Tuesday 8 April 2014

Celebrities writing children's books - Wading into the fray...

Russell Brand. Soon to put his own spin on the Pied Piper of Hamelyn along with the awesome Chris Riddell

Here's a subject we've enjoyed seeing some hoo-ing and hah-ing about over the last few weeks. We didn't exactly help things with our April Fools story about Jeremy Clarkson writing a children's book (can you imagine it?) but one announcement on the same day turned out to be true. Russell Brand is the latest celebrity pitching himself into the children's book arena.

Russell Brand isn't anyone I give a tinker's fig about, but he's erudite (if you've ever seen him destroy a politician on Question Time, you'll know he's a clever stick and a half), he has personality, and he's a one-man PR machine that is - in essence - exactly the sort of person you'd imagine hitting the right note with an awful lot of parents who want to buy books for their kids.

Teaming up with Chris Riddell is a stroke of genius too. Riddell's illustrations are fantastic, and if anyone can dream up twisted alt-reality versions of the Pied Piper et al, Chris is the man for the gig.

If you're a writer and you've been teamed up with this guy, you're on a roll!
This isn't a ringing endorsement of all celebrities who take the 'easy option' of writing for kids though. Writing for children is by no means an easy option. Children are the toughest critics on the planet. They can make or break a brand (no not a Brand!) in the space of a morning's playtime discussion. Similarly, they can be astonishingly driven, inspirational and complimentary if they love what you do, and witheringly insultingly critical if they don't.

Some celebrities mistake endorsement by their own families or kids as some sort of a green light that their stories will be universally accepted by children. Also not the case. Any parent can tell you the number of times their child has nodded approval when shown something or had something read to them and then scampered off to Mummy (or daddy) later on to give the real verdict.

As my sage other half pointed out though, the focus on celebrity writers is always on the quality of the writing (which, in all but a few sacred (Walliams) cases, is normally universally panned or criticised by booky press) and not what it can actually lead to. Imagine all the kids that start off their journey reading "Frankie's Magic Football" and then seek out the far meatier and more satisfying Football Academy series by Tom Palmer. Imagine the kids who read the drecky Willoughby Sisters' glitter-infested fairy princess stuff, but then go on to read real inspirational "Worst Princess" by the fantastically talented team of Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie.

If celebrity writing achieves one thing of worth - engaging reluctant readers - then long may the trend continue.