After a particularly crappy few days, there is nothing better than reading a good book (or two, or three...)
A phone call that cost me $300 and a computer that refuses to load AOL (I know: but I've been on AOL since 1997. Also, I have 6500 emails in my saved folder. I keep promising myself as soon as I clean that out I can switch to something else. But I haven't yet.) started my day off not so fabulously.
But then I galloped & scurried my way through two excellent childrens books, and now my mood is much improved.
First I picked up Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, which arrived only yesterday, and was, therefore, the handiest book in the room. As soon as I read this dedication by the illustrator, Marla Frazee, I knew I was in for a treat: "To my big brother, Mark Frazee, who thinks I'm an idiot." C'mon now - if that doesn't make you laugh, then you are an only child.
Clementine reminds me of all the books I read when I was in fourth grade: The Ingalls girls, the Babysitters that never seemed to do much babysitting, even some of those dopey R. L. Stine heroines. Most of all, she reminded me of Ramona Quimby, a personal favorite of mine, who never seemed to realize she was heading for trouble in time to stop, and who made everyday seem exciting, even if she just wound up getting punished, because at least she'd done something worth getting punished over. In that way, Clementine and Ramona would have been best friends, had their two book worlds ever collided.
Everyone around her seems to think that Clementine's problem is that she doesn't pay attention, but the real problem is that nobody else is paying as much attention as she is. She pays attention to every.little.thing, but it never seems to be the things she's supposed to be paying attention to. The book covers one week in Clementine's life - although I just found out there are two additional books in the series, so yay! - and if this one week is anything to go by, Clementine my just be the most exciting person to be near, ever.
Best of all though? She's hilarious. You know me, if a book is funny, I will read it. Even if the plot is slow or meanders, even if the action is weak or the heroine is to meek and mild, I will read it just for the funny. Fortunately, this book has a strong plot, a fabulous heroine, great supporting characters (including a best friend with strict rules, two loving, caring parents, and a little brother who needs a vegetable name - which Clementine is, of course, happy to provide), and awesome illustrations. Most of all though, it's got the funny. I will give you a sample of some of Clementine's words of wisdom, because I know that some of you don't understand that reading childrens books is not just for children, and I may have to coax you into it a little bit. We've had this argument before, people, (see Harry Potter Posts) but I am willing to continue until I convince you.
"But I couldn't tell them this, because an important part of pretending to be asleep is not talking."
"But I didn't spin him again, because he throws up on the second ride and somebody has to clean it up which is N-O-T, not me. This is called Being Responsible."
"She scrubbed so hard she probably made a hole right through my head skin and my head bone, and now everybody can see right into my brains and I'd better not do any more cartwheels."
and my favorite, although a bit longer, is this interaction between Clementine and her principal:
"I can't help it," I said, before she could start the little chat. "I'm allergic to sitting still."
"Nobody is allergic to sitting still, Clementine," she said.
"I am," I said. "My brother is allergic to peanuts. If he eats one he gets all itchy and swelled up and he can't breathe right. If I try to sit still I get all itchy and swelled up and I can't breathe right. So that means I'm allergic to sitting still."
Mrs. Rice squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her forehead. I happen to know this means This idea is so bad it's giving me a headache, because it's the face I make when my mother tells me to visit Mrs. Jacobi. The face never works for me."
Hilarious, no? There's nothing better than when a character thinks like you think, and Clementine could've been hatched in my 8-yr-old brain (I know this because I still often think that way).
The second book I picked up, oh 2 years ago? and finally read this morning because I know they're making a movie out of it and if I see the movie first, it'll ruin the book for me. (The inverse is not true, however: don't ask me why.) The Tale of Despereaux is a book about the power of stories, the power of love and the power of soup.
The main character, Desperaux, is a mouse of small stature, few mouse-like instincts, and very little importance in his family or community. He does not behave as a mouse should, he does not look like a mouse should, and he does not know why he should want to do either of those things. Instead of nibbling on books, he reads them. Instead of cowering from noise, he explores it. Instead of fearing humans, he falls in love with one. And that is where his story intersects with those of a princess, a serving girl, and a rat whose broken heart mended incorrectly.
It's full of action and adventure, plot twists and poignancy. I can't imagine that a reader - be they 8 (like Youngest Nephew who will be getting this book for Christmas) or 28 (which is close enough to how old I am) - would walk away unsatisfied by this book. It's about interconnectedness, bravery, and what it means to be true to yourself, but it's about all of those things without being preachy or heavy handed, and remains entertaining from beginning to end.
So there are two, not exactly brand new, recommendations for childrens books you should read. There are very few people who can't use a good dose of what good childrens literature can provide: a laugh, a little compassion, empathy, & understanding; conflicts and conflict resolutions; engaging characters, smart dialogue; and best of all they're QUICK and Easy to Read. So pick up a book, marketed to children, today. Because there's a lot of great stuff out there, and if you just pass by it thinking "that's for kids", you're really missing out.
Besides, if you happen to have kids in your life, you can always tell yourself that you're reading it before you pass it on to them to make sure it's appropriate. Which, you should always do! Because a) some things are not appropriate for your particular child and b) if you know what your kid is reading than you can talk about it together, which is just a fabulous thing. The only thing better than reading a great book is sharing that great book with somebody else: I promise.