I’m excited today to have amazing author Bonny Becker guest posting on my blog. If you don’t know Becker from her adorable new book A Birthday for Bear or from the cute A Visitor for Bear among her other wonderful books including My Brother, The Robot, An Ants Day Off, The Christmas Crocodile, Holbrook, A Lizard’s Tale, Just a Minute or The Magical Ms. Plum (links go to my reviews) then you are simply missing out. And if you didn’t run out and read her books after my last interview, well, shame on you and you have another chance to redeem yourself today. Bonny’s post is fantastic, so please give her a warm welcome and a comment or two.
I was always fascinated by the image of the green, crumpled elephant in Babar. Green and crumbled because, “Alas, that very day, the King of the elephants had eaten a bad mushroom. It poisoned him and he became ill, so ill that he died. This was a great calamity.”
And that was the end of the issue. On to naming the new King who was, of course, Babar. The matter-of-fact way in which it was all dealt with was quite gratifying.
In thinking about some of my favorite picture books, I realized that many of them have that same matter-of-fact attitude toward misfortune. I mean where are Eloise’s parents? When I read Eloise to my daughters, the question never came up. Why should it when Eloise is living her life with such aplomb?
Who didn’t want to her appendix out after reading Madeline? Or, if not that, at least a broken arm and a big dramatic cast to show off at school?
Bad things happen. As a child, I found it scary, intriguing—and encouraging—when bad things happened in books. Encouraging because I felt trusted with grown-up information; yet even more encouraging was the fact that bad things happened, but I could move on. I couldn’t have put it in words, but the message was misfortune didn’t mean despair.
Now, as a grown-up writer of picture books, I wonder if we’ve gone too far in stripping “bad things” from our mainstream picture books?
In my picture book “Just a Minute” I couldn’t get away with Mom leaving 8-year-old Johnny in the big, busy ground floor of a department store under the watchful eye of “Mabel, selling socks.” The sales clerk Mabel, became Auntie Mabel, for everyone’s comfort.
Banished was even the hint of a possibility of something bad happening—which we won’t mention, because it is so horribly bad, but we all know is the barest chance our child might get kidnapped. Rather than spare my child the thought of being left to wait by themselves with Mabel selling socks (and spare myself the thought of what might happen!) I’d suggest reading “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry.
A funny, ridiculous story like this of a kidnapping gone very badly awry is encouraging in the most basic way—and that, rather than a diet of constant, unspoken fear seems much better nourishment for ourselves and our children.
In another picture book of mine, “A Christmas Crocodile,” [Maw Books review] a crocodile gets delivered to the wrong address on Christmas Eve (as if there’s a right address to deliver a crocodile on Christmas Eve…). The crocodile eats up the family’s big, elaborate Christmas. And for a while there was some discussion with the publisher of ending the book with an illustration of the family redecorating a new tree.
But I had very deliberately not gone there in my ending. The family had the best Christmas ever, but all was not restored. Sometimes something good is lost (the crocodile ate all the presents, too) but it’s fine. And David Small, the illustrator, agreed. (Little did I know at the time, what David knew about things not being restored. If you haven’t read his graphic memoir “Stitches” I’d recommend it.)
Could a story like “Sylvester’s Magic Pebble” by William Steig get published today? Sylvester turns into a rock. Our main character, a child, has disappeared, apparently died and his parents are left in mourning! Some kids’ story!
Everyone is sad, but even so, Sylvester tries to get used to being a rock. Fall comes, winter passes and in the spring, Sylvester’s parents come to the rock for a picnic. Sylvester’s father says, “Let us try to live again and be happy even though Sylvester, our angel is no longer with us.”
Sadness is acknowledged, but the story isn’t sad. Not only because the reader knows that Sylvester isn’t dead, but because of the straightforward march of the story. The voice seems to say, bad things happen. Winter comes to us all, but even so winter always turns to spring. It’s just a matter of fact.
Thank you so much Bonny Becker for being with us today courtesy of Provato Marketing. Visit Bonny at her website as well as the Maw Books reviews and interview found at the links at beginning of article.