Profane picture books make fun out of a parent’s pains
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a hit bedtime book series not meant for children.
Jeffrey Brown has the story.
And a note in advance: It contains profane language we have bleeped out.
JEFFREY BROWN: It begins so tender and sweet.
BRYAN CRANSTON, Actor: The bunnies are munching on carrots. The lambs nibble grasses and bleat. I know you're too hungry to reason with, but you have to (EXPLETIVE) eat.
JEFFREY BROWN: But it ends with a word we can't use on the air.
BRYAN CRANSTON: Oh, now you're hungry.
JEFFREY BROWN: It's the voice of actor Bryan Cranston, he of "Breaking Bad" fame, reading the words of frustrated father Adam Mansbach.
ADAM MANSBACH, Author: The sunrise is golden and lovely. The birds chirp and twitter and tweet. You woke me and asked for some breakfast. So why the (EXPLETIVE) won't you eat?
JEFFREY BROWN: Mansbach was known as the author of several critically acclaimed novels, until a little ditty he published in 2012 titled "Go the 'Blank' to Sleep" became a surprise huge bestseller.
The audio version that time was by the master of profanities, Samuel L. Jackson.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON, Actor: I will read you one very last book if you swear you will go the (EXPLETIVE) to sleep.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mansbach joined us recently in his old neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. He now lives in Berkeley, California, with his 6-year-old daughter, Vivien, 12, in many ways the instigator of all this.
All right, so there you were. You had written several novels, right, and making a name for yourself in that world, and what happened?
ADAM MANSBACH: What happened is, my daughter turned two-and-a-half and…
JEFFREY BROWN: And that was it?
ADAM MANSBACH: That was it, yes.
ADAM MANSBACH: I made a joke about writing a book called "Go the F. to Sleep." And as I continued to make the joke, it occurred to me that I knew how to write that book, how that book would sort of play off of the existing canon of bedtime literature and intervene sort of a parental monologue with the traditional sort of anodyne children's rhymes.
JEFFREY BROWN: But it is not intended to be read to children?
ADAM MANSBACH: No, it's not.
JEFFREY BROWN: No.
ADAM MANSBACH: Like most things with the F-word in the title, it is not meant for children.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so what is it? Is it a parenting book? Is it just for parents to have a release or to have a laugh? Or how do you see it?
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes. Yes.
I think it's about having a laugh and some catharsis, and also realizing that you're not alone. To know that other parents feel the same way and are thinking the same words, and it doesn't make you a bad parent, I think was really important for a lot of people.
JEFFREY BROWN: The criticism of sort of contributing to a vulgarity of the culture, right?
ADAM MANSBACH: Sure.
JEFFREY BROWN: There is that, sort of putting profanity into the children's literature.
ADAM MANSBACH: Right. Well, yes, that was a criticism.
And, first of all, I would like to point out that it is not children's literature. So, what you ultimately have to accuse me of, if anything, is injecting profanity into the realm of adult literature, in which there is nothing new about profanity in adult literature.
JEFFREY BROWN: You're OK with that.
ADAM MANSBACH: And, really, if you look at the history of lullabies, even, this is a pretty safe and gentle one by the standards set.
You know, "Rock-a-Bye Baby" is a terrifying book. I would never read that to a child. I don't suggest you read these books to kids, but I think they would be far less scarring than like anything Hans Christian Andersen ever wrote.
JEFFREY BROWN: Sleeping and now eating.
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, you are picking sort of two fundamental areas of parenting.
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes.
And that's certainly the idea, was to pick something that was as universal a frustration and has as much, possibly more sort of nuances to it than the sleep battle, which takes place in that one room. The eating battle takes place over the course of the day in many locations.
So, in a sense, there are more scenes and lends itself to a book that is a little more diverse, a little easier to write in some ways, because there are these moments throughout the day that you engage in this battle.
JEFFREY BROWN: How much of this is based on your own experience?
ADAM MANSBACH: The sleep book is entirely based on my own experience, because that was a big problem for my daughter.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. You feel it?
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes, it was very genuine, and written with no filters and no expectations, so it just came right out.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
ADAM MANSBACH: The eating book is based on personal experience, but mostly these are things I have experienced occasionally with my daughter.
It's not like the same kind of consistency. The pitch of that battle is not the same. She's done all those things, but she's done them occasionally or serially.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are you surprised by what has happened?
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes, I'm flabbergasted.
I remember very distinctly being totally tickled that the book was even going to be published by a small house in Brooklyn. Like, that in itself felt insane to me. So, then to see the book take off and do what it's done…
JEFFREY BROWN: It's a little different than writing novels.
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes, very different.
JEFFREY BROWN: In terms of attention and sales.
ADAM MANSBACH: Yes, attention, sales, money per word, all these things.
JEFFREY BROWN: What do you tell your kid, by the way? What do you tell your daughter? Does she know these books now?
ADAM MANSBACH: She knows all about these books, particularly now, with this second book. She watched it come into being.
She watched the illustrations come in. A lot of the kids in the book are friends of hers. She's on the cover of the book and on several pages. She's intrigued with the notion of fame, particularly her own fame, which has no effect of her life, but she's cognizant of the fact that a lot of people have seen these books.
The most unimpressive job in the world to a kid is writer. Like, if you tell a kid you're a writer, you write books, they look at you like, I write books. I wrote three books this week.
ADAM MANSBACH: But it's sort of finally dawning on my daughter that writer might be a real job.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Adam Mansbach, thanks so much.
ADAM MANSBACH: Thank you.