|Flanimals by Ricky Gervais, illustrated by Rob Steen|
Few things rub the community of children’s writers up the wrong way more than the announcement of yet another celebrity putting their name to a children’s book. Words & Pictures Co-editor, Claire Watts, considers the debate.
|Chris Hoy's name is the only one that appears on his Flying Fergus series, but he's been open about using a ghostwriter, Joanna Nadin. Illustrations by Clare Elsom|
The truly galling thing, of course, is that celebrity children’s books perpetuate the idea that dashing off a quick children’s book is something anyone can do. That children’s books are somehow lesser than other books. It’s the attitude that all of us children’s writers encounter every time someone says, ‘When are you going to write an adult book?’ It’s there in Mark Gatiss’s throwaway response when people complained that the last season of Sherlock was too complicated: ‘Go and read a children’s book with hard pages if you don’t want to be challenged.’ And this week, in Scarlett Thomas’s toe-curling piece for The Guardian where she tells the reader that though children’s books can never be considered to have any literary merit, writing one was jolly good fun because you get to indulge in completely over the top writing and we should all definitely read hers.
|Whoopi Goldberg is the author of a series called Sugar Plum Ballerinas. Illustrations by Maryn Roos|
The other side of the story
Here’s the thing though. Most books bought for children are bought by adults. Now of course, there are adults like you and me who are invested in the world of children’s literature. We’re up with all the latest releases, we know who wins prizes and we await new releases from our faves with bated breath. When we need to buy a child a present, we relish the prospect of a trip to a bookshop to discover the perfect book.
|Julian Clary's The Bolds, illustrated by David Roberts|
But most adult buyers of children’s books are not like us. A celebrity name on a book or a film or toy tie-in may be the only reason that the present they choose for a child is a book rather than a toy. It may be the only book that person will ever buy. But that book could be the start of a child’s love of books.
We’re right to think of celebrity books as different from the books we write. They draw a lot of attention, certainly, and they soak up a good bit of publishers’ marketing budget. But bear in mind that publishers view them as something different too. Ask yourself how long a celebrity book will last? How many exist in a publisher’s reliable backlist? How many celebrity books do publishers put up for prizes?
|Madonna's The English Roses, published in 2003, and illustrated by Jeffrey Fulvimari|
|And sometimes it works. Children's writers sighed when Walliams produced his first children's book, but he's proved himself more than just another celebrity name. Illustrations by Tony Ross|
Think of these books as bait. Children grow up and – hard though it is to imagine – most people grow out of children’s books. Publishers need to attract new child readers constantly. If one child is lured into reading by an adult buying them a book with a celebrity name on the cover, that’s a victory for children’s books. Those high advances, that massive marketing budget, think of them as an investment in children’s books in general.
I have to admit though, I’m still struggling to imagine who is going to buy a children’s book by George Galloway.