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How Adam Mansbach's expletive-filled children's book was born

Adam Mansbach can thank bleary-eyed parents for making him a bestselling author. Based on mere tidbits about his searing new adult lullaby of a book, Go the ... to Sleep, a viral phenomenon was born.

The book began its life as a pithy Facebook update that Mansbach, a 34-year-old based in San Francisco, wrote last summer.

Nestled among his usual material - "mostly quotes from eighties' rap songs" - was a quip about his bedtime defeat at the hands of his energetic then-two-year-old daughter, Vivien.

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"It began with me cracking a joke about 'Look out for my forthcoming children's book, Go the ... to Sleep,'" says Mansbach "I'm no social-media wizard. It's not like I used Facebook in any particularly sophisticated way. The response was positive enough that it encouraged me to keep making the joke for the next couple of weeks in real life."

Then, he sat down to write a full book of four-line stanzas; the first two lines of which are mostly soft and lilting - with the second two lines expletive-laden pleas that resonate with any parent who has been on the losing end of a bedtime battle.

For example:

All the kids from day care are in dreamland. The froggie has made his last leap. Hell, no, you can't go to the bathroom. You know where you can go?

... And, yes, of course, the punchline is go the [expletive]to sleep.

Illustrator Ricardo Cortés, a Brooklyn-based friend of Mansbach's, contributed the colour-drenched images of children cuddling with animals and other, more realistic, nursery scenes. Taken alone, a reader would never know they formed part of a humour book.

"Adam got it to a T and I thought my images should play the straight guy in a comedy," Cortés says.

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Soon after the pair signed with indie publisher Akashic Books, the book cover - with the moon cleverly blocking out a few key letters - and a single stanza were made available on Amazon.

From there, it's been a series of hairpin turns on a roller coaster of a publishing ride.

The use of four-letter (and other) expletives on every page, he says, is key to the "interior monologue that bubbles up." Leaving them out was not an option.

"The book was a very naive, unconsidered, unstrategic burst of honesty and [an]attempt at humour. Those are the words that run through my mind, so I went ahead with it."

For parents in on the joke, this wasn't the same as sharing cute pictures of kittens or dancing babies. Mansbach's book released a pent-up valve within the modern culture of parenting.

"There's this culture of preciousness and perfection around parenting so people are a little bit reluctant to admit to some of the frustrations because you're supposed to be a super parent and not complain," says Mansbach.

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Based on the early success of the concept, Akashic decided to move up the publication date from October to June. Now, 300,000 copies have been printed, the book is about to go into its fifth print run and before the book has even been released - on Tuesday in Canada - there's a movie deal. A full version of the book recently went viral after being leaked online by a bookseller.

Mansbach, who has just completed a stint as a visiting Rutgers University literature professor and whose other, lesser-known, books include Angry Black White Boy and A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing, insists the leak was not a marketing ploy.

The fact that it's the ultimate ironic baby-shower gift mitigates any slide in sales the pirated version might cause.

"I don't want to be too happy-go-lucky about it. In most cases a leak would hurt a book," says the author from a "working vacation' in Martha's Vineyard. "In ours, it seems to have helped because of this perfect storm of factors: It's a gift book and it is bad form to print out a low-resolution PDF and staple it together and take it to a baby shower."

As for further buzz, some may arise from the release last Thursday of a light-hearted statement from a children's publisher pointing out some uncanny similarities to kid-lit star Nancy Tillman's work It's Time to Sleep, My Love. (Both Mansbach and Cortés say the connection was not deliberate.)

One thing is certain, however - what started as a Facebook update has landed Mansbach more fame (and potential money) than any of his prior, more considered books. Which all bodes well for a graphic novel he has planned for a February release.

"The protagonist is a down-on-his-luck alligator trainer from the Everglades who ends up having to represent Earth in an inter-species inter-galactic gladiator tournament."

Given Mansbach's last year, it might just fly.

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