Archive for language

The F***ing Problem with Children’s Literature

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , on June 28, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

Earlier this month, a new children’s book by Adam Mansbach was published called “Go the F*** to Sleep.” The book is crass, angry, and hilarious, beautifully illustrating the struggles of putting a child to bed. And when it’s read by Samuel L. Jackson, the hilarity grows ten-fold. The book switches from peaceful depictions of the world settling down for the night to an exasperated parent wondering why his child won’t just, as the title suggests, go to sleep.

Obviously, this isn’t a book to read to your children. If anything, this is less of a “children’s book” than it is a book for adult to read, relate to, and laugh about. Because if you’re a parent, chances are you’ve had these exact same struggles with putting your child to bed, and if the narrative is to be believed, each parent has thought about saying those exact words to their children. Even Samuel L. Jackson admits it in the opening of the audiobook:

“I did say go the f___ to sleep to her a lot. And I think at some point, she would look at me when I would come in the room, and she would look at me and say, ‘Go the f___ to sleep, Daddy?’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, go the f___ to sleep.'”

Yet some people are missing the joke. Karen Spears Zacharias, in an op-ed column for CNN, chastises the violent language present in the book, saying that it could be really damaging and demeaning to children, causing them great psychological harm.

In all honesty, I get it when people miss the joke. There have been numerous times where I’ve said something in jest, only to have to explain the joke later so that I don’t appear like a total jerk. Perfect example: while on a trip to Norway, I commented, “Of all the ferries to take in this country, why do we have to take the fjord one?” which was a play on the name of the ferry company, Fjord1. I then had to explain the pun to nearly half of the group I was with, because they didn’t like how I was complaining about the accommodations.

Regardless, I understand when people miss the joke. What I don’t understand is this quote from the article: “Imagine if this were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims or Latinos.” The quote comes from Dr. David Arredondo, an expert on child development from San Francisco, and in all honestly, he couldn’t have found a slipperier slope than if he had been driving a truck with bald tires and no brakes down the side of a frozen Niagara Falls.

What if the book were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Latinos? I imagine the book would read something like this: Jews, go the f___ to sleep. Black people, go the f___ to sleep. Muslims, go the f___ to sleep. Latinos, go the f___ to sleep.

The point of the book isn’t to be demeaning or demoralizing to kids. It’s a book for the parents. It’s even expressly stated in the blurb on the back of the book: Go the F*** to Sleep is a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world… beautiful, subversive, and pants-wettingly funny–a book for parents new, old, and expectant. You probably should not read it to your children. (Emphasis added)

The reaction to this book would make one think that this is the first children’s book for adults that’s out there. It’s not. The Amazon page for Go the F*** to Sleep leads to several others of its ilk, such as All My Friends are Dead, about “downside of being everything from a clown to a cassette tape to a zombie”; and the Baby Be of Use series, which includes Baby Fix My Car, Baby Do My Banking, and, my personal favorite title, Baby Get Me Some Lovin’.

The point is, this is not a children’s book. This is a parent’s book, a little comic relief from the otherwise stressful job of caring for another being that is totally dependent on you for everything. Normally, I would ask why this book is such a big deal, but then I remember that we live in a culture where if you aren’t offended, you just didn’t understand it, like some sort of subversive hipster culture.

Zacharias uses her outrage at Go the F*** to Sleep to comment on swearing in the household and the decline in children being read to at night, which, while valid points, are so far from the initial point of the outrage that I wonder how she got there.

I hope for her children’s sake, Zacharias didn’t read this book to her children. Because if she did, her children are totally f___ed.