Once upon a time parents simply swallowed their discontent when it came to whiny kids who didn’t want to go to sleep. We lived in a land where, on any given night, mom and dad displayed more patience than Gandhi; never a single bleepable peep ever came out of their mouths.
Or else it was more like a sepia-colored scene right out of Mad Men, where a chilled martini lured a parent away from their crying angel’s pleas to stay and read that bedtime story to them just one more time—nevermind the previous 1,000 times. Door shut and bottoms up.
If judging the zeitgeist of today’s bedtime hour with the success of the #1 selling parody of a children’s book in the country, Go the F**k to Sleep (Akashic Books) by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, it seems that we have one very sleep-deprived nation of parents.
Behold this army of deeply devoted, yet frustrated moms and dads who are now having a very public Me-moment thanks to this book. They’re proclaiming ‘Yes, I too feel that way sometimes!’ Parents are gifting this 32-page adult bedtime story to fellow parents who also lug around perennial bags under their eyes.
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Rustling media feathers is nothing new for the book’s illustrator who remains indefatigably child-free. Before the runaway success of GTFTS, Cortés, 37, whose father is Mexican and mother is Italian, had already begun to make a name for himself as the self publisher of unconventional, provocative kids books such as It’s Just a Plant, a how-to guide on educating your child about marijuana, and I Don’t Want to Blow You Up!, a coloring book featuring well-known Muslims who aren’t terrorists.
While the GTFTS’ creative duo now call Brooklyn home, both Cortés and Mansbach grew up outside of Boston. As undergrads at Columbia University they collaborated for the first time on a hip hop magazine they called Elemental, where Cortés served as creative director. So when in the fall of 2010, Mansbach approached Cortés with an idea for a satirical children’s book based on a poem he had started that included a certain word that rhymes with luck, Cortés knew just how to approach the illustrations to make it work.
“I wanted to do a straightforward homage to classic children’s books with idyllic landscapes,” says Cortés. “Play the straight guy to his [Mansbach’s] trickster vibe.”
The results are luscious depictions of indoor and outdoor “wildlife,” semi-psychedelic moonlit and crimson-colored skies, with pepperings of wide-eyed children for whom Cortés’ friends’ kids served as models. The illustrations accompany sardonic stanzas such as:
Mamiverse: What did your parents think of the book? Could they relate?
Cortés: My parents got a kick out of it. Having followed a string of my projects that includes childrens’ books about marijuana and terrorism, it’s hard to shake them.
Mamiverse: Could they relate?
Cortés: Well, they’re at the age where the book better applies to their own nocturnal issues, rather than that of parenting a child. If anything, it would be myself now quoting the book title to them on a regular basis. #insomnia
Mamiverse: What were your own parents’ techniques for putting you to bed?
Cortés: I was not an easy sleeper. My mother would put me down and inch out of the room, stopping just outside of the door, to keep her foot within my sightline until I fell asleep. And then the moment she would pull her foot away, I would wail and the process would start again. That went on for some time. I’m surprised she still speaks to me.
Mamiverse: The book has received certain criticism because of the supposed “rage” or its use of foul language. Do you have a running theory on parents that get the joke and those who don’t?
Cortés: If you have never turned to your partner, your lover, sibling, or friend, and playfully told them to ‘shut the fuck up,’ then you might not understand the love and affection behind some harsh language. Personally, I’d have a problem trusting someone that didn’t curse me out from time to time.
Mamiverse: Did working on this book frighten the bejesus out of you about becoming a parent someday?
Cortés: I’m aware of the danger to the restful dreams that I enjoy each night if I go down that path. And furthermore, how many of my books are going to come back and bite me in the ass.