Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Children's Books

As a parent, I read a few children's books. I imagine and hope that those quantities are going to increase over time--right now, I'm lucky if I can discern the words on a couple of pages before Adam gnaws them out of existence, or closes the book just because he can. So while I have some opinions--Bear Snores On holds up pretty well to repeated readings, I love Sandra Boynton, Baby Einstein is drivel--I have not yet felt the need to tell you about this.

But then, I read The Amazing Bone.

When I told Mike about it, I only got that far before he gave me a look that said that the title is the punch line. I don't even want to bother with that. Any humor you find there obscures the sheer AWFULNESS of this book. It's awful on almost every perceivable level--literary, storytelling, and possibly even age appropriateness. I'm almost horrified that it has a Reading Rainbow sticker on the cover. Levar Burton has something to answer for here. The only level on which the book does succeed is illustration; they're pretty. I like the style. End of positives.

Now I have to tell you about it, don't I? Sigh. I'd rather not relive it. Okay, it's a picture book, and all the characters are different animals. Petunia is a little girl pig who skips about enjoying the day. This part goes on a long time and is not unpleasant, though it is undirected. Eventually she finds herself sitting under a tree enjoying the day, and she says out loud how she loves the whole world. A voice answers, "Me too!" Petunia discovers, under a tree, a little bone that can talk and make sounds. It belonged to a witch who dropped it by accident.

Petunia and the bone make friends. She heads home to show her parents. On the way she encounters three robbers, but the bone scares them off with loud scary noises. Then she encounters a fox who decides he's going to take her home and eat her. He's not afraid of the bone's noises, and in fact is excited that he'll own a magic bone. Petunia begins to cry.

Fox locks her in a back room with the bone and starts getting ready for dinner--sharpening his knife, stoking the fire, etc. He's having pork. It's drawn out and pretty scary--this poor pig who's like 8 years old and hoping that he'll kill her quickly before he eats her. The bone doesn't know what to do either.

Finally the fox comes in for her. As he leads her into the kitchen, the bone suddenly starts shouting nonsense words. The bone doesn't know what it's doing, it just feels compelled to shout these words. As it does, the fox begins to shrink. By the time the bone is done, the fox is as small as a mouse and runs away into the floorboards. Neither she nor the bone know how this happened. She runs home and introduces the bone to her parents and they all live happily ever after the end.

Now, say it with me: WHAT??? I don't even know where to start. Why is it a bone, not a pebble or statue or bug? A bone? I really expected to have that explained to me by the end. Also, didn't anyone else learn, in like sixth grade, the term deus ex machina? One of our characters randomly starts shouting magic words that he didn't know he knew, and it solves all their problems. That's totally how an episode of House ended last week. Great storytelling technique, is what I'm saying.

Urgh. I'm turning into a crank. But really, this book is so weird. It was published in 1976, and I have no idea how it got past an editor, except that the author appears to have published a number of books before that. I can't imagine what they look like, but I have to think they must be better than this, for him to have slipped it in the door.

Okay, I'm not all moaning. I'm rereading The Giver, by Lois Lowry, and it's really fabulous. so there's that. I feel like I complain too much, but sometimes, you just have to stand back in awe. So, William Steig, wherever you are, I'm very sorry to be so cranky, but I think you owe me an explanation about the talking bone.


JMLC said...

I think I own that book from when I was a kid. I haven't read it in years but now that you've recapped it, I agree. Odd that it's a bone, that it doesn't know what it's doing, etc.

Anonymous said...

Sharon - I have two lists for you - one on picture books from the lower school head at my children's school and the second is a list I put together for a friend who opted to have a book shower in lieu of a baby shower. I thought I had your e-mail from class last summer . . . but don't, so e-mail me if you are interested: abhenderson@comcast.net and I'll send you the lists.

With respect to William Steig, try sylvester and the magic pebble, Shrek or Amos & Boris. That being said, my kids have never asked for them more than once or twice.