Celebrity Authors

Here is a list of seemingly random celebrity names, from all walks of life and in no particular order:

Willie Nelson, Hillary Duff, Kirk Douglass, Steve Martin, Hugh Laurie, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, William Shatner, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Naomi Campbell …

“Whoa there!” you might be thinking, “I know you said random, but this is ridiculous.” I admit it. You have a singer, a comic, a model, an athlete, and several actors both living and dead. What could they possibly have in common?

Answer: they are all novelists. Celebrity authorship is a cottage industry in the book world. There are the obvious memoirs and autobiographies — an endless amount of them. The examples listed above are from the world of fiction, and while I can’t speak for them all, I would not hesitate to recommend Martin, Laurie or Jabar. For this blog post, I am going briefly to venture into a third aspect of celebrity authors: children’s literature.

I am not an expert in children’s literature. I am probably not much of an expert on celebrities for that matter. However, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to scan the shelves of the Dillsburg Area Public Library simply to see how many books we have in this specific subgenre: kids’ books by famous people. Here is a sample of what I found.

1.) Mahalia Mouse Goes to College by John Lithgow. I start my list with this title because I suspect Lithgow might be the least known of the writers I have selected. He is a multifaceted actor best known for his comic turn in the sitcom Third Rock From the Sun. You can get a taste of his acting with this book; it comes with a CD of him reading it.

2.) Dada by Jimmy Fallon. This is what we call a “board book”, designed for toddlers with simple pictures and few words. Much like Fallon’s TV show! No, that’s a cheap shot and I apologize. In fact, I’ve never seen his show since I am of the generation that believes all late night television died with Johnny Carson. As far as I know, Carson never wrote a children’s book, so has no place on this list.

3.) She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton. The subtitle of this book is “13 Women Who Changed the World”. It is quite inspiring and well worth a look. For those who might be concerned, it is relatively free of politics though, quite obviously, a list of only 13 is guaranteed to omit hundreds if not thousands of possible role models.

4.) Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis. The book is exactly as the title says, but Curtis deserves extra mention in that this effort is not a mere one title experiment. She has more than a dozen similar books to her credit. It is also worth noting that both her father (Tony Curtis) and mother (Jane Leigh) are in the club of actors who are also authors.

5.) Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna. Yes, that Madonna. And while I admit that she probably does not rank very high on the list of “celebrities I would trust as babysitters”, the book itself is fine, complete with a nifty little moral lesson. The conclusion states: “Don’t be so quick to judge a person.” I hear you Madonna.

6.) Family Huddle by the Manning Family. More specifically, it is by three Mannings: Peyton, Eli and Archie. For those who are not football fanatics, all three are legendary

NFL quarterbacks. Archie is the father whose football career was cursed by being on bad teams. Eli and Peyton are both two-time Super Bowl winners. As expected, the book is a mini-celebration of family and sports. Very wholesome, highly recommended.

When discussing celebrity authors, there are at least two concerns that have to be addressed.

First, one wonders how much of the book did the VIP really write? There is no straight answer and almost no way of knowing with certainty. It can range from full on traditional authorship, through the use of ghostwriters and co-authors, all the way to never having even read the thing let alone write it.

The second concern is one of quality. I mean, would this book have been published except for the famous name attached to it? I consider it a non-issue. Both the celebrity and the publishing house are brands. Neither would willingly or knowingly do harm to the brand name. In other words, there is a reputation on the line when a book is published, multiple reputations in many cases. By the time a book reaches us humble readiners, it has been through enough quality control that we can deem the book worth sampling if nothing else.

I want to emphasize that these six books are an exceedingly small sample of the celebrity book market, even of the more specialized children’s celebrity book market. Even by limiting a search to the holdings of Dillsburg Area Public Library, I am willing to gamble I could find nearly a hundred more examples. Care to join the hunt?

Craig Magee