Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The talent trap

I would like nothing more than the opportunity to fall into this trap someday, but until then I will enjoy the privilege of the unfamous to carp about those who are hugely successful...

The trap is that of having to live up to success. The pressure to keep the money-makers -- er, I mean books -- coming seems to catch up with almost every bestselling author. Despite what I believe to be the best intentions of truly talented authors, some of their less-than-stellar efforts make their way into print.

One picture book example I read recently was A Chair for Always by Vera B. Williams, another sequel (the third, I think) to the lovely A Chair for My Mother. It has some of the same charms, including the lovable characters of Rosa and her extended family. But I found its two plots -- a new baby in the family and the possibility that The Chair might need to be recovered -- cumbersome. It was almost self-consciously heartwarming. There's a big cast, too. If you weren't familiar with the family already, I think you'd get lost.

Another example was Would I Trade My Parents? by Laura Numeroff and James Bernardin. Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is great fun and some of its spinoffs manage to capture that same wonderful absurdity. But while this book addresses a question that I bet most children have considered and shows a wide diversity of families, it has no story arc, no surprises, no real humor. I welcome the message that there are lots of ways for families to be happy and lots of different kinds of good parents, yet I found the story dry.

(I didn't notice until I added the covers to this post that they have similar designs -- the central child character surrounded by the many adult characters. Interesting coincidence.)

So I'm putting this out there for the future. When I become a household name for my many No. 1 bestsellers, feel free to let me know when an effort isn't up to my usual standards. Consider this post permission to call me on it.

 As if.