David Baddiel 'The Parent Agency' review... celebrity vs 'proper' authors

Earlier this year, one Donny head teacher leveled criticism at the Doncaster Book Award (for whom I am Treasurer) for hosting an event featuring CBBC stars, and now authors, ‘Sam and Mark’. The DBA has been organising events led by ‘proper authors’ for the last twelve years... but does their promotion of Sam and Mark indicate a descent into popular culture at the expense of literacy excellence? For me, celebrity-written children’s books can be split into two camps: the first is populated by the likes of Katie Price, Geri Halliwell and YouTube stars. These bright, shallow books ride the wave of the celebrity’s popularity - and you would be hard-pressed to find them in your local Waterstones a year or so after release. In the second camp, the likes of David Walliams. Celebrity, yes, but also a writer. He did, after all, write ‘Little Britain’. Walliams’ books are incredibly popular and, whilst not reaching the classic status of Dahl, few would argue as to their quality. And so to David Baddiel, who is launching this year’s Doncaster Book Awards at The Dome. Baddiel, I would argue, falls into the latter category. He has always been a writer - of comedy sketches, stand-up, adult novels and the quite-good film ‘The Infidel’. His children’s book, ‘The Parent Agency’, is the story of a boy who becomes tired of his parents and so visits the titular agency to choose new ones. It’s funny and original with its contemporary themes and outlandish characters particularly likely to appeal to boys, a hard-to-reach group as any teacher will tell you. You may disagree, but surely celebrity-written books can, at least, act as a springboard to other, more weighty literary treats. As for Sam and Mark, following their event, their book was being read, cover to cover, by children who rarely read anything at all. What more can you ask? Keep your eye on Doncopolitan over the coming months for book reviews written by children participating in this year’s Doncaster Book Awards, and find out about forthcoming author events and workshops (all free) at www.doncasterbookaward.net .

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