Monday, July 31, 2006

BOOKS: Exuberant, Yet Thrifty

For those of you who posted and emailed me your condolences, please know that I'm now in active recovery from the loss of my last post. I moved very quickly past denial and am still angry, but I'm no longer this angry, and I'm moving forward into the next stage of grief -- bargaining -- before the following stage -- depression -- kicks in and leaves me weeping in the corner. So this is my deal with you, Blogger gods: you let me post this entry and I won't come over there and kick your collective ass.

I was about to kickstart this brand-new post by writing that this past weekend was the Weekend of Sam, but then I realized that EVERY weekend is the Weekend of Sam, and every weekday is the Weekday of Sam. Every day is Sam Day, in other words, and frankly he's still shocked that they're not all statutory holidays. And don't even get him started on the dearth of ticker-tape parades.

Anyway, when we weren't chasing Sam (who WALKS now, by the way, and this is every bit as terrifying as you can imagine -- not so much for us as for Dobbs and the cats, who seem to utterly lack whatever instinct preserves other animals from getting pinched and "hugged" from excitable young primates)...

Jesus. That paragraph got away from me. I'm not sure if it was a grammar malfunction or a punctuation malfunction, but there you go.

Let's begin again.

When we weren't chasing Sam, and feeding Sam, and changing Sam's record-breaking volume of poopy diapers, we were reading to Sam, because books are his Big Thing these days. And I don't care if what I'm about to say makes me sound like a snob, because dude, I have to tell you: most board books are mindblowingly boring. Your only defence is to have a lot of them on hand, combined with the persuasive powers necessary for convincing a toddler that he doesn't want to read the same book ninety-nine friggin' times in a row. (On the plus side, I've gotten a chance to refresh my counting skills, as well as study the basic colour spectrum in a fair bit of depth. Go ahead. Quiz me on any number between one and twelve. Ask me to name three things that are orange. I dog-dare you.)

Thank god for Value Village and its 49-cent book bin, is all I can say. With just a bit of rummaging, we scored about a dozen tomes for the pre-verbal set, some of which are cute, some kind of lame, and some downright spooky in their ability to freak my shit out,
deja vu-style. A few highlights:

The Poky Little Puppy
Like every other English-speaking kid in the western world, I had a copy of this book when I was a wee one, but I didn't know till just now that it was published in 19-frickin-42. A couple of things I can tell you about kids' books in 1942:

1. They had lots and lots of words and didn't shy away from complex sentences. Grammar-wise,
The Poky Little Puppy is more intricate than a Hemingway novel, though I suspect -- perhaps erroneously -- a bit lighter on subtext.

2. Talk about your sanctions for misbehaviour. Back in '42, if you dug a hole under the fence and ran away, you got properly schooled. No strawberry shortcake for dessert, and you went to bed feeling sorry for yourself. The end.

Greg's Microscope
Rusty claims that this book represents the highwater mark of American culture, the pinnacle of reason and science, and who the hell am I to argue?
Greg's Microscope is more of an early reader book, but I couldn't resist the story: a boy named Greg wants a microscope, but rather than just tell his parents to get him one, he has to make a reasoned case to his dad as to why he needs one of his own rather than just borrow one from a friend. He also has to sell his dad on how much he's going to use it. Greg presents his argument, then his dad goes away to think about it, research the types of microscope available, do some comparison shopping. When Greg is presented with his hard-won microscope, he is thrilled and proceeds to learn some cool stuff with it.

Not surprisingly, this book was published in 1963 -- as Rusty points out, the height of the Kennedy years -- a decade before overly permissive parenting became rampant and spoiled little monsters like you and me came along. Ah, Greg, you and your exuberant, yet thrifty, intellectual curiosity... we hardly knew ye.

The Lovely Day
This is actually from a set of three books that I picked up, all about a family of bunnies who live in the vernal metropolis of Honeywood Village. These rabbits inhabit a universe not unlike that in
Little Women or the original Bobbsey Twins books. If you're not familiar with this universe, I can best sum it up by saying that pinafores and eiderdowns feature prominently. Rusty absolutely loathes this kind of book, which I can appreciate, but I think that a certain amount of treacle is an essential part of a juvenile literary diet. Rusty's just lucky that Value Village didn't have any of Enid Blyton's books or we'd be chest deep in talking golliwogs by now.

I Am a Bunny
When I first saw this book in the store, it seemed vaguely familiar, but when I brought it home and read it to Sam, I got slapped in the face with wave after wave of insane
deja vu every time we turned the page. At some point in my long and storied babysitting career, I must have read the living shit out of this book to some young 'un. I sure hope that wherever they are now they still appreciate it, because now that I've revisited this book I can't get the words out of my head. "I am a bunny!" "My name is Nicholas!" "I live in a hollow tree!" "I chase the butterflies, and the butterflies chase me!" Ack! Get the net!

Stuart Little
This is another book for when Sam's older, so I've put it aside for now. It did result, however, in the following conversation between me and Rusty, who's never read it:
Rusty: So this book is about a mouse that lives with a family of people?
Me: Sort of. It's about a mouse who's part of a family.
Rusty: What do you mean?
Me: He's one of their sons.
Rusty: But he's a mouse, right?
Me: Yes.
Rusty: He's born a mouse?
Me: Yes.
Rusty: To a family of ordinary humans?
Me: Yes.
Rusty: So what you're telling me is that he came out of a human vagina?
Me: YES. He's a MOUSE who entered the world through a HUMAN VAGINA. Are you SATISFIED?


Wide Lawns said...

I adored the Poky Little Puppy as a child, and am glad to see that after almost 70 years, that its still around. Stuart Little, I dont know. I didnt remember that part about the vagina! Maybe I need to re-read that one.

Tammy said...

Well, you know how it is when you're a kid. Some stuff just goes right over your head.

Claudia said...

I actually remember finding that faintly disturbing as a child and was relieved that I didn't have Stuart Little nightmares during my recent pregnancy. I was forced to sit through the movie a few years ago, in which Stuart is adopted. I can certainly understand why they made the change.

landismom said...

Gah. My MIL has that I Am a Bunny book, and every time we go to visit her, I end up reading it sixty-bajillion times.

And you must tell me the persuasive technique that has kept you from having to read the same mind-numbing board book over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Mouse Out Of Vagina is why my mother refused to read Stuart Little to me, and made my father do it.

restlessly said...

Ah... Enid Blyton. My friend, who's Australian, swears that every little kid in the Commonwealth must have read Enid Blyton. I, the Singaporean who grew up on Ladybird & Enid Blyton books, agreed.

Anonymous said...

Wait, wait. Wait. I read the book as a kid, but I think I always assumed that Stuart was adopted. What you're saying is that Stuart was born to the Littles as their biological offspring, for real? I mean, for real in the book, that wasn't just a joke you were making here? If so, I have so many questions. Did the Littles live near Three Mile Island? Are the Little parents part mouse? If Stuart had sex with a human woman, would their child just carry a recessive mouse gene?

Aren't we all glad we live in the age of ultrasounds?

trophycase said...

When Sam gets a little older, Flat Stanley is fun to read.

Unknown said...

I love Poky little Puppy, but my four year old son is not that keen on it.

So I just read it to myself every now and again.

I was never a fan of Stuart Little fopr the whole vagina reason. Someone told me so I never read the book...

(I refuse to let him read Judy Blume. those books scarred me for life)