Lesson 14: Children’s Literature; The Genius of Go the F*** to Sleep
It’s not Dr. Seuss. But Go the F*** to Sleep is extremely powerful, and it’s extremely powerful for an audience who has supported and stomached and loved and memorized-to-the-point-of-loving-slightly-less the canon of (small) children’s literature. After board books, after McSweeney’s Baby Be of Use, but before Judy Blume, the offerings—especially for bedtime—are invariably, necessarily, infused with three things: whimsy, rhyme, and animals. Like the gin, tonic and ice in a perfect martini, these three things are lethal when mixed out of scale. Or when ingested in excess.
But this book is brilliant. Read it, and if you’re a parent you will see why. Its magic is in its outrageous mockery of a completely crucial, magical genre. And it’s magic is in its use of that one word most parents won't use. But they feel it. We tru to speak to our children in the same way that their best books speak us: with metaphors and subtlety and evenness and wit; with hidden rules (no job is small for a train!) and broadly defined pleasures (tickling, Christmas). It is part of the program. We want most books to hew to rule, and boundaries. Yet overtime the rules and the boundaries grow dull for even the most loving reader. In no time, when that reader is exhausted.
Here is an excerpt:
The cats nestle close to their kittens;
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.
Please go the fuck to sleep.
And it gets better. (We forgive the author the misuse of the past tense of “lay," considering the possibility it's an inside joke for exhausted parents.)
The Times considered the book's future like this:
Tom Holbrook, the owner of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H., said that while the concept was “hysterical,” he wondered if readers would hesitate before bringing the book home.
“Do you want it on your coffee table when your mother-in-law comes over?” he said, adding: “I hope it’s a boon for the publisher, they sell a ton and live happily ever after.”
Respectfully, No. GTFTS is manna to young parents. It's cool, smart, and replicable, like so many things our generation has coveted. Next may come a GTFTS ring tone or onesie or video with celebrated, cool narrators. But the book is the product that makes the best statement. The book is the thing we will save, and pass down, to the little ones once they are old enough, at last, to understand.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.