Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poop & Caca: What Goes In Must Come Out!

Little kids love stories about poop and farts, right? And teachers for a number of years now have been asking us to publish a bilingual non-fiction book for early readers. It seems like if we put those two things together we’d have a very popular book.

We had listened closely to our teacher friends, but we never found anything we liked. We tend to be particular. We like to publish books we like. Something with a little bit of an edge. But then at the Bologna Children’s Books Rights Fair we saw Le Grande Voyage of Monsieur Caca published by the wonderful French-Canadian independent publisher Les 400 Coups. A little girl eats an apple and the apple descends—with sound effects in English and Spanish—through the digestive system until, sure enough, the human-processed apple ends up being flushed down the toilet. The journey is documented with all the scientific lingo and maps by a fastidious doctor who looks like a wolf.



Bingo! It was perfect!

The book is funny, it’s educational and it’s very kid friendly. Lee made sure. She read it to our three-year-old grandson Baby Ed who was having difficulty thinking “potty” when he was ready to do his business. He loved the book. And for an hour he had a long and serious conversation with his grandma about what his poop looked like. Not soon afterward he was going to the potty on the potty. Good for him, good for us. We were delighted.

Surely this was exactly the kind of book that our teacher friends had been asking us to publish in a bilingual format. But (at least so far) sales have been below expectations. Why? Because teachers are hesitant to teach it. They don't feel empowered enough to use the book. They don't want to get in trouble. This became obvious when we started carting Mr. Poop around to educational conferences like the California Association of Bilingual Educators or the regional library conferences. We watched teacher after teacher pick up Mister Poop. They would read the book aloud, they would laugh and tell their colleagues, “Look at this wonderful book! The kids would certainly get a hoot out of it!” Then they’ll put it down and add with a sigh, “But of course I can’t use it.”

"You can't use it?"

Our naiveté continues to amaze us. Even though kids hear the words “poop” and, if they are Mexican-American, “caca” every day of their lives at home from their moms and dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents, teachers remain very timid about using them as teaching tools in their class rooms. This is especially true in red states like Texas where the achievement tests conservative ideas rule.

Oh well. That’s what happens in the independent publishing world. Our naiveté is our blessing and our curse. We’re proud of the Mr. Poop. We think that someday soon it will find it’s way in the world of early reader books. Meanwhile, we gave one to Baby Ed. He and his parents keep it next to his toilet at home. It's a perfect niche.

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