Call it the age of irony, or better yet cynicism, but there seems to be an ever-widening market in children’s books for knockoffs, re-toolings, and profanity-laced versions of time-tested child lit classics. It is difficult, and maybe pointless, to identify exactly when all of this started. Some point to the sensational release earlier this year of “Go the F#@* to Sleep” by Adam Mansbach, the book set in the style of a bedtime story but containing a tone of supreme adult frustration, and liberal usage of F-bombs. But if you dig a little deeper, you can uncover numerous titles that provide a meta, post-ironic, what-have-you take on children’s literature intended to address contemporary life, as well as parental expectations.
Bruce Eric Kaplan, well known for his witty cartoons in The New Yorker, wrote Monsters Eat Whiny Children – a tale that is as much about whiny children as it is about petty and indecisive monsters. In the tale, two whiny children are warned that, if they don’t stop whining, monsters will come and consume them. Well the monsters come, but consumption is delayed, and delayed, and delayed due to the faltering and vacillating of a few hungry, but very irresolute, monsters. In a similar vein, there is Sylviane Donnio’s I’d Really Like To Eat A Child, which peers into a hungry crocodile’s desire to eat, above all else, a child and how it all goes terribly wrong. Both books exploit the taboo of instilling fear into your children, even though such things were the norm of children’s literature a century ago (re-read the original Pinocchio if you want proof).
On the spoof side of things: There are so many one simply cannot keep up. There is Pat the Zombie (a spoof of the popular and very saccharine Pat the Bunny) by Aaron Ximm. There is The Taking Tree: A Selfish Parody by Shrill Travesty (an obvious alias), which is an obvious (and overdue) send up of Shel Silverstein’s classic, The Giving Tree. And in the vein of Go the F#@* to Sleep, there is If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the —- Up? by Marcy Roznick, a parody, aimed at adults, of the 1985 children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. …And there are oh so many versions, send-ups, etc of the Goodnight Moon classic, by Margaret Wise Brown. There was Goodnight Goon, a monster filled version of the classic, and a few years back there was the political take, Goodnight Bush, which took jabs at the then President, George W. Bush, and his cabinet. The newest in this series is the tech savvy bit of cultural critique called, Goodnight iPad, by Ann Droyd (yet another alias). This particular criticism of our plugged in high tech culture, that connects us to everything, but alienates us from one another, comes in loud and clear with a thinly veiled cry to turn off and tune in (see promo video below):
With the success of the aforementioned parodies and send ups on children’s literature, you can be sure that there will be more to follow. So many sacred cows yet to be milked for all of our subversive pleasure. I am sure you could think of 3 or 4 off the top of your head. Feel free to fill in the comment section below with thoughts on this new genre, or ideas of your own that are ripe for parody.