Lit Is for Kids

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While at the library, I noticed a book called “Mr. Peabody’s Apples,” written by Madonna. At first I assumed it was a dirty book, since it was written by Madonna and since it was called “Mr. Peabody’s Apples.” But upon immediate and fervent perusal, I discovered it was a children’s book, rather charmingly illustrated and telling a story about why you shouldn’t gossip. I wanted to tell Madonna that if she wouldn’t behave like such a freak, maybe people wouldn’t gossip about her, but maybe she wasn’t thinking of herself when she wrote it. Still, it seems odd that the main character was named Fladonna.

Just kidding. Anyway, Madonna is the latest in a dazzling parade of celebrities who have turned to writing children’s books as a means of expressing their creativity and fostering their burning desire to be extremely wealthy. Sometimes the books are pure whimsy and imagination, with no connection to real incidents, as when Dom Deluise wrote “Charlie the Caterpillar.” Other times, they are autobiographical, as when Dr. Seuss wrote “The Cat in the Hat.”

Look at some of the celebrities who have written children’s books: Carly Simon (“Amy the Dancing Bear”), Jerry Seinfeld (“Halloween”), Billy Crystal (“I Already Knew I Love You”), Prince Charles (“The Old Man of Lochnagar”), and Spike Lee (“Please, Baby, Please,” in which an energetic toddler is begged to please go back to sleep — not whatever you were thinking, perv).

It made me think of a cheap and easy comedy bit, where I would name celebrities and then make up titles for children’s books they might write. I think it might go something like this:

Paris Hilton: “Alice’s Adventures in Underpants”

But then I couldn’t think of any more.

Children’s books have changed somewhat since I was a child. I note that among the current popular titles, which I am not making up, are “Walter the Farting Dog” and “The Day My Butt Went Psycho.” (My friend Randy observed that he could write a book called “The Day My Butt Went Psycho,” based on his gastrointestinal experiences as a missionary in Argentina, but the stories would all end “… and then I had to burn the pants.”) Some of the other popular children’s books involve a character named Harry Potter, who is no Encyclopedia Brown, I can tell you!

I have to assume that writing children’s stories is easy, or else celebrities wouldn’t be doing it. I got a taste of it recently when I was visiting my friends Monty and Claire at just the time their children were going to bed. Their kids are Miles, age 6, who is smart and sedate, and Owen, age 4, who acts like he has bees in his head and the bees are crazy. They also have baby Phoebe, 18 months, who was conceived, tragically, when Monty and Claire were living in England, which means the dozen teeth she has now are probably all she’s getting.

Anyway, Miles and Owen wanted Uncle Eric to tell them a bedtime story, and I happily obliged. Claire told me they like their bedtime stories to center around pirates and, if possible, bubble gum. These seemed like reasonable demands; Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “The Scarlet Letter” under precisely the same strictures. And if I’m not as able a storyteller as Nathaniel Hawthorne, then I don’t know what I am.

So I wove a fanciful tale of how three children named Miles, Owen and Phoebe were on a ship that was boarded by pirates, who turned out to be nice pirates who merely wanted help digging up treasure. I got a big laugh when I said this:

“So Miles said ‘OK’ and Owen said ‘OK’ and Phoebe didn’t say anything, because she can’t talk.”

BIG LAUGH, I tell you. Huge laughter from Miles and Owen. If I could write a stage show centered around that line, and fill the audience with 6- and 4-year-olds, I would kill every night.

The climax of the story was when the pirates and the children found the treasure, dug it up, and opened the chest to reveal — surprise! — bubble gum. This shocking turn of events delighted my audience as thoroughly as if I’d walked in and announced it was raining Spaghetti-O’s. They were giddy with amusement, as if they’d had NO IDEA bubble gum would enter the framework of the story, even though they’d heard their mother tell me up front that it should.

With children being this easy to please, it’s no wonder so many professional entertainers have tried it. Adults are fickle and hard to amuse, but kids sure aren’t. They also don’t judge you — they don’t care if you’re a stinky whore, Madonna, the way I do — they just listen to your story, and if it has pirates and bubble gum (or their equivalents), they respond enthusiastically. Which is why from now on, “Snide Remarks” will consist solely of knock-knock jokes and pictures of monkeys on rollerskates. GET USED TO IT!

The seventh paragraph ("Children's books have changed...") probably should have been omitted, since it interrupts the discussion of celebrities writing books to talk about something else. But I wanted to mention those book titles and Randy's response to "The Day My Butt Went Psycho," and I don't have editors breathing down my neck anymore telling me to "tighten things up" or "get to the point," so I kept it. Take that, The Man!

The made-up names for my friends are getting out of hand, never more so than in this column. Randy is Randy's real name, because if I'd used a pseudonym, it would have badly derailed that sentence to include "(names have been changed)" when I used it, like I usually do. But then I couldn't call Monty and Claire by their real names, because I've mentioned them before and have fairly consistently called them Monty and Claire, rather than Chris and Lisa, which is who they really are. As for Miles, Owen and Phoebe, those are their real names, because I knew when they got old enough to read, they'd be far more delighted to see their real names in print than some made-up ones. I guess the real problem here is that I have such inconsistent standards for when to use or not use fake names for my friends. It's all Luscious Malone's fault, really....

I actually called Lisa to find out how many teeth Phoebe has, by the way. I'm JUST THAT DEDICATED as a journalist.

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