If you live outside that Bruce Springsteen-obsessed sliver of the nation sometimes called “New Jersey,” you may have missed the news that The Boss has a kid’s book due out November 4th; a morality tale about a baby gone bad based on his song “Outlaw Pete.” It’s just the most recent attempt by a celebrity to expand their fanbase down into the single digit age range. It’s always fun to see a musician or actor or athlete of whom you’re a fan write for your kids – their books consistently earn 4- and 5-star Amazon ratings – but trust the spoilsports at Kirkus to take a trained critical eye to the efforts. Here’s a list of who hits, who misses and why.
A story by the Rolling Stones axman about his grandfather that’s illustrated by his daughter, Gus And Me is a family affair that celebrates the man who turned Richards on to music (and, presumably, only music).
Kirkus Says: “A beautiful example of artistic bookmaking, a story of family love and lore, and the magic of music personified in a way that’s utterly accessible to children – and their dazzled parents.”
Pop Up is the most vividly illustrated of The Office creator’s 5-book series, which is a taxonomy of absurd monsters who do things like swallow their own hands so they can walk around looking for food they can’t eat because their mouth is full of legs.
Kirkus Says: “The creatures have an initial appeal, but perusal of their written descriptions reveals a mean spirit entirely unleavened by a genuine sense of fun.”
The first in what’s proven to be a pretty consistent side gig for the TV, film and Broadway star, Farkle McBride is one of Lithgow’s 9 kid’s books. It tells the story of a young musician of Lithgowian breadth, who works his way through an orchestra before finding his calling as a conductor.
Kirkus Says: “A welcome debut from an accomplished actor, the remarkable Lithgow … Encore!”
Weirdly written under the unassuming nom de plume of some guy named “Al Yankovic,” Weird Al’s first foray into children’s literature is about a little boy who starts imagining cool things to be when he grows up, and then finds he can’t shut up about it – sort of like the author and pop music.
Kirkus Says: “A disappointing exploration of career options from an entertainer who should know better.”
Essentially an illustrated Tonight Show monologue about a backyard barbecue gone wrong, Jay Leno introduces readers to his overly ambitious father, his perpetually wary mother, the family dog Bruce and his childhood chin. Even as a boy, the thing was majestic.
Kirkus Says: “The tale is told at the top of the authorial lungs, with no modulation in tone whatsoever. What in a cleverer craftsman’s hands could have been a terrifically kid-centered tale of parental foibles becomes a non-stop shout …”
Seinfeld’s entry to the canon is a kid’s book-length riff on his popular bit about Halloween, and how it upends a child’s frequently candy-less world. That is to say, it’s a greater creative effort than all the musicians whose “kid’s books” are just illustrated song lyrics … but not by much.
Kirkus Says: “However well executed, technically, it’s still, deep down, not a book for kids; the stance of the narrative necessarily demands a backward-looking audience, not an audience that’s still living the experience of Halloween.”
A book with the Sesame Street-like premise, Martin can’t resist a slide toward his decidedly idiosyncratic sense of humor. The couplets don’t always make sense, Latin diphthongs complain about their exclusion from the alphabet and there’s a drunk wandering the pages.
Kirkus Says: “This high-profile crossover will slide effortlessly onto bestseller lists, but it’s not likely to win its creators any new adult fans – or child ones. Showing a fine disregard for foolish consistencies like end words that actually rhyme consistently … some of the image choices … skate to the edge of poor taste … Any resemblance to a title for tots is coincidental.”
Published in 2012, A-Rod’s delightful fictionalizing of his experience as a young ball player is inadvertently overshadowed by the title, which unintentionally predicted the poor author’s own baseball future.
Kirkus Says: “Another celebrity offering, but not nearly as bad as it might be … [the] old fashioned picture book colors are a pleasure to look at and will engage young readers who might chafe a bit when the story becomes too preachy.”