Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin & Roz Chast

This is the first really and truly for-kids books I'm reviewing here because I was sent it for review, but I hope not the last. (I want to encourage such behavior, especially when people like Martin and Chast are involved with the project.)

This book is a bit young for my boys -- they're six and nine now, and so not really the target audience for the usual alphabet book. On the other hand, this isn't the usual alphabet book, and is probably aimed at an older audience to begin with. (We'll ignore for the moment the fact that all of these celebrity books-for-kids are really aimed at getting the parents to buy them, and any interest from actual children is a bonus if it happens -- I'm thinking of the books of people like Ray Romano and Jay Leno, among others.)

Steve Martin is not the first person you think of when you're picking a celebrity to write a children's book -- he hasn't shown a whole lot of empathy for little kids in his work, though a lot of his recent movies are "family" comedies. (A family comedy is a big, dumb movie crammed with characters in an attempt to appeal at least a little bit to every single possibly person who might view the movie. As opposed to, say, a good movie that doesn't have anything that flies over little kids' heads or anything that insults the intelligence of adults. That's much more difficult, of course, which is why the first kind of "family comedy" is so dominant.) His writing, in particular, has tended to be arch, sophisticated, and urban -- he's essentially the goy Woody Allen. And this picture book, ostensibly for pre-readers, is in that mode.

In time-honored alphabet picture-book fashion, each double-page spread has a couple of lines of doggerel poetry by Martin, featuring lots and lots of words beginning with that page's featured letter. Chast then provides a large illustration with even more items beginning with that letter.

For example:
Old Ollie the owl owed Owen an oboe
But instead bought him oysters at Osgood's in Soho.
I was not terribly impressed, I'm afraid, and neither were my kids. (They weren't quite bored, but the book didn't really hold their interest, either.) Chast's work could be very good for a kid's book -- she has the energy and specific viewpoint necessary for a successful illustrator for children -- but Martin's words don't really work as a book for kids. He would have been much better served aiming the book at adults (but keeping the kids-book format); that would have fitted his talents and interests better.

Oh, well. I wanted to like this a lot, but that did not end up being the case.

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