I’m not a children’s author (although I might be some day). But in years and years of consuming entertainment meant for kids – and for the past seven years being the parent of small kids – the one thing I’ve learned is that you shouldn’t talk down to the kids, and you should always remember that there’s probably an adult either reading the story or viewing the program/film alongside those who fit the primary demographic.
This isn’t a children’s book, but Go The Fuck to Sleep is certainly written and illustrated to reflect that genre, and is most certainly aimed ONLY at the parents of those kids who seem to fight sleep like a cat fights a bath – biting, clawing, hissing, spitting and caterwauling included.
The spin that author Adam Mansbach and illustrator Ricardo Cortes put on this kids book paradigm (there’s a word you won’t see me use often) was sheer brilliance from both a humor and marketing standpoint. And in spite of (and probably directly because of) it’s lewd title, it has shot to the top of many to-buy or have-bought lists. It gives grown-ups what we’ve always gotten from the best kids shows. Looney Toons weren’t originally intended for kids and often reflected some more adult themes. Today, one episode of Phineas & Ferb can contain more grown-up in-jokes than one mind can even process.
Mansbach is likely all too aware of that, and so he wrote a “kids” book aimed solely at adults. Did it pay off? Let’s just say this: at the moment I write this, it sits confidently atop Amazon’s sales rankings for not just the parenting or humor category, but among all the books Amazon sells lumped together.
The lessons in this are two: First, never forget that some adult has to serve as the intermediary for kids to enjoy much of their entertainment, so it should, at some level, appeal to them, too. While GTFTS is only for grown-ups, it takes that truism to the farthest extent.
The second lesson is that you shouldn’t abandon your “nutty” ideas. This guy is a dad who secretly thought the very words of his title – just like zillions of other parents – and instead of silently stewing about it turned it into something creative and brilliant and now universally popular.
My nutty ideas for ID were kicking around in my head long before I wrote a word. I’d sit in my Methodist Church youth group as a teen and silently mock the self-righteous counselors who would try to steer me down a path I thought was theologically bogus. I bore early suspicion for televangelists. I internalized the injustices of the newsroom and elsewhere in the working world and sat amused as Baby Boomers tried their darndest to deny the truth of time’s passage. And it all spilled out onto the page.
It’s that stuff – the secret angers, aggravations, resentments and amusements – that give good fiction its soul and brings the characters and situations alive. And even though it’s small and funny and totally inappropriate for kids, Go The Fuck to Sleep deeply reflects those parental frustrations that are at the core of raising young kids. And for that the book deserves to be on top.