Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mr. Rabbit

I found the repetitive nature of the text in Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow, along with the more formal, stilted language, to be a part of this books charm as an adult.  As a child, however, I did not like this book.  Therefore, I consider it a minor miracle that it is still sitting on my shelves today.  As a child, I was impatient with the book.  Their conversation was stilted and I knew exactly what each participant was going to say before they said it, so why was I reading it?  I also was very frustrated by the fact that the little girl was only choosing fruit for her basket.  Were there no flowers to be found?  Of course, there were.  There were flowers on practically every page in fact.
Even as a child, I was annoyed by the inconsistencies and inaccuracies of the book.  Somehow they managed to find apples, pears, bananas and grapes, all growing within the woods they wandered.  Well, actually, they found the bananas on someone’s leftover picnic blanket.  On the blanket were dishes and a wine bottle and two not-so-lovely looking bananas.  Which they took.  Really?  Because even as a child, I called that stealing.  And even as a child, I was offended by the fact that someone had just left their entire picnic leftovers on the ground.  That was called littering.

We never actually saw where the rabbit found the grapes, but I didn’t really believe that somewhere within those woods were also some grapevines.  And I was deeply offended by the fact that the grapes were an example of blue.  In what world?  As a child, I wondered why they didn’t pick blueberries.  Why were grapes easier to find than blueberries?  Everyone knew that blueberries were blue and grapes were purple.  Besides which, by that point, I was annoyed with the whole fruit excursion.  I wanted the girl to pick some flowers for her mom and I was really tired of hearing how her mom liked birds in trees.

It’s true. I definitely did not appreciate this book as a child.  As an adult, I still find the book to be annoying.  When I re-read it, I shook my head at the abandoned picnic and mentally rolled my eyes when we got to the blue grapes. 

This book originally came out in 1962 and I think it provides an interesting view into the types of books that were being published at the time.  There was clearly no real checks-and-balances for logic and accuracy.  The illustrator was Maurice Sendak, which was not at all surprising to me, as his style was recognizable.  For some reason, it’s never been a style I truly appreciated.  As a child, I did not like the close-up pictures of the little girl and the rabbit.  They seemed distorted and wrong.  The further away the girl was and the less we were able to see of her features, the more natural she seemed.  The rabbit never seemed natural, given he stood upright like a man. 

Overall, I do not think this book would be published again in our times.  In fact, I am surprised it was re-released in 1990.  I simply do not think it holds up against the much higher expectations we have for children’s books and literature today.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dr. Seuss

Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss?  I’ve certainly been a fan since before I could read myself.  In the case of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, though, I simply could never understand why the father was always encouraging his son to observe what was happening and to feel excited about it, but then to always tell the truth without any embellishments.  Im not sure why, but as a child, this seemed illogical.  In my childish view, by experiencing excitement over what he saw, the child was able to create something incredibly beautiful.  In not sharing that with his father, he failed to share the truth of what he fully perceived.  His father encouraged him to see and feel excitement about the world, but then did not actually want to hear the embellishments this boy came up with in his excitement over what he saw.  Interestingly, I did not see this as a father encouraging a boy to appreciate what was really there, but instead a father encouraging a child to never share what he truly saw. 

As an adult, I am certain this is not what Dr. Seuss intended with this book.  Perhaps instead it was about appreciating the simplicity of what was truly there, about not feeling the need to embellish, but rather to rejoice in what truly was.  Still, for me, as a child, this was a father who did not appreciate the unique perspective of his son - not in these words, of course, but for me, this book was about injustice and the unfair lens that adults often imposed upon children.  This book made sense to me because after all, wasnt I always, as a child, being misunderstood, told what to do and not to do, without anyone ever asking why I did what I did.  Wasnt I always somehow the victim of adults around me, my every thought and action dictated by the ones who knew better, who were older and wiser than me? 

Perhaps more than the text though, I truly loved the pictures.  The idea that this boy, with imagination alone, could embellish a simple cart and horse into what it became was magnificent.  Always, this book for me, was about the power of imagination.  As an adult, I think the simplicity of the changing pictures really make the book.  The transition from what we see on pages two and three to what we see in the final pages is amazing. I think, in fact, this book gives us a perfect example of how the white space on a page can become a part of the story being told.  The sheer amount of white space in the beginning that is overtaken by colors, that grow and grow and grow, throughout the book, tells as much of the story as anything else.  As the color spread from one page to the two, as the words are condensed into smaller spaces and the colors of the pictures expand, the reader is taken on a journey through this childs imagination.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pumpkin Latte up for Adoption

Pumpkin Latte is now officially up for adoption with TARA (The Animal Rescue Alliance).  He is so incredibly sweet and adorable.  My niece, J, is particularly enamored of him.  “He’s so soft,” she crooned.  “I want to hold him forever!”

He purred and purred and purred for us.  I want him, just like I want Moon and Midnight.  I consider them to be my babies, and it kills me that they haven’t been adopted yet. They are absolutely gorgeous and yet…. nothing so far.

I know the perfect families are out there for each of them.  We just have to wait until they find us.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Curious George

As part of the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program, I have to take three Readings in Genre courses.  I am currently taking the course that focuses on picture books and early chapter books.  I am required to keep a book journal and thought I would do so on-line.  Many of the books we are required to review are older books, classics and such, so these won’t necessarily be reviews of current works.  Still, I think this could be fun.  My first assignment of the semester was to choose a Curious George book.

I own the entire set of Curious George books, which made it difficult to choose just one book to discuss.  I hadnt read them in a while, so I re-read. well all of them.  I thought only to re-read one, but once I started, I had to keep going.  I think what I love about Curious George is George himself.  The pictures of George are so cute that I can almost forgive the series for its origins the Man in the Yellow Hats initial action of stealing a monkey from his native environment with the intention of locking him up in a zoo (sigh.)  I find it interesting that these books continue to be so popular when I dont believe they would find a publisher in todays world too politically incorrect, I think.

Of all the books, the one I always think of first is Curious George Rides a Bike.  I think, for me, its the page where hes making boats out of newspapers that makes it so memorable.  I love the illustrations the how to of boat-making the individual illustrations describing each step along the way were fascinating to me.  And, of course, as a child, I had to see if it really worked (it did!)  H.A. used a similar sequence of pictures in Curious George Takes a Job, to show the effects of the bottle of ether that George opens.  The pictures are shown in six panels that resemble a comic strip.

Ultimately, I think that what makes Curious George such a memorable character is the innocent mischief he is constantly up to.  None of his actions are malicious.  He makes mistakes and everyone forgives him.  Everyone always loves George at the end of the books, regardless of how much mischief or damage he has caused.  The books deliver over and over again the message that it is okay to make mistakes and that children will still be loved in spite of any mistakes they might make.  The simplicity and beauty of that message transcends time and may account for Curious Georges continued popularity, despite his tragic (and politically incorrect) beginnings.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Residency #1

Just returned from my first writers’ residency at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA.  It was a fabulous trip.  It’s my first residency as part of the Writing Popular Fiction program.  The hope is that this program will force me to finally finish the YA fantasy series I’ve been writing for entirely too long.

For each residency, we are required to read a novel that represents a specific genre.  Apparently the genre for this residency was romance.  For unknown reasons, however,  the novel chosen was the YA book Fated by Alyson Noel. I won’t get into the many varied opinions of Fated, mostly because they were all negative.  Instead, I will simply say that Fated was at a disadvantage because it was being judged as a romance novel, which is completely ridiculous.  It was unfair to the novel and extremely unfortunate to the entire romance genre.  Most of the people reading this novel had never read a romance novel before and probably never will again and this was their one opportunity to experience quality romance and unfortunately, Seton Hill failed to provide that experience.  To the extent that I would say those who had never read a romance novel before still haven’t because Fated does not qualify under any circumstances as a romance.

Ultimately, despite this rocky beginning, the week was exceptional.  Fabulous modules focused on writing, lots of inspiration and we had the opportunity to hear Kevin Hearne speak about The Iron Druid Chronicles series (that I have not yet read, but have added to my list of novels to read soon).  I found Hearne to be delightfully humorous and down-to-earth.  I look forward to reading the first book in his series, Hounded.