Monday, December 7, 2009

Artifacts of our Childhood- The Saga of Baby Divine

This one's probably the most bizarre celebrity-written children's book ever- to be specific, it's by Bette Midler.

The strange, slightly nauseating bright colors and glossy light and shadow of the illustrations, not to mention it having a baby dressed like a Las Vegas prostitute for a main character kind of creeped me out as a kid. I don't remember ever reading it, nor when we got it. We just kind of gazed at the surreal depictions of kid-friendly trashiness a few times, etching it onto our brains whether we liked it or not, and sort of dismissed it as a mildly disturbing dream printed on paper.

As it turns out, there's a perfectly good reason for the slightly creepy illustrations: they were done by a certain Todd Schorr, known for his paintings that are classified as "pop surrealism"- which, in his case, is a crossover between DalĂ­-esque surrealism and a plethora of Golden Age cartoons and advertising art.
Now, when a guy doing a children's book also does paintings like this: can kind of see why it would seem creepy to us as kids, despite the dramatically lesser amount of details and the lack of anything blatantly frightening in Baby Divine's illustrations.

Years later- just a few weeks ago, in fact- we finally got around to reading it. The story is fairy tale-like, with some elements of Sleeping Beauty (in the form of three eager has-been divas giving Baby Divine gifts), and an epic journey filled with thinly-veiled metaphors for Bette Midler's philosophy of life.

Now I really wish I HAD read it way back when, because it teaches lessons that took me twenty years to figure out.

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