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Adam Mansbach writes 'Seriously, Just Go to Sleep' for the kids

Adam Mansbach's 'Go the F— to Sleep' was fun for adults. 'Seriously, Just Go to Sleep' lets the kids in on the joke. And now he has projects to keep him awake.

April 10, 2012|By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times
  • Adam Mansbach will be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Adam Mansbach will be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. (Matthew L. Kaplan, Spiegel…)

A year ago, Adam Mansbach was an award-winning novelist and aspiring screenwriter wrapping up a two-year teaching job at Rutgers University. That was before his off-color picture book, "Go the F— to Sleep," became an international phenomenon, catapulting the sleep-deprived father of one to the tops of bestseller lists and into the eye of a parenting maelstrom.

Since its publication last June, actor Samuel Jackson and director Werner Herzog have recorded audio versions and Fox 2000 plans to make it into a major motion picture. The book has sold 600,000 copies and has been translated into 36 languages, making Mansbach inadvertently well-versed in foreign-language curse words. And a kid-friendly version of the book, "Seriously, Just Go to Sleep," was released this week.

"Seriously" is published in a larger size more common to picture books that are actually written for children. The new, G-rated version replaces the profanity in the original with less sensational language and subtly alters the illustrations of artist Ricardo Cortés with the addition or removal of animals, objects or individual characters from the ribald bestseller.

Mansbach found that "Go the F— to Sleep," became a polarizing symbol, inspiring a debate among health professionals about the proper way to put children to sleep, criticism from parents who thought the book was meant for kids, even an activist Christian group in New Zealand that attempted to have the book banned.

Still, the most negative aspect about his sudden success was "my own exhaustion and the staggering amount of talking and traveling I had to do," said Mansbach, who spent three months last spring and summer doing at least six hours of interviews per day. "If you're a novelist, as I am in real life, you're usually so desperate for any kind of feedback. But with this book, there was so much attention that it was impossible for me to be adversely affected by the negative stuff."

Mansbach was living in Philadelphia when he was inspired to write "Go the F— to Sleep" "as a joke" based on the "grueling" experience of putting his then-2-year-old daughter to bed. The expletive-laden picture book was presented in stanzas written with escalating frustration about the process. Leading up to its publication, Mansbach said, "My expectations were nonexistent."

Now, the 35-year-old author refers to the book as "gasoline." "It's certainly opened a lot of doors for me," said Mansbach, who, in the last year, has finished an adult novel called "Rage Is Back," to be published by Viking in January; a screenplay titled "Panarea," with Chloë Sevigny attached to star; the graphic novel "Nature of the Beast," released on Soft Skull Press in March; and "Seriously."

He readily acknowledges that, to some, the new children's version will read like nothing more than an attempt to prolong the sensation of the book that made him a media fixture. But Mansbach, who now lives in Berkeley with the mother of his almost-4-year-old, said the idea is "that maybe kids should be let in on the fun here. We got a ton of feedback from parents who said they were reading the book to their kids" without the swear words, he said.

One of those parents was Johnny Temple, founder of Akashic Books in Brooklyn, N.Y., which published "Go the F— to Sleep" and its child-friendly follow-up. Just as "Go the F— to Sleep" was Akashic's first picture book, "Seriously" is the publisher's first children's book. Temple anticipates it will sell between 50,000 and 100,000 copies.

"My kids are 4 and 6, and it was impossible for them to not be cognizant of 'Go the F— to Sleep' since it was such a big deal in our household," Temple said of the bestselling title in Akashic's 15-year history. "They don't get it, but they do understand that it's playful, so I started reading it to them doing spontaneous cleaning up of the language. It really highlighted to me this idea that kids know they're driving their parents crazy. This sleep thing is a game."

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