GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortés

reviewed by Evan Pearson | Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Akashic Books, 32 pages, hardcover, $14.95

The cubs and the lions are snoring, wrapped in a big snuggly heap, how come you can do all this other great shit, but you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?”

Adam Mansbach’s Go The Fuck To Sleep is one of the most joyfully sardonic, irreverent, and poignant books I have ever come across. Appearing in the form of a children’s bedtime story, GTFTS is a declaration of a tired parent wrestling with a not-so-tired kid.

After spending several weeks in the number one spot on Amazon and on top of The New York Times Bestsellers list in the “Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous” section, it’s important to ask oneself “what exactly is this?” Advice? Not really. How-to? I would hope not. What Mansbach and Cortés have created is a subversive, honest lullaby to the frustrated parent who’s ashamed of their own frustration. It is an open letter to a generation of adults letting them know they are not the only ones who just want to tell their kids, “Please, go the fuck to sleep.”

The idea is a good one, and it sounds funny on paper: cute, obscene, fresh. But in the wrong hands this project could have gone nowhere, or ended horribly. Without the right balance of respect for the real genre of the children’s book, without the masterful illustrations that perfectly capture the feel of a bedtime story while animating the pages with drollness and duplicity, it could have been an offensive farce. Thankfully, Mansbach realized the real meaning behind this book, the capability that it had before he even penned it. The experience of GTFTS really hits you once you’ve read it, laughed, and put it down for a while. You begin to realize the potential of the book, its ability to transcend generations and bring parents face-to-face with their shortcomings. The words on these pages are poetic internalizations realized for the world to see. The idea can be applied anywhere during the journey of the parent: Stop fucking crying, eat your fucking dinner, take your fucking bath.

Of course, with all the praise being heaped on the book by critics, there is some negative press. CNN contributor Karen Spears Zacharias wrote a searing Page 2 Op-Ed piece about how “not funny” and “violent” she found the book. At one point she imagines that if the book were written about “Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Latinos” that it would be “hard to imagine this kind of humor being tolerated.” Now, while I’m pretty sure Zacharias just wanted to throw in some hot-button words to garner attention (and while her comparison makes absolutely no sense), her fears are marginally understandable.

Yes, the book is not suitable for children (though it doesn’t purport to be) and could be detrimental if misinterpreted (as I believe Zacharias did), but its intentions are good. One of her arguments is that not enough parents spend time with their children, especially when putting them to bed, and that this book is harmful to that area of a child’s development and relationship to their parent. What she fails to note is Mansbach’s diligence when he created the parent character.  The parent relentlessly reads to the child, fetches them milk and water and a stuffed bear, soothes them, and loves them.  Zacharias never notes in her piece that this book is the internalization of parent’s thoughts, not the actualities. If she wanted to talk about bad parenting, this was the wrong book to crucify. A bad parent would never read this book, and would certainly never enjoy it, because the content would be unbearable. A good parent, however, finds the humor and relief in a story that provides true catharsis in a beautiful, familiar shape while also celebrating the joys and innocence’s of a child’s playful mind.

I showed my mother the book and she thought it was great. She told me she had to have a copy of it for the house. Why would she want it now, now that she’s so far past that part of raising me? I imagine it as a reward for her, a chance to laugh and relate, and reflect on how all of those internalizations and sleepless nights went into making sure I was a healthy, happy child.  Now that I have a copy, I imagine it helping me through some of those future nights as well, and hell, maybe I’ll even pass it along to my kids once their old enough to appreciate how obscenity and subversiveness can translate into commemoration and appreciation with a little sense of humor and an imagination.