Booming area of children's books attracts growing list of pop stars

October 22, 1991|By New York Times

In the 1960s and '70s, rock stars had literary pretentions on a grown-up scale. Bob Dylan's "Tarantula," for one, read like an attempt to combine "Finnegans Wake" and Gertrude Stein.

Now, with the graying of the original rock generation, the main literary influences seem to be "The Little Engine That Could" and "Where the Wild Things Are."

A walk through the children's section at bookstores lately feels oddly like a stroll through a music store -- Carly Simon on one shelf, Michael Jackson on another and over in the corner, Jimmy Buffett's latest -- as rock and pop stars cross over in ever greater numbers from adult music to children's literature.

This burst of children's book writing by celebrities is part of an overall boom in children's book publishing that began some eight years ago and shows no signs of waning.

Sales of children's books have more than doubled in the last six years and are expected to hit the $1 billion mark soon as young, educated, financially secure children of the baby-boom generation are having children of their own now and are buying them books.

These are the very buyers publishers are striving to attract with books by musical stars.

"With books like these, parents get as much of a kick out of reading them as the children do," said Stephen Rubin, president of Doubleday, which seems to be the leader in publishing rock-star books for children, counting Carly Simon, Paul Simon and Jackson among its authors.

"When you think about it, it makes perfect sense," said Barbara Fish, an editor at Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, which publishes a book by Livingston Taylor and two by Buffett. "Some songwriters, like Jimmy, are just natural storytellers."

Simon wrote her first book, "Amy the Dancing Bear," as a way to save a story she used to tell her two children, Ben and Sally, who had grown too old to be put to bed with her nighttime tales.

She showed it to her friend Jacqueline Onassis, an editor at Doubleday, who went on to publish three storybooks by the singer.

Stars sometimes use children's books to draw attention to a cause they support.

Bob Weir, guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead, and his sister, Wendy Weir, an illustrator, joined to do "Panther Dream" (Hyperion), a story about the African rain forest, and the book is a lesson in the terminology and ecological problems of the forest. The Weirs are donating the proceeds of the book to support reforestation and educational projects in Africa.

Paul Simon is donating profits from his "At the Zoo" to the Children's Health Fund in New York City.

Some of the books -- like Judy Collins' "My Father" (Little, Brown), David Byrne's "Stay Up Late" (Viking Penguin), Paul Simon's "At the Zoo" (Doubleday), Livingston Taylor's "Pajamas" (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) and Carly Simon's "Fisherman's Song" (Doubleday) -- are pictures set to songs the artists have recorded.

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