Simply put, Stephen Colbert's I Am A Pole (And So Can You!) is the funniest under 10-minute read that I've thumbed through and then read this year... and maybe last year as well!
Like the best of Colbert's work, this one offers a preposterous concept in a very straight-faced tongue-in-cheek way that artfully lampoons children's books, politics and pop culture even as it embraces it. Page after page (OK, there are only 32 pages here), Colbert's prose entertains, and Paul Hildebrand's witty illustrations just amplify the words we find as we first flip through this book, then go into it again, looking for depth and then discovering that it's just pure Colbert. And that's exactly what makes it so good.
Warning: put your coffee down as you read this book, unless you want a messed up shirt.
Right there on the cover and the dust jacket is perhaps the finest endorsement that this truly witty book could have, one written by the late Maurice Sendak:
"The sad thing is, I like it!"
~ Maurice Sendak
Coincidently, Maurice Sendak passed away today, and one can only wish and think that he's out there, chuckling to himself, as he had his own part to play in the making of this book, and is acknowledged as such with the special thanks that Colbert posted within.
This reader was first alerted to this this book in a January 2012 video clip on The Colbert Report, one where the late author and illustrator Maurice Sendak was being interviewed by Stephen Colbert on the current state of children's books ("The Cow That Jumped Over The Moon? That's physically impossible!"), and the largely non-political segment was hilarious. Sendak said that anything by Dr. Seuss was good, and that he liked Curious George.
As the interview went on, Colbert noted that many celebrities were cashing in on children's books and that he wanted in. He asked: "What does it take for a celebrity to make a successful book?"
Maurice Sendak's reply was a classic: "You've started already by being an idiot."
Sendak gave Colbert some outrageous advice on how to publish a book, which included a truly a hilarious tutorial on how to draw a pole. Fortunately for us, those images appear within the book... a fitting tribute to the wit and genius of Maurice Sendak.
Like many others, this reader took first Colbert's book to be another tongue-in-cheek parody, another jab at popular culture. But then in February, Colbert and Grand Central Books announced that the book would be published in May. When I saw that, I'll admit that I had to order the hardbound edition here... and am glad that I did.
It should be noted that Tom Hanks narrates the audiobook version of the story, I Am A Pole (And So Can You!) on CD, complete with a PDF of images from the book. Colbert and Hanks will be donating 100% of the money they receive for the reading of this audio recording to U.S. Vets (United States Veterans Initiative). That was enough for me, so I had to order that version as well.
And note the silver Caldecott Eligible seal on the cover as can be seen in the book jacket here... with a flying pig and all!
So who should get this book? Who should read it? When I started to post this review, Amazon asked me: "Are you over 13? Yes/No". There is one particular segment where an eyebrow (or two) might be raised among the politically correct, but that's up to individual tastes, and I'm not dropping any spoilers. In any case, this book would be a perfect Father's Day gift regardless of your political bent, as there's a surprisingly patriotic side to part of Colbert's new book.
And for those die-hard Stephen Colbert fans out there, he has another gem coming this fall: America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't. This one is due to be available on October 2nd, 2012, just before the elections. Can he give America the dose of truth it needs to get back on track?
"I Am A Pole" is a 5-star read for those who can see beyond politics and enjoy a book for kids of all ages, as long as they're 13 or over. And if any of my relatives or close friends happen to be reading this, now you know what you'll be getting as a gift from me on that appropriate occasion.