the guide

What Celebrity-Penned Children’s Books Tell Us About Their Authors

Nobody knows much about most children’s book authors, and as such, reading parents don’t bring anything to the stories except a love of peppy pictures and innocent text. Even a book as ubiquitous as, say, Goodnight, Moon, doesn’t elicit knowing theories on why Margaret Wise Brown was so hung up with mittens and mush. Not so with the many celebrities who’ve penned children’s literature. This month, Tori Spelling contributes her own entry to the growing genre: Presenting … Tallulah, a story about a beautiful girl who’s rejected and misunderstood because of her parents’s enormous wealth. Knowing so much about the personal lives of Spelling and other star authors, it’s hard not to read their whimsical tales as either autobiography, subconscious revelation, or wish fulfillment. We read between the sing-song lines of Spelling’s book and ten others.

Synopsis: Farm goose Lucy Goosy wants to throw a birthday party for herself, but finds egregious fault with every single animal she considers inviting. After Lucy spends 22 pages rattling off her friends’ personality defects, the Wise Old Owl convinces her to invite all the animals anyway, since it will make for a better party. Excerpt: Sheep is too dumb, so I’d like to ask Horse But all he does is graze on green grass, of course. No one is worse than that messy Raccoon. Except maybe Fox, who just howls at the moon. What it says about the author: This feels like it was a metaphor for the day when her Today show producer convinced her that it was okay to have unmarried mothers and Jersey Shore castmates on her show.
Synopsis: Ruby, a sloppy, ill-mannered little girl who wears tutus over her soccer cleats, must learn to behave better when she’s inexplicably invited to have tea with the Queen. Excerpt: “I’ve been invited to have tea with the Queen!” “Ruby, I hope you will say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when you have tea with … the Queen!” “I’ve been invited to have tea with the Queen!” “Ruby, I hope you won’t talk when you shouldn’t when you have tea with … the Queen!” What it says about the author: Fergie is hoping to save the younger generation from her own mistakes. We assume the sequel will go something like, “Ruby, I hope you won’t get drunk and sell the Prince’s phone number when you have tea with … the Queen!”
Synopsis: After helping his dad build a new rotisserie for a big family dinner, little Jay Leno wants really badly to taste the roasting meat, but his mom won’t let him and he’s too short to reach it, so he pulls out his plastic comb and uses it to taste the meat drippings, but then on his fourth pass, the comb gets stuck and melts into the roast beef and his dad can’t cut the meat so he throws it out the window and the dog catches it and the whole anecdote just keeps going on and on and on … Excerpt: Dad picks up the roast beef like a football and throws it out the window. Everybody is just standing there, mouths open, stunned … or maybe just hungry. What it says about the author: Jay Leno’s habit of taking things that aren’t his and ruining them for everybody else began earlier than we thought.
Synopsis: Dedicated “for my mother, Janet Leigh,” this heart-tugger is told from the perspective of a child who believes her mother is responsible for everything good in the world (from growing the food to writing the books), and can literally do no wrong. Excerpt: My mommy hung the moon She tied it with string My mommy’s good at everything. What it says about the author: Curtis likely wrote this book to hand to her children on the day they decide to see You Again.
Synopsis: Despite all evidence to the contrary, the story’s young heroine believes she is a fairy princess (“I feel it inside!”) and insists on imbuing every part of her daily routine with some sort of princess-y panache. Excerpt: My brother, Stewart, says fairy princesses Don’t wear sneakers and don’t have scabby knees. I say sneakers help me practice my flying skills, especially when We’re late for the school bus, and scabs Are the price you pay. What it says about the author: Now in her 70s, Andrews has decided that it’s hopeless to fight it: If three generations of people think she’s magical, acting and writing like a fairy godmother at all times will make life a lot simpler.
Synopsis: Little blonde Tallulah doesn’t fit in at school because of her expensive handbags, her diamond jewelry, and the limo that drops her off every day (at her father’s insistence). After willfully getting her clothes messy one day, she finds happiness with a rich boy and a puppy. Excerpt: When lunchtime came, one of the boys in the cafeteria spilled his milk on purpose. A girl dumped her potato chips on someone’s head. But when Tallulah started to throw her smoked salmon roll, the teacher stopped her. “I’m surprised at you. Girls like you don’t throw food,” said the teacher. What it says about the author: On this one, we’re stumped. Tallulah’s story bears no resemblance to Tori Spelling’s life whatsoever.
Synopsis: Freckleface Strawberry is an adorable redhead whose friends endlessly mock her Irish complexion. When she can’t get rid of the freckles, she dons a ski mask so no one can see her embarrassing face. The last page shows a grown-up Freckleface who ostensibly lived “happily ever after,” but is in fact obsessively checking her son for emerging freckles. Excerpt: She needed to get rid of her freckles – fast. She tried scrubbing them. She tried lemon juice. She even tried markers, but her mom got mad. Nothing worked. If she couldn’t make her freckles go away, she would just have to hide. What it says about the author: Apparently, the reason Julianne Moore is naked in every movie is that she’s trying to distract us from her freckled face. Given the limited options here, we are so glad she decided against the ski mask.
Synopsis: When little Tommy Tittlebottom notices his Little League coach, Mr. Peabody, taking an apple from Mr. Funkadeli’s grocery store without paying for it, he tells his friends and parents. Pretty soon, the entire town has ostracized Mr. Peabody for being an apple thief (although he actually pays for his apples in advance). To teach Tommy a lesson, Mr. Peabody cuts open a pillow in the wind, then tells the boy to pick up the thousand feathers. Excerpt: Tommy frowned. I don’t think it’s possible to pick up all the feathers,” Tommy replied. It would be just as impossible to undo the damage that you have done for spreading the rumor that I am a thief,” said Mr. Peabody. What it says about the author: Madonna would like you to know that if you gossip about her, you will be karmically punished. (Also, she apparently believes that those of us with last names have ones like “Tittlebottom” and “Funkadeli.”)
Synopsis: Seinfeld describes his childhood memories of Halloween: the mask that didn’t let him breathe, the “cheap corduroy, phony fur” jacket he had to wear over his Superman costume, and his attempts to get candy from “those fools who are so stupidly giving it away.” Excerpt: Remember the rubber band on the back of those masks? That was a quality item. Thinnest gray rubber in the world. It was good for about ten seconds before it snapped out of that cheap little staple they put in there. You go to the first house, “Trick or… SNAP! It broke, I don’t believe it!” What it says about the author: For bedtime stories, Jerry’s kids get twenty-year-old stand-up material.
Synopsis: When Wirral the squirrel’s woodland home falls to developers, he sets out to find a new home. His travels take him to the big city, where he immediately makes friends, including street-smart rat named Ratsy. Soon it becomes clear that the city is a den of corruption, so Wirral and his new companions set out to find the mythical island of Animalia. Excerpt: “It’s slave labor,” Wilhamina [a red squirrel] explains. “The poor animals in the Styx work to make the city dwellers even richer. The very poorest of them never even get to leave the factories at all. They’re prisoners.” “If only we could get everyone to Animalia,” Wirral mutters, the rage growing inside him. What it says about the author: McCartney never met a medley he didn’t like, hence grafting Midnight Cowboy to Watership Down.
Synopsis: An encyclopedic guide to the Flanimals, a species of slimy monstrosities with names like Coddleflop and Plumboid Doppler. Excerpt: Wobboid Mump: One of the most useless organisms in the universe. It is basically an eye in jelly. It spends most of its time looking around trying to find a reason in its existence. It never finds it, as it is blind. Blimble Sprent: This creature sprints around blimbly in every direction, always avoiding its destination. After it’s been around in circles for many miles, it dies from exhaustion in the exact place it started. What it says about the author: Ricky Gervais sees the universe as a cold, heartless place where the only thing between us and despair is funny names.
What Celebrity-Penned Children’s Books Tell Us About Their Authors