Players: Adam Mansbach, author of Go the F*ck to Sleep and for the moment, patron saint of frustrated parents; Eric Metaxas, author of It's Time To Sleep, My Love, and the uncredited inspiration for the profane children's book bestseller.
The Opening Serve: It's become an anthem for tired parents, with renditions (that have since been passed around for giggles) performed by Werner Herzog, Samuel L. Jackson and this Filipino grandma, the children's (made for parents) book Go the F*ck to sleep isn't going anywhere. "For me, the use of profanity is really about honesty," said the book's author, Adam Mansbach, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "It's about trying to render this interior monologue as vividly and accurately as possible." The book contains verses like:
All the kids from day care are in dreamland.
The froggie has made its last leap.
Hell no, you can't go to the bathroom.
You know where you can go? The fuck to sleep.
"For me, to write without four-letter words wouldn't really capture what's going on in the parent's head," says Mansbach. He adds, "It's very clear that no child is being spoken to in this way ... The frustration is articulated by the parent, but it's not actually being articulated at all." "Feeling this way does not make you a bad parent," said Mansbach. "It just makes you like everybody else."
The Return Volley: Eric Metaxas wrote a much gentler and sweeter book in 2008, It's Time To Sleep, My love with lines like these:
It's time to sleep, it's time to sleep,
the fishes croon in waters deep.
The songbirds sing in trees above,
"It's time to sleep, my love, my love."
After Go the F*ck to Sleep became a phenomenon USA Today noted that there's now a publishing trend of cutely profane books that use the same joke. (Sample title: If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the F**k Up?) Metaxas, who before taking a stab at children's books also wrote the bestselling German theologian biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, is aghast: "Everyone seems to be afraid to say 'that's wrong' for fear of being called a prude."
What They Say They're Fighting About: Parenting and profanity. Metaxas insinuates that everyone has jumped on the cuss bandwagon, and in doing so says that no one speaks up (even if they believe it's wrong) because of a sheep mentality. Mansbach believes he's hit a universal parental truth and experience with Go the F**k to Sleep.
What They're Really Fighting About: Fame and money. We didn't even know that Go the F*ck to Sleep was such a literal parody of Metaxas's It's Time to Sleep, My Love until we read the USA Today story. Right down to the artwork. Compare the cover above to this sample page:
And while Go the F**k to Sleep has made a dent in popular culture and become a bestseller (it currently ranks No. 37 among all books, and No. 2 in both the parenting and humor categories, It's Time To Sleep, My Love comes in ranked No. 23,599. So, yes, we can see why Metaxas is a little upset with Mansbach's book, though we doubt his moral compass would be so rigid if the books swapped places on the best-selling lists. And as Metaxas pointed out to Christianity Today earlier this year, it's one thing to be parodied, but entirely another to be parodied — by a huge successful book — and to not have anyone know it. “As soon as I saw it, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, they’re parodying my book,'” he told the site in June. "I’m kidding when I ask, ‘Should I sue?’ but for some reason, the publishers are not letting on that it’s a parody."
Who's Winning Now: Mansbach. His book has achieved a pop culture saturation thanks to the celebrity readings and frustrated parents. Unfortunately for Metaxes, children's bedtime stories like his are (at the moment) a dime a dozen, which could explain his sagging numbers. But he shouldn't be retiring just yet. With the onslaught of cursing children's books that USA Today portends are on their way to bookshelves across the country, it's only a matter of time before parents will be looking for something a little more prudish to deal with the profanity fatigue.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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