105 Ways to Give a Book


BACAAs president, I guess, of Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors, I try to live by the code that I created. Namely this:
As BACA members, we will strive to shun celebrity authors in the blogging world... We will, as members, avoid giving undue publicity to celebrity authors, with the possible allowance of subjecting said celebrity authors to scorn and ridicule.
Often I bypass opportunities to mention celebrity work. Other than my initial outrage about Jenna Bush writing a Young Adult book, I’ve remained quiet. At this point I have read the book, Ana’s Story, and the best — and worst — I’ll say is that I no longer believe that a ghost writer was involved.

But occasionally, along comes a book so wrong that I must employ the “scorn and ridicule” part of the BACA code. I’d be doing the community — nay, the nation — a disservice to do any less. It’s even forced me to take the MotherReader offerings to a new level, which you’ll see at the end of the post

The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z!So: The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin and Roz Chast. At first glance, such a wealth of possibility. Good title, for one. Steve Martin is an accomplished author of adult books that are pretty darn good. He’s a funny guy, a former wild and crazy guy. One can assume he’s a person in touch with his inner child.

Apparently, his inner child on hallucenogenic drugs.

I’m sorry, but as a children’s picture book, the book is bad. Bad, bad, bad. The rhymes are nonsensical, but not in that playful way that some writers can pull off. The text is more surreal, with a so-sophisticated tone. It’s hard to even pick the worst, so here’s a fairly random sample:
Clunky Clarissa, all clingy and clueless,
Left California and now she is shoeless.
WTF? On how many levels is this couplet just wrong? I’d say clunky as a body description is pretty disturbing. Clingy and clueless seem pretty adult to me, and shoeless is a pretty random rhyme for the sadly used clueless. Maybe it should have been a tip-off that several of the rhyming dictionaries wouldn’t match the word clueless with anything. Take a hint.

Another stellar writing example:
Pedro the puppy piled poop on his paws
And Papa Dog published his photo because.
Here, the inappropriate nature of this rhyme is supported by the illustration of an angry papa dog scolding Pedro while showing him the magazine cover of him proudly posing with poop on his paws. What kind of weird mixed messages are going on in this household? Can you say long-term therapy?

Which brings us to the illustrations by Roz Chast... Hmmm, don’t know that name. Hold on. Yes, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. Of course, because I’ve always thought, “If only there were more New Yorker cartoons for kids.”

No, no, no! These cartoons are so wrong and sometimes even dreadfully inappropriate for kids. I’ll give her teeny, tiny props for managing to include lots of items in each illustration using the featured letter. But I can’t forgive using a drunk under the letter D. I’m not happy with the misspelled text in the balloon, “Kids! Kome back! Have some kosher kasha! I kovered it in ketchup!” or on a book on the floor, “Inglish for Idiots.” Overall, I hate that the cartoons are definitely from an adult world — even when children are featured — and are presented with a surreal quasi-sophistication that is NOT FOR KIDS.

And yes, I meant to shout that, because one thing that will force me to employ my powers of snark is when people market books to children that are NOT FOR KIDS. And all the BACA sirens are wailing because (1) people are buying this book (how sad), and (2) it would never have been published if it weren’t coming from a celebrity.

Hey, I’m not happy about this myself. I like Steve Martin. I think he’s a talented man — as an actor, yes, but I was also willing to cut him slack as a writer based on his adult books, which were pretty good. Man, he was even awarded at the Kennedy Center Honors last night.

The official CafePress MotherReader store!But I have to say it, and I have to say it loud: BACA OFF KIDS’ LIT! (That goes double for you, Roz Chast.) If you need to say it too, the MotherReader store is now open.

(The post title would be better sung to the tune of “Backstreet’s Back,” just in case you missed the reference.)
Category: 13 comments


Anonymous said...

The writing sounds awful. "Piles of poop?"


Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you, MR. I opened the book in the store the other day out of a sense of duty, and closed it right back up again. Steve Martin, I love you. I will never forget "The Man With Two Brains," "All of Me," and "L.A. Story." You didn't need a children's book writing credit. Why did you do it?

tanita✿davis said...

Just... whoa.
Sirens are definitely wailing. CLUNKY rhyme, clueless Clarissa, drunks with misspellings (!!!) and piles of poop.

I am completely squicked out. As to the question of why he felt the need to write a children's book? Because he knew it'd get published, and he probably figured that everyone would blow sunshine about it -- because it's a children's book after all. Can't a wild and crazy guy write a funfunfunfun children's book??

(I still want to hear your review of Ana's Story.)

Bill said...

I actually listened to the audiobook introduction to Ana's Story (hey, it was a free download from iTunes), and I was reminded why authors do not necessarily make good readers.

And I certainly didn't have any preconceptions dispelled...

Melissa said...

Ah, dear. And I was SO looking forward to it.

Beth said...

You know, I wonder if the authors had no intention of writing a kids book. This could be a marketing screw-up. It does sound like a book for parents.

Kelly Herold said...

Oh, I kind of liked this one--for adults, that is. I gave it a mixed review over at Book Buds a few weeks back. 3 stars for adults, 2 for kids.

I appreciated some of the wackiness and the searching for something new. Did the world need this book though? Um, no.

Anonymous said...

OMG! BACA WEAR!!! You have made my week, MotherReader. Way to stay true to the code.

Bkbuds said...

Oh, thank God. I really thought I was alone in hating it. And you even noticed the drunk too. I was fuming over that one.

I ranted over at Good Reads about it but felt like no one heard me.

IT SUCKS, folks. I second MotherReader on that one. Loudly.

Bill said...

Okay, so I finally got to read this book. And I suppose part of me can understand how some adults might find it interesting — but in a sort of, "Oh, I'm so urbane and sophisticated," kind of way.

But any alphabet book that makes offhand reference to Zeno's paradox (as if that's a matter of everyday discussion amongst the preschool set) can pretty much give up any pretense of being a children's book.

And the bit about Martin's inner child being on hallucinogenic drugs? Right on the money. Even our eleven-year-old found it "disturbing."

MotherReader said...

Kelly, I'll leave you to like it for adults, I couldn't enjoy it at all. But then again, you are super-smart and probably do read the New Yorker and get the cartoons. ;^)

Looking back, I should have known that this book wasn't for me from the press letter: "Where's the borscht? Can you find the chutney? How many hunchbacks are hidden in the hare's hairdo? Where's the ad for Molotov Mustard?" Give me a break. Then it goes on in the next paragraph to call it (my italics) "a smart, laugh-inducing introduction to the alphabet for young children." No more A is for Apple, that's for sure.

And I may have to review Ana's Story, later because there's lots of material ripe for snark in there.

Sam said...

Got to jump in to beg respect for the INCREDIBLE Roz Chast.

She is a kung fu mic-rocker in so many ways and, whatever you think of the text, she illustrated the heck out of it.

MotherReader said...

Sam, I gave her props for illustrating and including as many of the item with the correct letter in the picture. However, a drunk is not an appropriate illustration for a preschool book. I don't like "creative spellings" in kids books either. And just overall, I don't think that the illustrations or text is for kids. It reads more like a satire of an alphabet book but that's not how it's being promoted.