Saturday, January 19, 2013

Can't Keep Away

I've been working hard at not posting to this blog.  Why?  Because I tell myself I don't have time.  But in the three years since I've posted, I've read some truly amazing kids' books (The Book Thief comes to mind--if you haven't read it, read it) that I've had to ignore the itch to write about.  I have finally realized that this was a stupid move, so here I am, writing my first post in three years with baby number three (who helps me find writing and reading time by getting me up at 4:45 a.m.) cooing on the floor beside me.  I'll make this one quick, as cooing baby and unfolded laundry await.

Yesterday the kids and I drove the hour-and-a-half-ish to Niantic, Conn., to visit the Book Barn, which is simply the most awesome used book store in the history of the world.  There are the usual used-book-store cats and the excitement of the search that make it awesome, but there are also some great touches, like toys indoors and outdoors (which occupy the kiddos so you can--what else?--look for books), free cookies and coffee, and--in good weather--a goat.  I am not making this up.  Those of you who live anywhere near Connecticut must visit this place asap.  Anyway, for the long drive I decided to play Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My four-year-old son once loved this book but got turned off by the movie (the Gene Wilder version), which I made the mistake of letting him watch a couple of months ago.  Even though I skipped the boat scene, he was freaked out.  And, he complained, "Things were wrong.  Instead of squirrels, there were golden geese."  So, to repair his relationship with Charlie, Willy, and Grandpa Joe, I popped the audiobook in the CD player while my boy was held captive in his car seat.  Success.  An occasional glance in the rear-view mirror confirmed his enraptured delight.  Two-year-old sister enjoyed it, too.  (Baby sister slept or cried, depending on mysterious factors beyond my control.)

As for me, I was reminded to use cruise control on the interstate when, as Charlie unwrapped the fateful bar of chocolate, I noticed I was going 85 mph.  On the way home, with children dropping "like rabbits" (whatever that means, Wonka; why not flies?), I missed an exit.

As for the book-shopping, I scored some cool stuff, including a stack of Louisa May Alcott, an unabridged audiobook of Anne of Green Gables for $4 (woohoo!), a copy of Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (truly one of the loveliest picture books ever), and a hardcover edition of Rip Wan Winkle illustrated by Arthur Rackham.  At the last minute I resisted buying Christopher Milne's The Path Through the Trees.  It tortured me all the way home, and I am still not sure I did the right thing.

Good to be back.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hoff, Your Readers Are Young, Not Stupid

I'm typically biased in favor of classics, and I rarely find myself disappointed, so it surprised me just how much I found to dislike in Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur (HarperCollins, 1958), which the New York Times hailed as an Outstanding Book of the Year, and which has stayed in print and remained a staple of kids' book collections for decades.  The story is cute enough.  A little boy goes to the museum, just because he "wanted to see what was inside" (an endearing moment), looks at some life-sized dinosaur models and wishes they were alive so he could play with them.  One does come to life, and they spend the day romping through the city together and having a grand time until the dinosaur has to go back to the museum and Danny has to go back to his own house, which he has to admit would be too small for a pet dinosaur.

Here's the first thing that bothered me.  Danny knows the dinos in the museum are fake--he says so--but when one speaks to him, there is not an instant of surprise.  The dinosaur offers to play with him, and away they go.  It's awkward and jolting: a definite hiccup in the smooth flow of the story.  Here's the next thing.  The dinosaur stops for red lights, knows what a car is, and understands the rules of baseball.  But he has no clue what buildings are; he mistakes them for tall rocks.

When Danny has to lift up clotheslines so the dino doesn't get his neck tangled in them, the narration reads, "Danny had to hold up the ropes for him."  Ropes?  Who calls clotheslines ropes?  Maybe Mr. Hoff thought "clotheslines" (or even "lines") would be too long a word for children, although I would imagine that a child capable of sitting through a 60-plus-page picture book could figure it out, and even if she couldn't, the picture of what Danny is doing would probably clear things up for her.  

Finally, the dino mentions more than once how nice it is to get out of the museum for an hour or two after a hundred million years.  One wonders, why didn't he ever just walk out before?  Did it take the presence of a wistful kid to wake him up?  If there was a magical formula that enabled him to play in the city all day, the story provides no hint of it.  And we must not ever give in to the temptation to dismiss inconsistencies by saying the story is "just for children."  That would imply that children are inherently less smart and/or less deserving of a coherent and cohesive story than adults are or that writers for children are also less smart and/or less skilled than writers for adults and that children's literature doesn't have to be intelligent as long as it is pretty.

Maybe the dinosaur is just dumb: as dumb as Mr. Hoff evidently thought his small readers would be.  It's a pity.  The illustrations are adorable.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I love library book sales.  My local one hasn't had a big, official sale recently, but the other day when Matt and Isaiah were enjoying one of their Saturday afternoon adventures sans Mama, I wandered into the library's children's room--yes, even though I did not have my child with me--and browsed through the rack of discarded books for sale.

I picked up a pristine hardcover of Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood...for fifty cents, baby!  Yeah!  And then I spotted a picture book whose spine simply read, The Little Women Book.  I figured it was a watered-down version for little kids who couldn't sit through the novel yet, but I picked it up and flipped through it because I can never resist checking out what other writers, illustrators, actors, directors, etc., have done with my favorite book.  What I found was not an abridged Little Women but a supercool volume of DIY bliss.  Full title: The Little Women Book: Games, Recipes, Crafts, and Other Homemade Pleasures (Random House, 1995) by Lucille Reche Penner.

There's a recipe for that scrumptious-sounding pink and white ice cream and instructions for planting a "name" garden, making costumes for homespun plays, and sewing rag dolls.  This is my far the best secondhand treasure I have acquired in a long time.  I bought both books, but honestly, as much as I love Ann Brashares, I am much more excited by the prospect of doing some arts and crafts March-style.

Now all I need is a daughter.