Wednesday, January 19, 2005

BOOKS: It's Just a Plant!

Reasons why I am a loser:
  1. I didn't go to the library for eight years because of my history of racking up egregiously huge late fines.
  2. My new year's resolution -- my first new year's resolution ever in my adult life, mind you -- was to renew my library card and use it, rather than spending so much money buying books.
  3. My first batch of library books is now two days late.
  4. The library is exactly a block and a half away from my house.
(There are more reasons, of course, most of which have to do with my potty mouth and personal hygiene, but these are the book-related ones, which I figured are most relevant to this blog.)

One of the library books is Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which I haven't finished yet. It's great, but it has this magical ability to make me fall asleep after five pages. So while I keep slogging away at it (whilst peering over my shoulder to make sure that my arch-nemesis, Neal Pollack, isn't catching up to me), I'll draw your attention to a couple of books that have drawn my attention.

If you're a pothead and you're sick and tired of your school-age kids judging you, did you know there are storybooks you can buy that will teach the little buggers to mind their own beeswax and ignore the funny-smelling cloud hovering above your living room/porch/crack den? It's true! Now, I'm no pothead (though I did try a pot cookie once, because I'd pretty much ingest
any drug if it came in cookie form, and it made me hurl), but this strikes me as a rather interesting publishing phenomenon... if one can call two books a "phenomenon".

The first is called It's Just a Plant, and it's about a girl named Jackie who catches her parents smoking a joint. Rather than ream them out for smoking in the house (come on, dude, that's just plain rude), Jackie asks for an explanation. The next day, she and her mom dress up in their favourite Burning Man costumes (I'm exaggerating, but only slightly) and head out on their bikes for a magical mystery tour. First, they visit Farmer Bob, who explains how he grows marijuana (and presumably also explains how he doesn't let the Hell's Angels get involved in the distribution process), and then they head over to Dr. Eden's office, who explains why pot isn't harmful to grown-ups (with the requisite warning that Jackie shouldn't smoke it herself till she's grown up, but without warning her that pot may make her annoying to her friends).

The second, Mommy's Funny Medicine, takes the safer pro-medicinal marijuana stance. It's about a girl named Heather (the same one who has two mommies?) whose mother seems to be sick with some unnamed ailment, for which her regular medicine has stopped working. You can't really look for fault in the subject matter, because what kind of monster likes to see people suffer?

Glancing at these books made me remember a couple of things.

I remembered that I always hated "issues" books when I was a kid, and I still don't like them. They come off as too eager, condescending and didactic (those were the words I used when I was a kid, too), and they're generally more poorly written than other children's books. People think that kids don't notice these things, but they do, and they're not nearly as forgiving as grown-ups are, because they don't know they're expected to overlook poor style if it's Important Subject Matter.

I also remember thinking I could draw way better than the illustrators of these kinds of books. (I probably could then, though I couldn't now, because I was an awesome drawer when I was little.)

Query: Why are girls almost always the heroes of touchy-feely kids' books? I have only specious theories about this. Anyone?


Nettie said...

Maybe they started off with girls and the trend just continued? Or the lousy artists can draw girls bettter than boys?

Anonymous said...

I couldn't stand "issues" books when I was a kid either. They seemed to be hit-you-over-the-head preachy.

Someone once did an opinion piece on a sudden flurry of kids' "issues" books that were coming out a few years back; they made a very good point. "Why do we need new books for children about 'understanding death,'" they argued, "when we already have 'Charlotte's Web'?"

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about your overdue library books. I am a librarian, and although they may look pained when talking with you - we actually depend on fine money for part of our budgets. So, go ahead and be late! Our budgets are low this year and we could really use the money. :)

Also, you might want to check your library's website - lots of them let you renew your books online (saving you that pesky block and a half walk).

Wendy said...

I edit some "issues books" and they're at least as much for parents as they are for kids. Judging from the submissions we get, an awful lot of people want a book to help them explain difficult/weird/sad/controversial stuff to their kids, and I think they feel having a book gives them more authority or somehow validates the situation. Plus they're easy to find in a bookstore or library, because it's not like people usually walk in and ask, "My son's grandpa had a stroke. Do you have a book with a nice metaphor about that sort of thing?"

As for the stuff about girls being the protagonists in books like these... could you give examples, because I think publishers tend to use boys more, based on evidence that girls will read a book with a boy character, but not so much vice-versa. Sometimes it depends on the "issue" and whether whether girls or boys are affected more, i.e., boys statistically more likely to stutter, epilepsy more likely in girls, etc.

(The art for both those books is pretty awful, btw.)