Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The "C" word. I bought a celebrity book

Step back. Once again, I think that I may have done something that goes against the grain. I don’t do these things for the purpose of drawing attention to myself. I’m just being me. Hold your breath, Now, here it goes: Today, I purchased a children’s picture book. "Big deal. Whoopie!" Right? But, step back a bit further, here goes again: Today, I purchased one of those dreaded celebrity written children’s books! Gasp! —Shhh.

Now, I have to admit, because I’m an artist, most of the books I pick out, I do so because I am attracted to the art. In fact, I don’t actually read many of them. I just drool over the images. That’s the way it’s been for me every since I was a kid. But immediately, I read this book. After hearing so many negative things about celebrity children’s books, I felt I needed some sort of justification for slapping down my $17.50. Then I stood right there in the children’s book section rationalizing why I should, or should not support a book that I, indeed, liked. I mean, I liked the story; I loved the illustrations. But, now I’m gonna be a traitor. Yes, that’s how I felt.

The book I purchased was Marsupial Sue presents The Runaway Panake by John Lithgow, illustrated by Jack E. Davis. Marsupial Sue, the kangaroo-ish star of the book, and her animal friends, put on a play in their neighbor. It’s basically a very creative re-telling of the Gingerbread man. It’s full of little songs, and has a CD with music performed by Lithgow. Jacks illustrations are done in ink and dyes. They are fun, animated and hilarious. I don’t know much about John Lithgow, other than his weird stint on the TV show "3rd Rock from the Sun." But what difference does it make. Because he’s a movie star, he don’t have a right to write a children’s book, should he so desire…or be recruited?

You mean, if at the age of 42, I suddenly decided I wanted to act, and packed up my bags and headed to Hollywood, no one should take me seriously because I’ve illustrated children’s books for the past 20 years? Even if I can act? I can't, but hypothetically speaking.

Now, I’ve heard some of the arguments. Some say, good writers, your average, everyday Joe will get squeezed out the business because publishers are so focused on the Madonna’s of the industry. Some say that most celebrities can’t write, and that publisher’s don’t care. Others say that because celebrities get such high advances, everyday Joe authors won’t get the same marketing attention. I’m sure some of these things may be true. But, I do believe there will always be a market for good writing whether one is a celebrity, or an average Joe. And just because one is an actor or singer, or politician, or sports figure doesn’t mean they can’t write. In fact, aren’t most children’s writers moonlighting as authors? How many of them do you know that write children's books full-time? Now, true, I’ll probably never command tripple-digit advances like those of Madonna, or Jamie Lee Curtis, but I chose my career. I chose to be a commercial artist, not a rock star, or an actor, or a television news anchor. My choices don’t demand multi-million dollar book deals. One might say, "Well, I don’t want to dance onstage wearing nothing but a pointy bra and blonde hair dye like Madonna." Fine, but don’t complain about what Madonna’s making in book advances. I mean, the market pretty much dictates these things. And as far as bad writing goes, isn’t it the job of a good editor to help a story along? Even if the person's name is Katie Couric?

I have to admit, I sort of allowed myself to buy into this whole celebrity snobbery of children’s books. With the exception of a couple Spike Lee/Kadir Nelson selections, I refused to purchase them. But after my discovery of "Marsupial Sue presents The Runaway Pancake," I’m gonna keep my eyes open for children’s books with quality writing, and quality illustrating regardless of how bright the star is behind the book.


Kelly said...

Hi Devas:

The celeb book thing is an interesting phenomenon. But there are some good ones including those written by Lithgow. He's a talented person and writer. Julie Andrews kid books are great too ("Mandy" and "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles") I think it just news that Britney has much to say to youngsters that is hard to swallow :)

There are smart celebs and dumb ones and we can pretty much tell who they are, usually. I, for one, was really disappointed by Madonna's books. I always thought she was talented, but after reading her kids' books I see I was mistaken.

Kelly said...

Oops...I wrote Devas instead of Don. Sorry, Don!

Don Tate II said...

Kelly, I thought her picture books were a bit wordy.I loved the illustrations in most of them.

Varian Johnson said...

No!!!!! You back-stabbing traitor! We're gonna have to revoke your SCBWI membership and confiscate your paintbrushes....

Okay, seriously, being that I'm not even a picture book author, I don't care that you purchased the book. I hope you enjoyed it.

rindambyers said...

I think the people who really are offended by celebrity writers for children really would be SMART to expend their energy on their own creative writing projects rather than wasting it in negative energy with complaining.

Never forget one thing: From the publisher's point of view, celebrity books make money for the publisher. The more money a publisher makes, the better able they are to EXPAND their lists to support and make room for and to risk spending money on non-celebrity, in- comparison-unknown writers--like most of the members in SCBWI. Even including most of the rest of the members of SCBWI, most of whom must still earn money on other jobs because they can't make enough money from their books anyway.

Money makes money makes money in the business world, whether it be Microsoft or publisher of books for children. When you put on your marketing hat as a creator of things that you want to sell...smart folks remember this mantra. Cold, hard, rough, unfair? Hey, wake up to the real world of BIG business. Deal with reality, here.

The ONLY way you can truly compete with celebrity picture books is to write and/or draw better ones of your own.....you HAVE to engage that audience, young and old, if you want to have a hope of getting your stuff sold.

And what was that old saying? "The cream rises to the top?"