating. If parents will purchase books for their children to pay homage to rock stars and movie directors, that’s what publishers will sell.
Ultimately it is YOU, the parent browsing the display tables, who directs the children’s book industry. As a parent, you have a choice. What voice do you want speaking to your children? Do you want someone who promotes risque, open sexuality and gyrates on stage to write your child’s bedtime stories? Ask yourself: Would I buy this book if I had no idea who wrote it? Is it a great story? If you will override laziness and idol-worship and choose books based on your child’s personal interests, based on what really makes his eyes glimmer and his hands clap and his face freeze with curiosity, publishing houses will print those kinds of books. And literature–good literature–will win. More importantly, your child will win.
But do choose books for your child. Choose them often, and choose well.