Reviewed: “Weird Al” Yankovic’s New Children’s Book

A true story. Just like "UHF."

Celebrities writing books for children has already become a worn-out trend among our cultural elites, like rehab, or adopting kids from Africa.  However, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s just-released first book, When I Grow Up, succeeds despite any such baggage. 

Yankovic takes his signature zany humor–heavy on food jokes, non sequitur, and pop culture parody–and turns it into a cute story about a boy giving a show-and-tell presentation about what he wants to be when he grows up.  Like many great children’s classics (and Family Circle comics) it meanders from tangent to tangent, taking us on a silly tour of the author’s hyperactive but innovative imagination. 

It seems that any major children’s author who works in verse, as Yankovic does here, is bound to be measured against Dr. Seuss, especially when the story also involves whimsical fantasy.  Yes, they are in the same category: as an accomplished veteran of the music industry, Yankovic brings his decades of experience to create smooth cadences here, something that most other verse authors (and musicians) seem to struggle with. 

Something else that makes Yankovic unique: he reveled in nerdiness long before it was cool to do so, and his attention to technical detail shines here, meshing comfortably with invented craziness and fluid meters.  For example, read these lines where  little Billy dreams of a career in engineering:

Or else maybe I’ll be the lathe operator

Who makes the hydraulic torque wrench calibrator

Which fine-tunes the wrench that’s specifically made

To retighten the nuts on the lateral blade

Not too shabby, eh?  Of course, most of Billy’s ambitions aren’t quite so concrete: he also wants to be a snail trainer, a giraffe milker, a professional pickle inspector, and, naturally, a “part-time assistant tarantula shaver.” 

Well, heck, what little kid doesn’t want to do that when he grows up?  That’s right up there with fireman and astronaut. 

But you should really see the picture of a bald tarantula gazing at its own reflection in horror, a band-aid on its cheek. 

I did think the ending was bit too bland, but maybe after all the wackiness, Yankovic wanted to end on a simple, reassuring note.  Still, it felt inorganic to me.  However, it’s a minor, debatable flaw in an otherwise excellent investment of a few dollars and a few minutes. 

Verdict: great, worthy fun for a child, your inner child, the young at heart, childish adults, adult children of childish adults, tomatoes, roosters, and guys named “Sven.”

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