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

Posted August 9th, 2010

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.