Celebrity Children’s Book Authors & the Publishers Who Love Them, Part I

What do I think about celebri­ty children’s book authors? The answer goes under the head­ing of “things that make me crazy.” Where do I begin? Let’s start with qual­i­fi­ca­tions or, more to the point the lack thereof.

For the most part, the celebri­ties who attempt to pen books for chil­dren have no expe­ri­ence in doing so. They have tak­en no cours­es, attend­ed no work­shops, or earned any degrees in children’s lit­er­a­ture. Most, I’ll wager, are unaware that degrees in children’s lit­er­a­ture even exist. Most have lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence in writ­ing, peri­od, whether for adults or chil­dren. They have invest­ed zero time in research­ing the field or in work­ing with chil­dren. In point of fact, the only con­nec­tion they seem to have to children’s lit­er­a­ture is a) hav­ing once been a child who read children’s books, b) hav­ing once giv­en birth to a child and, c) hav­ing read a hand­ful of children’s books as adults. Excuse me, but that in no way qual­i­fies them to cre­ate well-craft­ed books for young readers.

The prob­lem with celebri­ty children’s books is that much of the work is over­ly sim­plis­tic, lack­ing in imag­i­na­tion, or age-inap­pro­pri­ate. Many are all three. There are excep­tions. Jamie Lee Cur­tis and Deb­bie Allen come to mind. Ms. Allen worked with one of my edi­tors, so I have some sense of the lev­el of com­mit­ment she brings to her titles, and her will­ing­ness to do rewrites until she gets a man­u­script right. But again, among celebri­ty authors, she is rare.

Of course, as irri­tat­ed as I get at the very thought of celebri­ty wannabe authors slap­ping on the title as though they have a gen­uine right to it, I am no less miffed that vir­tu­al­ly every­one I meet thinks that writ­ing a children’s book is easy as A,B,C. What does know-how, crafts­man­ship, imag­i­na­tion, edu­ca­tion, or experience—not to men­tion talent—have to do with it? Mind you, if I were to sug­gest that since I’m an avid film buff, and have worked in ama­teur the­ater in my youth, I am pre­pared to star in the next block­buster movie and be paid top dol­lar for my efforts, every­one would laugh. Or how about I go and oper­ate on some­one in the hos­pi­tal? After all, I’ve seen a slew of med­ical dra­mas, read arti­cles on med­ical break­throughs, plus I’ve been sick a time or two myself. That should qual­i­fy me to prac­tice med­i­cine, yes?

Fine. Maybe that exam­ple is too extreme. Let’s say I hang out a carpenter’s shin­gle. I know what good for­tune looks like and I can han­dle a ham­mer and nails. I even trans­formed an antique wood­en soda bot­tle crate into an end table, once. That’s got to count as sub­stan­tial expe­ri­ence, no? NO.

I respect trades­men and crafts­peo­ple, and pro­fes­sion­als of every stripe who have invest­ed study, hardy work, and prac­tice hon­ing their skills in order to earn the right to their titles. But celebri­ties who wake up one day and decide to dash some­thing off and slap on the title “author”? Don’t get me started.

Oh, wait! Too late.

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