Stephen Colbert: kidlit after dark

The outside world doesn’t always get kidlit and YA lit. Children’s books are cute and easy and anyone with a vague sense that children are charming can write them, right? And anyone can write silly fluff for young adults. Especially anyone with a famous name.

That’s a common attitude, anyway. But there are celebrities who don’t think that way. Like Stephen Colbert.

colbert_i am a pole and so can youBack in 2012, Colbert interviewed the late, great Maurice Sendak on his old show Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report. Going in, I figured that interview would be amusing, but I also figured some of the amusement would stem from a celeb’s typical ignorance of everything that goes into creating a children’s book. Boy, was I wrong. The whole point of the two-part “Grim Colberty Tales” segment was to parody the very attitude I’d expected to see. It’s also a great interview, and it resulted in Colbert’s spoofy picture book, I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) (Grand Central Publishing, May 2012), which was coincidentally released with Sendak’s blurb (“The sad thing is, I like it!”) the same day that Sendak passed away. Highly recommended if you need a good laugh. Warning: Colbert Report-style silliness; Sendak-style crotchetiness; NSFW.

sendak on colbert

“Grim Colberty Tales” made another appearance or two with other authors before Colbert left the Report for CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But the change in venue doesn’t mean Colbert’s become too cool for books for young people (or books in general, for that matter). On the contrary, his new show has a recurring segment firmly rooted in YA: the Hungry for Power Games. As candidates have dropped out of the presidential election, Colbert has bid each “tribute” farewell with his best Caesar Flickerman impression. (Warning: contains politics.)

stephen colbert caesar flickerman

And of course, the man is a certified Tolkien nerd. This, right here, is what it looks like when someone cares about a story. Not a bad thing to show on TV.

I still think Ellen would be a perfect interviewer for the Newbery and Caldecott winners. But if Stephen beats her to it (ALAYMA 2017, anyone?), that’d be pretty cool, too.

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees, and is serving on the 2025 Walter Dean Myers Award committee.

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