In Kid's Lit, Bathroom Humor Blows Up
In the humiliating and soul destroying process of trying to find a publisher for a children's book I have recently written I was informed by an editor (booo, hisssss) that I would have to purge all naughty/potty humour from my manuscript before she would consider making an offer. Whatever Happened to all the Fun in the World? is the story of two modern day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn like characters, named Riff and Raff, who set out to find, and bring back, all the fun which has mysteriously disappeared from the world. The editor liked the premise but objected to Riff and Raff enlisting the help of a clown named BeanO, who can fart laughing gas when he senses danger. When the three of them are being pursued by scary monsters BeanO implores Riff and Raff to, "plug your noses and pull my finger." The fragrant big bang which ensues leaves the monsters gasping for breath and rolling on the ground in hysterics, allowing our heroes to escape.
"That's not funny," opined the prudish editor (boooo, hisssss, booooo, hisssss). "It would be inappropriate to include references to bathroom humour, bodily emissions..." blah, blah, blah. "Parents, teachers and librarians (the people who buy children's books) will not stand for this - ask anybody. This is a commercial reality, a market reality and policy for most publishers."
I couldn't believe it. Could it be that the same cabal of Sunday School teachers, churlish spinsters and Puritans who seemed to control the kids' lit industry a million years ago when I was a kid, had somehow managed to keep the giggling, gassy heathens outside the castle walls? Naaa. I am both happy, and relieved, to report that there has been a veritable explosion of naughty/potty humour in kids' books recently.
Ironically, the funniest contribution to this proliferation of all things potty, a book titled The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business, was published by the same house that employs the (boooo, hissss) editor who had poo-pooed my own mildly scatological offering.
The story begins on a fine sunny morning when the mole pokes his head out from underground. His timing couldn't have been worse and by the time we reach page two the dirty deed has been done - somebody, or something, has shat on the mole's head! Aghast, the mole cries, "How mean!" and demands to know, "Who has done this on my head?" The indignant mole storms around the farm attempting to discover who is responsible for the egregious insult. "Did you do this on my head?" he asks a dove, horse, rabbit, goat, cow and pig. Every single one of them denies committing the crime by answering, "Me? No, how could I? I do it like this!" and then proceeding to graphically demonstrate why it is biologically impossible for them to be the guilty party. The mole is thoroughly perplexed until he chances upon a couple doo-doo connoisseurs who are finally able to solve the mystery.
Not everyone in the publishing world, however, is so ashamed of their scatological output. One of the largest names in children's publishing, Scholastic, has just let lose a gem called The Giggler Treatment. While it is the author's first children's title Roddy Doyle is no stranger to the literary world. Doyle's another in the long line of great Irish storytellers and in 1993 won the Booker Prize for Paddy Clarke, HA HA HA. He also penned the New York Times bestseller A Star Called Henry and wrote the The Commitments, which was made into the 1991 hit movie of the same name.
The Gigglers raison d'etre is to protect children from, and exact revenge upon, adults who are not fair to them. And if you haven't guessed that that revenge involves poo you have, as they say in Ireland, completely lost the plot. Anytime an adult treats a child unjustly the Gigglers call upon one of their dog friends to render forth a big pile of turd which they pick up with their specially designed, mechanical poo claw, place into a plastic bag and strategically plop it down in a spot where the guilty adult is sure to step into it.
If there was ever any hesitation at Scholastic to run the risk of offending adults who actually find The Family Circus comic strip funny, the massive success of their Captain Underpants series proved to them the power of poo. Wherever I went, the first name that rolled off the tongues of those in the know when I asked about naughty/potty humour was Captain Underpants.
The principal protagonists in the Captain Underpants series are two mischeivious fourth graders named George and Harold ("Harold is the one with the bad haircut"). George and Harold have just finished forcing their school's football team to forfeit the proverbial "big game" by pulling off their greatest-ever series of pranks, when the you-know-what hits the fan for our dynamic duo. The two are gloating over their mischievous tour-de-force - black pepper in the cheerleaders pom-poms, bubble bath in the bands instruments, itching cream in the teams deep-heating muscle rub and helium in the game ball - when they are summoned to evil Principal Krupp's office. "Don't worry," George assures Harold, "they can't prove anything." Wrong!
Krupp has caught the whole thing on videotape, which he threatens to turn over to the football team unless George and Harold become completely subservient. This, of course, is a fate which is totally anathema to the anarchistic little hellions who desperately seek a way to extricate themselves from Krupp's cruel experiment in forced behaviour modification. After six weeks of painful angelic behaviour salvation arrives in the form of a 3-D hypno ring and suddenly the tables are turned on the villainous principal. Krupp is hypnotized, forced to hand over the incriminating videotape and then transformed into Captain Underpants, the world's greatest superhero who fights crime with "wedgie power" while wearing nothing but his underwear.
In the four "epic novels" in the series, which have sold more than a million copies, Captain Underpants has vanquished such villains as Dr. Diaper and the Pied Pooper of Piqua, Professor Pippy P. Poopypants (who has a perilous plot and is an alumnist of Chunky Q. Boogernose University) and has saved the world from being taken over by the Talking Toilets, The Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space and the Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds.
When I approached a librarian with a stack of Captain Underpants books to get her opinion on the recent rise in popularity of this genre I got the answer before I could even ask the question. As soon as she saw what I was carrying she said, "Oh. You've got all the Captain Underpants books. There was a little boy who's been looking for them." A pang of guilt hit me, thinking that I was depriving the kid of something that meant far more to him than me. As soon as the librarian gave me a description of the boy I looked around and spotted him. I marched over to the boy, said, "I hear you're looking for Captain Underpants," and handed the books over to him. The boy lit up, thanked me profusely and ran to his friends screaming, "I've got Captain Underpants!" In this age on increasing illiteracy anything that gets a nine-year-old kid that excited about reading has to be a good thing.
I must confess that I had all but given up hope when the prudish editor condemned my laughing-gas-farting clown to the gallows but it now seems that her pious and odious judgement will be overturned by a higher court. Legions of scatological kids are demanding that BeanO must live to fart another day and it looks like there will be a happy ending to this story after all.