B Is for Beer
by Tom Robbins
(Ecco; 128 pages)
While the idea of Tom Robbins writing a children's book may seem strange, one need only look at the unlikely success that Carl Hiaasen has had with his two kids' stories — not to mention the general increase in the willingness of aging hipsters to inculcate their children into the culture of cool — to understand why Robbins is a perfect candidate to write a kids' book. Parents of tween and pre-teen kids face a dearth of options when it comes to reading material for their children, so the idea of an book by an author they know (and respect as being somewhat transgressive) is infinitely appealing.
Reading a Robbins book is almost always a fun experience, and from the first time beer-loving layabout (and likely Robbins doppelgänger) Uncle Moe begins rhapsodizing and pontificating in little Gracie's ear about the joys of nonconformity, it becomes clear that B Is for Beer is gearing up to be a fun book indeed. And for most of its 128 large-type pages, it manages to be quite a lark. Gracie is, like most child protagonists, a wide-eyed and precocious young thing, simultaneously curious about the world beyond her kindergarten walls and utterly willing to indulge in whatever fantastical adventures come her way. After barraging her Uncle Moe with a range of inquiries about the what/why/how of beer, she's rewarded with the promise of a visit to the Red Hook brewery.
Of course, Moe never takes her to the brewery — because, like all adults, it's the ones you idolize the most who let you down, while the ones you take for granted are dependably there to pick up the pieces — but she gets a lesson in the creation of beer from, wait for it, the Beer Fairy, who appears after she gets dizzyingly, pukingly drunk from testing out a can of her dad's brew. While Robbins allows the Beer Fairy to indulge in far too much exposition about the alchemy of water, hops and barley, this little bit of magic is what winds up making B Is for Beer as interesting for the adults reading it as for the kids who are listening. While hop-heads will likely learn little new from the book, the underlying philosophy of not being afraid of adult pleasures will be appealing to anyone.