Celebrity books for kids
The world of children’s books has always been accommodating to celebrities with writerly aspirations. Everyone from John Travolta (Propeller One-Way Night Coach: A Fable for All Ages) to Carly Simon (Night Farm) has written books for the junior set. It may have something to do with the fact that luminaries (whether they hire a ghostwriter or not) can gain a bit of literary cred without having to commit to the prospect of writing a full-length novel or memoir. Not to mention the built-in publicity benefits of bookstore signings, ads in The New York Times Book Review, and breakfast chitchat with Reege. At best, there are books like Maria Shriver’s pastel-toned best-seller What’s Heaven, which helps parents explain death to their children. At worst, kids end up with shallow, slapped-together song-lyric reprints like last month’s Kenny Rogers Presents The Greatest, which seemed more like a brochure for his new album than anything else. In any case, the trend isn’t abating: Spike Lee and Jane Seymour, to name just two, have children’s books in the works. Here’s a roundup of the latest offerings.
THE BRAND NEW KID
AUTHOR: Pert Today anchor Katie Couric; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
KIDDIE CONNECTION: Couric has two children, Ellie, 9, and Carrie, 4.
REVIEW: The message — don’t judge others based on appearance — is both good and relevant, considering recent episodes of school violence. Kids will like the giggly character names, vivid illustrations, and lilting rhymes (”At school the next day the kids stopped her and said/You were walking with Lazlo, are you sick in the head?”).
CHECK OUT: Oddball classmate Lazlo S. Gasky, who looks a lot like ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake. Also, the main characters, Ellie McSnelly and Carrie O’Toole, are named after Couric’s daughters.
WHERE DO BALLOONS GO? AN UPLIFTING MYSTERY
AUTHOR: True Lies star Jamie Lee Curtis; illustrated by Laura Cornell
KIDDIE CONNECTION: Curtis has two children, Annie, 13, and Tom, 4.
REVIEW: What happens to balloons when their owners set them free? As the brightly colored orbs encounter everything from power lines to balloon-twisting clowns, the story evolves into a touching metaphor for parents learning to let their kids go. But it’s the witty details in Cornell’s illustrations that make this a multigenerational treat.
CHECK OUT: A wayward balloon visiting the ”Full Circle Spa,” which offers such treatments as ”Puff therapy,” and ”Stretching sessions.”
THE REMARKABLE FARKLE MCBRIDE
AUTHOR: 3rd Rock From the Sun patriarch John Lithgow; illustrated by C.F. Payne
KIDDIE CONNECTION: Lithgow has three children — Ian, 28, Phoebe, 18, and Nathan, 16.
REVIEW: Filled with rhythmic onomatopoeic phrases, Farkle is best read aloud. But the tale of a young musical prodigy who systematically masters, then destroys every instrument, from a flute to an entire percussion section, bears a handy lesson as well: Farkle discovers that music sounds most beautiful when different instruments work together.
CHECK OUT: The expressive, lifelike depictions of Farkle, who was modeled after illustrator C.F. Payne’s son, Evan.
NAOMI JUDD’S GUARDIAN ANGELS
AUTHOR: Country-crooning mama Naomi Judd (along with Don Schlitz and John Jarvis); illustrated by Dan Andreasen
KIDDIE CONNECTION: Judd (mother of bandmate Wynonna, 36, and Double Jeopardy actress Ashley, 32) has two grandchildren, Elijah, 5, and Grace, 4.
REVIEW: A straight reprint of the lyrics to the Judds’ 1990 hit, Guardian Angels is a bit thin storywise. But Andreasen’s lush, evocative artwork (which includes a few depictions of friendly spirits) adds a new dimension to the simple song that encourages children to look to their ancestors for strength.
CHECK OUT: The free CD single that comes with every book.
PENELOPE JANE: A FAIRY’S TALE
AUTHOR: Grammy-winning country star Rosanne Cash; illustrated by G. Brian Karas
KIDDIE CONNECTION: Cash has five children — Hannah, 24, Caitlin, 20, Chelsea, 18, Carrie, 11, and Jake, 18 months.
REVIEW: This quirky adventure about an eyelash-tall fairy named Penelope Jane is filled with illustrations of everything from harnessed turtles to a girl trapped in a mustardy sandwich. While the story of a pixie who saves a grade school from a fire is cute, don’t miss the clever epilogue of ”Fairy Facts,” which include such statistics as ”shoe size: 1/8.”
CHECK OUT: Penelope Jane’s modern family tree, which includes multicultural parents who stay friendly after a divorce.
BUT I WAAANNT IT!
AUTHOR: Radio talk-show diva Dr. Laura Schlessinger; illustrated by Daniel McFeeley
KIDDIE CONNECTION: Schlessinger’s son, Deryk, is 14.
REVIEW: Spoiled, materialistic Sammy causes a scene in a toy store, prompting his mother to buy him a stuffed-animal menagerie. Sammy, realizing that none of his fluffy new possessions make him as happy as his tattered stuffed cat, donates the toys to a children’s hospital. The charity lesson is certainly valuable, and one hopes commercial-crazed kids will remember it come holiday time.
CHECK OUT: McFeeley’s unflattering, downright scary portraits of the tantrum-throwing Sammy, which make Harry Potter‘s Dudley Dursley seem restrained.