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Children’s books written by celebrities: The good, the bad, the charming

Celebrities often wear many hats, sometimes including children’s book author. The results can sometimes miss their target, while at other times a celebrity's views shared in a storybook characters can charm readers. 

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Dustin Warburton has managed to balance writing horror films for adults with penning a host of children’s books with celebrity co-authors like NBA star Dennis Rodman. On Thursday, his latest work “Macho Dad” – co-authored by Puerto Rican professional boxer Hector “Machito” Camacho Jr. – will take a rhyming approach to the difficult subject of losing a parent.

“When my father was shot to death, I tried to explain it to my own daughter and that was hard. It got me thinking about how I could write a book for kids to help them understand the death of a parent,” Mr. Camacho said in a phone interview.

“Working with my partner Dustin, I have to thank him for making the subject of death more kiddie-ish.”

Recommended: 100 of the best children's books

“Macho Dad” was written in remembrance of Hector’s father, legendary fighter Hector “Macho” Camacho, who grew up in New York's Spanish Harlem and became a both a lightweight and junior lightweight champion. He was killed in a shooting November 20th, 2012 while in Puerto Rico.

The book makes its debut in New York City on October 23, at the Puerto Rican restaurant, Camaradas El Barrio in East Harlem.

Parents of more sensitive children should be warned that the rhyming book, meant for younger kids, portrays the super hero father character’s death abruptly. After using his super powers to fly, he takes flight into a freak storm, and his golden cape drifts poignantly down to his son on the ground.

“I wasn’t raised in, like, a functional family. My dad wasn’t there teaching me to read and write,” Camacho says. “I didn’t really see my dad. My dad was like a super hero. He was on TV and kids would say, ‘Hey your dad is a hero!’”

In order to turn his sentiment for his father into something accessible to children, Camacho asked Warburton to step in.

“I’m working on more than a dozen new children’s books for celebrities including Dennis Rodman, Barbara Eden, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Brian Krause, and Corey Feldman,” says Mr. Warburton, the co-author who helps celebrities pen stories for kids.

He adds, “I always spend time with the celebrity and learn as much as possible about them, their needs and interests.”

Warburton recently 2013 co-wrote a children’s book with Dennis Rodman that could be best described as an autobiographical cross between Mr. Rodman’s colorful life and the children’s classic “The Story of Ferdinand” by American author Munro Leaf, published in 1936. Warburton is currently at work on a Rodman bull tale sequel due out in 2015.

Warburton, eclipsed by his celebrity children’s book co-authors, is best known as a screenwriter of the horror film “Spiders 3D” and “Black Asylum,” co-written with Actor/Director Robert Rusler.

He has authored nine books, including horror titles, “Strange Things,” and “Morticians Food,” and children’s titles with other celebrities including, “Bullies Aren’t Scary,” co-written with Hall of Fame Boxer Kostya Tszyu.

Judging from the Amazon.com list of children’s books either co-authored by celebrities, Warburton and others who co-authors with stars will not be out of work any time soon. 

Many of these celebrity efforts could be considered semi-autobiographical mash-ups of fictional alter-egos, and become the one and only book a celebrity will write.

Some titles from notable celebrities that you may not have heard of include, “Freckleface Strawberry” by freckle-faced, strawberry blond actress Julianne Moore; Jay Leno’s “If Roast Beef Could Fly” and Jerry Seinfeld’s “Halloween.”

As the author of eight children’s books, I wonder why celebrities would want to enter into the often unglamorous world of authoring kids books, which often does not pay well and includes endless school visits, either dressed in costume or accompanying a mascot.

This makes me wonder what’s in it for the already rich and recognizable.

“For me it was like therapy,” Camacho says. “I actually teared-up talking about my dad with Dustin. When we were done I felt great. Like I had something to give to all the kids who look up to me and want to be like me but who, maybe, shouldn’t follow the example celebrities set.”

He adds, “Maybe we celebrities write these books because kids look up to us and we know this life isn’t what we should be giving them to follow. Especially kids in the ‘hood where I come from. Maybe it’s like a responsibility.”

While the celebrity book list may have its share of bad apples, there are those that shine as brightly as a celebrity at his or her pinnacle of success.

Here are a few popular choices among children’s books written by celebrities for parents to consider:

At number one, for being absolutely smart, moving, and a great life lesson about the dangers of gossip is Madonna’s “Mr. Peabody’s Apples.” The book is inspired by a 300-year-old Ukrainian folktale. 

For sheer brilliance, parents can pick up any book by actor John Lithgow. I personally love “Marsupial Sue” and also, “Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo.”

Grammy winner, actress, and talk show host Queen Latifah teamed up with the Coretta Scott King New Talent Award-winning artist Frank Morrison to create a book empowering for boys and girls titled “Queen of the Scene.”

“The Very Fairy Princess” - a second book written by Dame Julie Andrews, co-authored with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, about a girl named Geraldine who, as the book explains, “doesn't care what you think -- she knows she's a fairy princess.” 

Not every celebrity will gain nightstand immortality by writing a book. However, there are those who genuinely have great stories to tell our children. In those rare cases, the book is worth far more than the signature from the author.

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