Monday, September 01, 2008

Um, Wow.

No, really.

Big A little a posted a BACA alert about an upcoming children's book by Jools Oliver, wife of Jamie Oliver.

But first, the article is ... just... wow. It's this flowery over the top article with photos of Jools walking in fields and is full of quotes that are, well, seriously? If you're tired of Twilight wank, read this. It is equally amusing, from the writer needing to explain that her name is actually a nickname to describing the toys in her home. Also? Her husband doesn't like it when she dresses "tartily" and she has very clear opinions on the future sex lives of her children, now five and six. Both comments, of course, fit perfectly in an article about a book for young children.

Now, on to the book! (oh, and it may be tough, but read the entire article, because at the end? book excerpt.)

The most disturbing bit comes not from Jools, but from the author of the article saying that "Detractors might regard Jools's book (and her lifestyle, perhaps) as too privileged, too middle-class and too, well, English for modern, politically correct, multicultural Britain, but the 33-year-old wife of celebrity chef and national treasure Jamie Oliver is adamant that Dotty and Bluebell (loosely based on her own girls) reflect reality for a great many children today".

I'm pretty much reading this as meaning that books that acknowledge that not every child in England is white, rich, and Christian have basically ruined children's books. That somehow the working class families, or the families that are immigrants or second, third, or more generation of immigrants, or families who don't send their kids to boarding school, or fill in the blank for the kiddies who are not being raised as the Famous Five were, are not "normal." Let me be clear: Jools is not quoted as saying this. But I'm disturbed that the author of the article says it, and that the people in the comments jump on it. (Let's not even get into the implication that Jools's lifestyle is middle class.)

It also amuses me as much as it disturbs me, because, as John Dougherty recently pointed out, the Famous Five came from a dysfunctional family, where the children rarely saw their parents and got shipped out to an uncle they had never met without a by your leave.

Back to Jools. Jools take is really nothing new: her quotes are all "oh noes there are no good books like Enid Blyton for my five and six year old to read so I had to write them myself." Jools mentions how books with bad grammar and books lacking plots about "normal" girls like hers have forced her to write her own books.

Just once, I want a celebrity author to say, "you know, as I was reading with my kids, I fell in love with children's books, and rediscovered just how awesome children's books are" or something like that, rather than "the books suck, so I was forced to write."

Sigh. It would be just too easy to start the booklist to give to Jools to show her all the great books that are out there. Because I do get what she means: she wants a book with a kid friendly adventure.

There is nothing wrong with what she wants to read to her kids. What is wrong is that it becomes "what I read as a kid was the best! what is out now sucks!" which is basically the mantra of so many people who complain about books.. Which is a whole other post - the viewing of the past in a rosey light, while viewing the present in a bleak light. There appears to be an outright refusal to see the value in The Penderwicks, the Casson family, Clementine, etc.

Optimistically speaking, I'd like to believe that Jools just doesn't know about the other books out there. Which is why I've decided to start a consulting service:

Librarian to Celebrities.
Having trouble finding good books for your kids?
Wondering if you will have to be driven to write a book?
Never fear!
Call me!
In no time at all, you'll have a huge pile of books that your son or daughter will love!

Note to self: Post on Craig's List. Charge $500 an hour.


Marcia said...

Just once, I want a celebrity author to say, "you know, as I was reading with my kids, I fell in love with children's books, and rediscovered just how awesome children's books are" or something like that, rather than "the books suck, so I was forced to write."

So true. You wondered about the flowery article and irrelevant comments. But you see, this is not a writer. This is a celebrity who jumped on the children's book bandwagon, and it's just another blip in her public life.

Kelly said...

Do it, Liz! You'd be a great consultant and maybe you'd save the world from more Dottys and Bluebells.

tanita✿davis said...

Yeah, I read that, and I was just thinking, SHEESH, is she nuts!? I mean, we knew Madonna was a few planks short, but this inoffensive, basically silent women -- is suddenly in the limelight, strolling through the fields being bloody offensive.


Jen Robinson said...

Well, I never heard of Jamie Oliver, so it's not like these are HUGE celebrities, either.

But I like the consulting service idea, Liz. You could do the world a public service AND make some money. A win-win if I ever heard of one.

Sarah Miller said...

Gah, nevermind the book, I'm creeped out by her la-di-dah, life-is-so-perfect description of she happily smothers her little darlings with weapons-grade hand soap and squelches all their playdates. Being that overprotective isn't cute, it's...*shudders* I don't care what she says, that whole article screams UNHAPPY WOMAN to me.

Anonymous said...

Serious question, though:

I loved Edward Eager. I read them to my kids. White-bread world with a little magic to read aloud to five and six year olds who are used to listening for forty minutes at a time to a book that lasts a week or more. What else do you recommend? Notice that I said white-Bread-- the characters certainly don't have to be white, something else would be nice, but the story is about the magic nickel, or the fairly tame trip through time. It's not about the divorce, the growing up without a father, the loan-shark down the street, or being beaten up by the other kids. Most of the fantasy/magical realism, that I have found is for older readers and has a dark--this-is-the-ugly-real-world-- side. I'm looking for the more gentle stuff for to read in the presence of even younger siblings. It's too late for my kids (alas, they were long ago lost to the animorphs and spend waaay to much time reading dragonlance books, but you know, what can you do?), but I have nephews coming along with parents who read to them, developing that taste for old-fashioned books.

Liz B said...

Anon, I've been reading mostly YA recently so I've got to put on my thinking cap. In the meanwhile, Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins and its sequel, Toy Dance Party, would, I think, be a great fit. There is humor for older kids, yet works well with little kids. The only people it wouldn't work for are those who get seriously creeped out by the idea of toys coming to life when you're not in the room. And, it's a chapter books with some illustrations, so works well for a longer night-time read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'll keep checking back in case you think of anything else, but I'll put the Jenkins on the present-list.

Stasia D said...

Well said. There are SO many great books being published these days...

For anon...besides the books mentioned in your article (Penderwicks et al)The Meanest Doll in the World, by Martin has been popular with my
2nd and 3rd grade boys and girls.

Anonymous said...

I saw the article and my first thought was that the woman needs a therapist, not a consultant. And she can't be paying too close attention to what her children want to read, because kids rarely want to read about a situation exactly like their own...

I rather get the impression that she's found herself all of a sudden married to a celebrity who loves the busy-ness and limelight, and her own plans of a quiet life at home have been torpedoed, so she's trying to exert some sort of control however she can -- and it extends to writing (and getting published...) her own books and her vision of her daughters' lives ten-plus years on.

She strikes me as rather sad and desperate, and she needs someone helpful to talk to, but not features writers who'll egg her on to talk too much (her fears about his affairs, the hopes for more babies, IVF -- all the stuff that should be private, for Pete's sake) and suggest photo shoots with gauzy dresses. Oy.

For Anonymous's nephew -- Roald Dahl, E. Nesbit ("Five Children and It", "Story of the Treasure Seekers", "Enchanted Castle"), "Phantom Tollbooth".

Liz B said...

Anon's post got me thinking. I've heard what Anon has said in various forms before, oldfashioned books where "it's not about the divorce, the growing up without a father." So in other words, The Famous Five are OK because while the parents disappear, the kids don't care.

Mrs Drew being dead, is OK, because Nancy never cries in her pillow about Mommy being dead.

Anne Shirley mourns her parents enough to remember them both when naming her children, but for the most part her concern is making a life in the here and now.

The parents have to be gotten rid of in a book in order to have the story go forward. I wonder if the present day books that have the kids more bothered by dead and missing parents is not a reflection of things being "realistic" for the kids, but, rather, a reflection of adults no longer wanting to admit that they could disappear from a child's life and the child not care?

Gregor the Overlander, for example, great book. But I don't know if it would suit Anon, because Gregor's father is missing and the family is definately damaged by the loss of Dad.

I read a book several years ago (one by Norma Johnston, I forget the title) and it was widowed Mom. I still remember how -- cold -- the loss of Dad was. It was very, oh he's been dead for so long we all are fine now, on with the story!

sheila said...

I wonder if the present day books that have the kids more bothered by dead and missing parents is not a reflection of things being "realistic" for the kids, but, rather, a reflection of adults no longer wanting to admit that they could disappear from a child's life and the child not care?
I like this explanation a lot, better than hearing people complain that the adults are always MIA in kids' books. I LOVED having the adults MIA in books when I was a kid, because then I could easily insert myself into the story without having to abandon my RL parents. Just think: tons of danger and adventure and no one around to nag about meals and clean underwear (Magic Tree House, anyone?).

I really like Jamie Oliver and anyone who has followed his career knows about the complicated and slightly uneven relationship his wife has with him, so the fact that she's written a book to rival Madonna's (or Jerry Seinfeld's wife's) makes me feel a little sorrier for her than I used to. Becky's right - she needs a therapist more than a book deal.