Perez Hilton, best known for publishing a celebrity gossip blog (www.perezhilton.com), has signed a book deal. But the target audience for his forthcoming book, tentatively titled “The Boy with Pink Hair,” is not the millions hooked on his signature snarky comments photoshopped on pictures of the rich and famous; instead, Mr. Hilton’s book is aimed at children.
The book will be published by Celebra Children’s Books, in partnership with Penguin Young Readers Group, according to a press release announcing the deal, and will have an impressive first printing of 75,000 copies.
“If Madonna can write a children’s book, and if Obama can write a children’s book, then Perez Hilton can also,” says Katarzyna Jerzak, a comparative-literature professor at the University of Georgia who has taught classes on children’s literature.
Mr. Hilton’s book, according to the publisher’s press release, is “the story of a child born with a shock of fabulous hair that sets him apart from his peers. While some find this difference hard to accept or understand, ‘The Boy With Pink Hair’ uses the opportunity to find what makes him special and share it with the world.”
It would seem that Mr. Hilton, whose legal name is Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr., does indeed have some experience with children.
“He does have a known interest in children,” says Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for Family Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, “having published a photo of teen star Miley Cyrus that could have been considered child pornography.”
In June 2010, the blogger took to Twitter to disseminate a picture of pop star and teen actress Miley Cyrus getting out of a car, legs spread open, and crotch apparently visible for all to see.
At the time, Miss Cyrus was 17 years old.
After being roundly criticized for possibly publishing child pornography, Mr. Hilton defended himself on his website in a video playfully mocking the episode. “Miley was clearly wearing underwear,” he asserts in the video, still live on his site and preceded by an ad for “Scream 4.”
Clad for the video in “fake fur” to “address a fake controversy,” the blogger asks, “Do you think Miley is that stupid to be out in public without panties?” Eventually, the camera backs up for the reveal of the video’s visual joke: Mr. Hilton is wearing no pants. “Sure, I like to be controversial,” Mr. Hilton says. “But I don’t want to go to jail.”
This was not the first time Mr. Hilton was controversial.
As a judge for the 2009 Miss USA contest, the celebrity blogger asked Miss California Carrie Prejean for her views on same-sex marriage. “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage,” Mr. Hilton began in front of the live audience attending the nationally televised pageant. “Do you think every state should follow suit, why or why not?”
Miss Prejean struggled at first to come up with a succinct answer. “I think it’s great Americans are able to choose one or the other,” Miss Prejean said with a smile. “We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what in my country, in my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody there, but that’s how I was raised, and that’s how I think it should be, between a man and a woman.”
Miss Prejean’s answer, according to ABCnews.com, “drew a mixed reaction from the audience and a look of thinly veiled disgust from Mr. Hilton.”
“She’s a dumb bitch!” Mr. Hilton ranted on his blog after the incident. (Just a year prior, in the 2008 election, California voters had expressed the same view as Miss Prejean’s when they approved by a narrow majority Proposition 8, which stated that marriage is between a man and a woman.)
For some conservative activists, the very notion that Mr. Hilton would publish a children’s book is upsetting.
“It is questionable whether adults should have Perez Hilton’s writing inflicted on them, let alone children,” Mr. Sprigg says. “This is a man who vilified Miss California for agreeing with the people of California about marriage; mocked Michael Jackson’s fatal heart failure; falsely reported the death of Fidel Castro; and has been sued for copyright infringement.”
Some suggest that with Mr. Hilton’s children’s book, he might be trying to refurbish his image. “There seems to be something intrinsically benevolent, heartwarming, and endearing about someone who does something for children,” says Phillip Serrato, an assistant professor at San Diego State University who is affiliated with the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. “By writing a book for children, Mr. Hilton could be seen as trying to be and become more than just a snarky cultural commentator.”
Emily Korval, a health care consultant in New York City, agrees that Mr. Hilton is trying to remake his image with this children’s book. But she’s supportive. “He’s taken a strong stance against bullying and realized that he had to change a lot about himself to avoid being a hypocrite,” says Ms. Korval, an avid reader of Mr. Hilton’s website. “The tone of his website is much softer in recent months — he’s avoided the snarky celebrity nicknames, and his posts are much more upbeat and encouraging. As a fan, I’ve really enjoyed the change.”
The Web analytical site Alexa.com reports that perezhilton.com is the 250th most trafficked website in America. Most, according to Alexa.com, are female readers between the ages of 18 and 24.
Mr. Hilton’s book deal could be “a self-serving, publicity-generating move that will garner him that much more attention, visibility, notoriety, etc.,” worries Mr. Serrato.
“If this is the case, it is just not any good for the field of children’s literature” he says. “In the hands of talented authors and illustrators, children’s literature has proven to be the site for different kinds of exciting and powerful work and innovations. It should be respected as such by not only celebrity authors, but also by publishing houses.”
“Perez Hilton’s 15 minutes of fame has already lasted 14 minutes too long,” Mr. Sprigg says.
“The Boy With Pink Hair,” with illustrations by Jen Hill, is scheduled to hit bookstores in September.