Goodnight Bush! A Brilliant Parody

One of the best-known and best-loved children’s books ever published is Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, which has been translated and parodied countless times but remains forever beloved by children, parents, and grandparents.  Non-parents and ultra-cool teenagers might be the few holdouts, but their time has come with the newest, unauthorized parody:

GOODNIGHT, BUSH
Written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, and clearly not for (or about) innocents, Goodnight Bush vivisects the current Administration with merciless accuracy, using every possible razor edge that has caused this country to bleed since the stolen election of 2000.

Fans of the original will be particularly enchanted by the complete loyalty shown to the Brown’s text and Hurd’s illustrations — the gentle rhyme scheme, the simple lines — all reimagined with a Gestalt effect.  Where sweet love and innocence were the essence of Brown’s book, Origen and Golan replace every sweet detail with malice and guilt.  Cheney whispers “Hush” to a worshipful FOX, the fire in the hearth is fueled by election ballots, and bin Ladin is easily found on every page.  The details are exquisite, such as the titles on books that line the shelves, like Rapture the Flag.

You can order your copy wherever cool books are sold, like Amazon.  Or Powell’s.  Or Barnes & Noble.
ISBN: 978-0316040419
Published by Little, Brown & Company.

I’ve got two on order already.

The website is also offering a Couplet Contest, asking for headline-related entries in poetic form, as a sort of farewell celebration, between Independence (from Bush) Day, 2008, to January 19, 2009.  Enter as often as you like, and perhaps you’ll win a free, autographed book!

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New Authors, Listening Readers

In the two years I have been writing on-line, the real benefit has been meeting those who write far better than I ever will, in any style or genre. I don’t yearn for them to achieve Fame or Status or Celebrity, and yet, I do often wish that more people could read their writing.

On one site, we are able to email links to the stories we’ve enjoyed, and thus assist in growing the reading audience. This means we can share with our friends who are also able to connect to the internet. We can also print off a paper copy of a story and share it, but then we get into the murky territory of intellectual property rights and possible copyright infringement.

Libraries have always been treasure troves: books and magazines were joined by new media as they came into existence. Innovative librarians found ways to transform libraries from storehouses to portals, offering Internet access and digital downloads. The limitation to all this, in my opinion, is the dividing line between published and non-published material in the formal, traditional sense.

Enter the new website Sniplits. This innovative on-line service connects new, aspiring, talented — and dedicated — writers the chance to be heard. Yes: writers can be heard, not read. Sniplits offers the literate listener the chance to download smaller works to fill those times when a full novel is too much. Their own description is of stories to fill up a coffee break, a lunch hour, a trip to the dentist, or just a short drive. Certainly, an audiobook would allow listening to a few paragraphs, a page, or a chapter — whatever fits the timeframe — but this would just be a portion of the whole work. Sniplits offers a complete work, and subscribers to their site can browse by length of time for a work as easily as by genre or author.

Best of all, any writer may submit their work. It is the chance for new writers to find their audience, by way of filling the niche in their daily schedule. My poetic friend, who presents herself as a Little Fluffy Cat, has recently been accepted as an author at Sniplits. For a nominal fee listeners can download her original story The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and they are then free to store that story on an iPod, their computer, iPhone, or any other compatible device, and even share the story with up to 10 friends.

Sniplits fills several niches this way: the reader’s need for a story, the author’s need for an audience. I’m wondering if libraries — where authors can sometimes come to read their works, and often come to write them — might someday be able to offer this same service.

The Arrow Book of Funny Poems

Our house is filled with books. There isn’t a room that doesn’t contain an overflowing bookshelf or several boxes or stacks of books, and in the crawlspaces there are still more boxes that we never unpacked.  Not only are Galahad and I voracious readers, our parents were also devoted to reading, so we inherited many books from our fathers.  Our children added plenty more to the collections, and even after two sons moved out and brought their favorites (and some of mine…) with them, I can still browse through the titles here and remember which book was the favorite of which son.

I own two copies of one thin paperback, stored in a place of honor on the top shelf of our beautiful oak bookcase.  My first copy was purchased in 1966 — second or third grade for me: The Arrow Book of Funny Poems.  It is well-used, well-loved, and well-worn, and has a cover price of $.35.

Eleanor Clymer collected this wonderful assortment of whimsical poetry and song lyrics back in 1961, and the copyright dates on the poems themselves go back much farther: the oldest copyright is 1901 by Miss Louise Anderson, for the poems I Wish That My Room Had a Floor and The Invisible Bridge, both by Gelett Burgess.  The former poem is a limerick I memorized decades ago and still recite when it seems appropriate:

I wish that my room had a floor;
I don’t so much care for a door,
But this walking around
Without touching the ground
Is getting to be quite a bore!

I acquired my newer copy just a few years ago, when I was still working at a public library.  We kept a truck of donated books in each department as an ongoing book sale to support the purchase of new library materials. I was browsing the cart one day when I spied a nearly pristine copy of this beloved book! A 1969 reprint, the cover price had risen to $.50.

There is no describing the joy this discovery brought me.  My original copy of The Arrow Book of Funny Poems is not long for this world if I continue to flip through it.  The pages are yellowed and chipped, and the cover is torn and broken.  This damage is not from careless mishandling but from the constant usage the book has seen over the course of forty years.

The minute I have this book in mind, I can envision the illustrations — the ones published in the book, and the ones my childhood self drew next to some of my favorite verses.  I can remember my brother R reading aloud Song of the Pop-Bottlers by Morris Bishop.  That poem is filled with opportunities to twist the tongue, and well into our teens, R and I would take turns reading it aloud as fast as we could.  R was always a clown anyway; he would have me in tears of mirth, gasping for air (I’m laughing now, just remembering those readings.)  As an adult, I took time to share many of these same poems with my sons, right along with the folktales and other stories we read together.

There are 128 poems in this collection, of which I have memorized 34.  There are limericks, odes, lyrics, and other forms of rhyme for which I do not know the proper names.  There are authors given, whose names meant nothing to me in 1966, but now mean a great deal: Laura E. Richards (whose mother wrote the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic), Ogden Nash, Lewis Carroll, Stephen C. Foster, W.S. Gilbert, Carl Sandburg, and Edward Lear.

The poignant discovery of adulthood involved my favorite author, and what “his” identity may mean in the Cosmic Scheme of Things.  As a child, I assumed this was someone like Aesop — another favorite author — and so did not question the unusual nature of the name.  I often asserted that “he” was my favorite poet, and my parents’ funny expressions never really registered back then.  As an adult in my own right now, I realized who my favorite author was, and along with that realization came the bitter truth of history and memory…

“Anon.”

Fiddling with Books at Walton’s Library

100_5686.jpgHope and I drove out to the William B. Ogden Library in Walton, NY, to present our Fiddling with Books program. I remember how this room looked just after the 2006 floods ravaged the community, with a loss of 12,000 books in this very room. What a change! Not a hint of the flood damage remains, save for the absence of books on this level. Instead, this is a bright, cheery community room for meetings or programs like this one.
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We always start our program with When Uncle Took the Fiddle by Libba Moore Grey.  I pretend to be a tired, sleepy farmhand while Hope plays a bit of Brahms’ Lullabye. Once Uncle takes the fiddle off the shelf, though, we kick off Miss MacLeod’s Reel, also known as Uncle Joe (with lyrics including “Did you ever go to meetin’ Uncle Joe? Uncle Joe?”)
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After that, we discuss the dangers of claiming someone can out-fiddle the Devil himself, as happens in Phyllis Root’s Rosie’s Fiddle. We play the soundtrack of the fiddle contest with Growling Old Man, Grumbling Old Woman with a quick switch to Devil’s Dream for the grand finale. Listening to those fiddle tunes, you don’t need to read the book to figure out who wins.

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One of our favorite books in the program is Moose Music by Sue Porter — the cover illustration alone is hilarious. Moose comes across an old fiddle mired in muck — never a good sign — and decides to play some songs… a bit of a trick with hooves, and the results are what you might expect. The teeth-rattling, ear-splitting “moose music” drives off everyone within earshot, but when his equally-talented true love comes to sing along with his playing, it is enough to set off volcanoes. We like to accompany this book with a goofy version of Flop-Eared Mule, complete with out-of-tune banjo.

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We love to include the audience as much as possible, and among the sing-along opportunities is our presentation of Anne Isaacs’s original tall tale Swamp Angel — which actually includes a tiny image of a fiddler amongst the illustrations by Paul O. Zelinski! We pair this book up with the rowdy Old Joe Clark.

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We try to vary the fiddle tunes, so that we have presented musical forms — waltzes, reels, and jigs — as well as a good representation of various traditions. Here, we feature Budge Wilson’s A Fiddle for Angus as we present a French-Canadien selection: Saint Anne’s Reel — complete with clogging! Budge included the beautiful Song for the Mira in her book, a love song to a river, and we are working on an arrangement of the song to include in the program, per Ms Wilson’s request.
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We always end the program with Alys Burgard’s Flying Feet, the story of the time a tiny Irish village seeks a dance teacher. When two excellent dancers both arrive to apply for the job, the only solution is a dance competition, right? Right! We have learned that if we stand up for this tune, everyone does, and we all dance to Irish Washerwoman.

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After the program, we always take a few minutes to discuss the instruments with the kids.

Book Review: Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia Trilogy

Some of the best writers today can be found in the Young Adult (YA) section of the library or bookstore.  Be they horror, humor, or fantasy stories, the books these YA writers create tend to grab the reader’s interest before the end of the first page and maintain a pace that keeps them engaged.  The YA readers include  “tweens” with advanced reading skills and teens with hundreds of competing interests.  They are the hardest reading audience to target because reading competes with sports, hormones, and the endless social dramas of daily life.  It’s a tough audience, and it requires bold authors.

One of the finest examples of such an author is Megan Whalen Turner.

Whalen’s debut novel, The Thief, published 1996, promptly earned a well-deserved Newbery Honor award.  The Thief is a fantasy novel: the setting is similar-to but not our own, with new mythologies, new landscapes, and an interesting blend of ancient Greece and Medieval Europe technologies.  Told in first-person narrative, it is the story of a braggart thief sprung from prison to steal an item that has not been seen in 500 years.  He has limited options: travel with the Magus on this dubious mission or rot in prison.  No run-of-the-mill heroic quest, story is populated with characters of the finest portrayal, both honorable and despicable, and all capable of transformation over the course of events.  I read the book in a single sitting, savoring every word, and desperately hunting for more by this author.  Alas, there was nothing else back then but her short fiction collection.  I had to cultivate patience.

Four years elapsed — four years!  But those were four years of amazing maturation for Turner’s writing.  The Queen of Attolia hit the shelves in 2000, and proved to be no mere sequel.  No longer told in the first person, the story explores the world of The Thief, introducing new characters alongside those we remember from the first book, all older, wiser, and perhaps more tragic.  We learned the countries of Turner’s world in her first novel, but now we travel more widely, and interact more with the citizens.  Queen is significantly more intense and thought-provoking, and I deeply cared about the outcome of events.

Six years later — 2006 — Turner did it again:  The King of Attolia arrived, with stunning cover art and something fresh and new in store!  In King, Turner does not simply bring back familiar characters from the first two books, she fleshes them out and explores the interrelationships with dramatic results.  This is no stale trilogy; there is no “formula” to this storyline.  Turner allows her characters to undergo changes many authors would never consider — never dare — and in doing so she leaves them free to portray a kaleidoscope of human behaviors and the full spectrum of emotions.

All three books are excellent reading: I purchased all three of them, twice, in hardcover.  Paperbacks would wear out too easily, as these stories are glorious adventures, even on repeat readings, and they will never gather dust on my shelves.

Book Review: The Sea Monster by Chris Wormell

It’s always interesting to see what sort of children’s story awaits beneath a “monster” title.

When my firstborn was just discovering books, he had a penchant for monsters, and I’m pretty certain we looked at every book published for children with a monster theme or image. Favorites included Mercer Mayer’s There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, Doug Cushman’s Not Counting Monsters, and even The Berenstain Bears and the Green-Eyed Monster just to see Papa Bear turn green.  When I spotted Chris Wormell’s The Sea Monster, I had to peek inside and see what was new in monsters for children.

Chris Wormell brings his readers on a magical visit to the ocean shore, in the company of a little boy, his faithful dog, an old man, and a mysterious sea creature who is a little bit of all these things. While there is acknowledged danger — the boy is adrift on the ocean, far from shore —  it is never a frightening or threatening situation that would make a young reader uncomfortable with the story. By the time the danger is realized, the rescue is already underway.  Wormell is never saccharine or heavy-handed in telling the story; he trusts his illustrations to explain what he leaves unsaid.

The result is a magical story, told quietly, so that we might hear the lapping of gentle waves, the cries of seagulls, and the distant barking of a little boy’s dog.  Richly colored illustrations provide a sense of immensity: the vastness of the sea, the sheer height of the cliffs, and the mystery of love, in the form of an ancient monster.

The Sea Monster
Chris Wormell
Published 2005 by Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 0224070258

Book Review: Marcia Williams’s retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

More than six hundred years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer commenced the writing of his Canterbury Tales.  The work was never finished: of the 30 pilgrims, each was to tell two tales, to help pass the time on the journey to Canterbury and back, but today we have only the unfinished fragments in countless interpretations and translations.

Marcia Williams took on the awesome challenge of retelling Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for a new generation of younger readers.  Referring (with credit given on the copyright page) to Dr. Lesley A. Coote’s student-friendly edition as the basis for Williams’ own text, the stories are told in modern English with snippets of the original text provided in the illustrations, in word bubbles from the characters, where their context makes them less alien and more charming.

A particularly endearing feature of Williams’ book is the running commentary of characters in the margin illustrations.  Little birds discuss the actions of characters in the Knight’s tale, while squirrels and owls listen in on the Miller’s tale, and goofy fairies flit alongside the Wife of Bath’s story.  These margin dialogues provide a modern day connection and discussion points for adults who share this book with children, or for older children to discuss the stories together.

The medieval font chosen for the copyright page information particularly charmed me.  It’s always a delight when publishers remember that a few of us have to read that page, too.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
retold by Marcia Williams.
Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, c2007.
ISBN 9780763631970.

Book Review: Stick by Steve Breen

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Breen has created one of the most charming, delightful frog adventures since Mercer Mayer’s series featuring the Boy and His Frog.

In Stick, we meet an independent young frog who decides to catch lunch on his own.  Unfortunately, his aim is a little off and instead of a sweet little mosquito, he finds himself attached to a powerhouse dragonfly.  Off they go on a series of hilarious adventures with priceless, perfect visual jokes.

Not one image is wasted: every detail is involved in the storytelling, which promises that little readers will not soon tire of exploring this book — there is always some delightful new detail to discover.

The text is minimal, since the perfection of the illustrations leaves little needed.  By far, the quality of the illustrations is superior to many books geared to youngsters, which guarantees that anyone who picks up this book will enjoy it thoroughly, regardless of age.
Stick
written and illustrated by Steve Breen
New York : Dial Books For Young Readers, 2006.
ISBN 9780803731240.

Book Review: Sergio Ruzzier’s The Room of Wonders

Pius Pelosi, the rat and hero of The Room of Wonders, collects many delightful things he discovers in the course of his daily routine:  shiny keys, leaves, feathers, driftwood, and “shiny bits of glass shaped and smoothed by the ocean.”

Pius’s friends love to come by to admire his delightful collection, on display in his Room of Wonders.  They love the beauty of some objects, the whimsical shapes, and even the stories Pius can tell about so many of these found objects.  If there is no story to tell, sometimes the item can inspire Pius to make up a clever tale.

Among the countless treasures in Pius’ collection, however, there is a small, grey, entirely unremarkable pebble.  Of all the amazing wonders in Pius’s storeroom, this grey pebble is an outstanding misfit.  Its only feature, its only claim to importance, is that it was the very first item Pius ever collected.  He cannot explain to anyone the importance of this one pebble or why it holds a place among so many treasures.  It has no interesting story about discovery or location, nor can Pius invent a story on its behalf.

Eventually, outshone by the magnificence of everything else in the Room of Wonders, the pebble loses its glamour even in Pius’s eyes, and he tosses it into the river.  But soon thereafter, every other treasure in the room of wonders becomes equally disinteresting.  Item after item is given away or discarded, until the room is empty… and so is Pius’s life.

Pius spends his days in a now-wonderless room, and on his daily routine he no longer spots the treasures that might once have caught his eye.  Something is missing, not just around Pius, but within him as well… until the day a small, unremarkable pebble catches his eye.  It reminds him of his old one, and he begins once again to wonder:  where did it come from?  How did it get here?  And this pebble comes home with Pius.

In Pius, Ruzzier has created a sweetly familiar character in which we can see both parent and child in shared delight at the world around them.  Through the eyes of children, every thing appears new and marvelous, and all things are free from the dullness of familiarity.  Throughout our lives, we fill our own Rooms of Wonder without realizing it.  In fact, I have my very own rock collection, scattered throughout my house on windowsills, in bowls, and clustered under my computer monitor.  And every so-often, as I dust them off, I think to myself, “Why on earth am I keeping this?”

The Room of Wonders holds the answer.  Ruzzier’s soft color drawings illuminate and charmingly express this story that quietly blossoms inside each reader, as we come to realize that the wonder was really never in the room, but within Pius’s soul.

The Room of Wonders

Author: Sergio Ruzzier
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
First edition, ©2006
ISBN: 0374363439