David Sedaris Writes Children's Book for Adults

Andrew Dalton
14

It was inevitable. All writers, especially all funny writers, eventually have to do a children's book. So of course David Sedaris has brought his biting style, without the swearing and sacrilege, to a new set of adorable tales of a menagerie of animals, including a spider stuck in a trash can, a dog with a midlife crisis, and a lonesome leech.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is out now, and Ian Falconer of the Olivia series does the illustrations.

But, wait, a warning. The spider's main worry is that he'll die a virgin and does all he can to prevent this. And the dog is worried (with good reason looking at his new litter of puppies) that his wife is screwing the neighbor's dog. And the leech lives -- in fact can only live -- inside the anus of a hippopotamus.

Yeah, keep the kids far, far away. Unless you want to warn them about how much adulthood can suck. Like the sick cult classic Wonder Showzen, I'm guessing it will come with a warning.

Despite the huge change in format, it's pretty much a typical Sedaris book, a little nastier if anything. The characters are just like the brothers, sisters, lovers, and strangers in his usual stories, they just happen to be animals. It also represents his first trip into fiction, though there's plenty of fiction in his true stories.

I haven't picked it up, but I can attest to its greatness. This summer I got to see him in front of a small crowd at the Las Vegas public library (yeah, they've got one, and it's really nice! Though sadly no book-themed slots).

It was a tiny crowd for Sedaris, who in L.A. and Chicago brings out 5,000 people, and he used it to try out some unfinished work, mostly stories that would be in this book. I was bummed when he first said he'd be reading from his "children's book" as I was looking forward to hearing some greatest hits from Me Talk Pretty One Day. But it was some of the best stuff he's done. 

He said he conceived of it as a book of fables, but then decided that was no good. "Fables," he said, "have morals." So he settled on a "bestiary." Much better. 

He did the virgin spider tale, and the story of the cuckolded dog, and one about a wisdom-seeking owl who would spare his prey only if they told him something interesting he didn't know.  

One mouse tells the owl about a leech who can live only inside the anus of a hippo, then the unfinished story promptly ended.

I hate to be one of those horrible people who asks questions at a reading, but I had to know, so during the Q&A session, I raised my hand and asked, "Is it true, is there really such a leech?"

Oh yes, he said. He read about it in The New York Times and tried to make it the central character in the story but that was, of course, a bit limiting.

I was stoked. And I can't wait to share that bit of info with the kids. Though I'll save it for when they're older. Or I desperately need their attention.

Are you a David Sedaris fan?


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