why does it exist

On some level, I get the appeal of personalized children’s books. The idea is that your child sees his or her name in print, they get excited, they get engaged… I get that concept. I’ll even admit that I’ve seen the concept work before – my wife once read through an entire Roald Dahl novel, switching out the name of the lead character for my daughter’s name (they’re similar names), and my daughter loved it. So I understand why there’s a whole cottage industry of companies that specialize in personalizing children’s books. The concept is appealing – I can definitely see why it’s such a popular baby shower gift item. The concept seems sound. I just, personally, haven’t seen it done well yet.

Winnie the Pooh Personalized Book

Your child was never meant to go to Hundred Acre Woods. At least, not like this...

Maybe I’m just being cynical. Or I haven’t seen the good ones yet. (If you know of a really great one, tell me and I will gladly eat a heaping plate of crow.) But, on a whole, personalized kids’ books just seem pretty damn awkward. They normally come in two varieties – books where they break down the spelling of your child’s name (“C is for clever, H is for helpful…”) or books where they actually try to shoehorn your child into the story. For me, the name books are the far less offensive of the two options. Those seem to the purest in terms of selling the concept of “your kid wants to see their name in print.” You can see an example of one of those books here – from ISeeMe.com in a personalized book called My Very Own Pirate Tale. (The website proudly crows that “Brooke Shields, Courteney Cox-Arquette and Jessica Alba purchase our books as children’s gifts!” See? US Weekly is right. They ARE just like us.)

The “story” and art for My Very Own Pirate Tale is mediocre at best – why not just buy your kid a copy of How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon? It has plot! And characters! And it’s funny! – but, sure, I can see how some kids might actually benefit from seeing their names broken down letter by letter like that. It wouldn’t be my favorite vehicle for teaching kids about the letters in their own names, but, fine, if it works for your child, so be it. I can accept those titles as a very specialized and expensive form of alphabet books, although, c’mon, be honest, your kid is going to be MUCH more interested in the elements of their own name rather than the skeleton of a half-hearted pirate story.

However, the “working your kid into the plot” personalized books are twenty times worse than the “breaking down your name” books. In these titles, the plot is actually a selling point – YOUR child will go on an adventure with the Disney Princesses, Winnie the Pooh, Santa Claus, etc. – so they can’t just hide behind the fact that they remembered all of the letters in your child’s name. The problem is these “stories” pretty much embrace the lowest common denominator in terms of storytelling. Maybe it’s because no author worth their salt would actually want to put their heart and soul into crafting a story where the lead character is called “INSERT_YOUR_NAME_HERE”. But the stories in these things… dear lord, in the ones I’ve seen, the level of storytelling reminds me of those Hostess ads from the 1970s where Captain America stops an alien invasion by giving them a heaping pile of Hostess Fruit Pies. (That ad actually exists. Click here for a great archive of those old ads with some hilarious commentary included.) [read the rest of the post…]

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Truax

I am the Truax, I speak for the hardwood flooring industry….

It’s a sad fact of being a parent, but sometimes, for reasons I can’t explain, you will find inexplicably awful books appearing on your kid’s bookshelf. Usually, it’s just a crappy movie tie-in or a flea market oddity or a Burger King promotional item, but sometimes you find something really, truly odd.

Case in point – one day, while on vacation, I found my 4-year-old daughter perusing a worn copy of Truax, a weird pamphlet of a picture book, published in 1995, that is supposed to be an eye-opening rebuttal of Dr. Seuss’ classic environmental fable, The Lorax.

However, unlike Theodore Geisel, the creators of Truax didn’t rely on some stuffy, tree-hugging publishing company like Random House to release their iconic children’s tale. Instead, they wisely chose a more fair and impartial partnership to bring their story to the masses – The Truax was published “through a cooperative effort of the Hardwood Forest Association and the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.”  That’s right. Because if you want a balanced, agenda-free look at the logging industry, there’s, of course, no better source for information than the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.

(In related news, after hours of intense debate, my mom has named me Handsomest Dude in Town. I thank her for her calm, fact-based assessment.)

My daughter found Truax – the title is just “Truax”, not “The Truax,” which sounds much better – at the bottom of a toy chest in an old family cottage in northern Michigan and, when asked what she was reading, she shook her head and said, “I don’t know. I’m very confused.”  And I don’t blame her.

Truax is an odd little attempt at parody from people who obviously felt slighted by Dr. Seuss’ portrayal of the logging industry as a bunch of mean ol’ Once-lers in The Lorax. Is it amateurish? Heck yeah – it looks like it was written and drawn by the people who create kids menus for knock-off Big Boy hamburger chains – but the people creating it were, in fact, amateurs, so it’s a little hard to fault them for not having Seuss’ virtuoso skill with words and images. But, don’t worry, dear readers, there are a lot of other faults that you CAN hold against the Truax team. [read the rest of the post…]

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