Thursday, June 10, 2004

Everyday I Write The Book

In other news, “Reading To My Kid” an anonymously written blog about a young mother/writer/reader named simply “E.” critiquing the many books she and her (presumably) pseudonymously titled daughter “Tulip” tackled together is shuttering its doors for the time being.

This is sad. I don’t have kids, but I certainly get a fair share of questions about books for them whilst working at the book store, are “Reading to my Kid” was a valuable resource for me (having not read a kids’ book since I myself was a kid).

Anyway, I thought as a little tribute I would reprint one of my favorite entries which also happens to be one of the last, it’s about the Arthur books. I myself remember reading only one Arthur book, the one where Arthur has a secret admirer, and his fear of being kissed by her actually leads him to be rather cruel and bail on a date with her in the middle of the movie. This is supposed to be funny, as opposed to cruel. It always struck me that the Arthur books were not possessed with particular empathy for their subjects, indeed, for children’s books, their empathy level was shockingly low.

Anyway, here is E.’s entry on the Arthur phenomenon, which you can read here:

"Tulip read her first Arthur story as part of a treasury of children's literature I got from the library. It was a mixed bag, the treasury. The best of a certain publisher's backlist, plus some filler, it seemed to me. One of the stories was about Arthur's sister D.W. being a picky eater. Finally, she is kind-of tricked into eating spinach and likes it very much. Didactic, boring, simply illustrated, pretty much harmless.

Tulip was wild for it.

Next trip to the library my kid finds another Arthur book and begs for it. She could clearly tell somehow that Arthur was the hero of these books even though D.W. was the star of the first one she read. I don't know how she knew, but she did.
Anyway, we got Arthur's New Puppy, which was confusingly written, involved the threat of sending the new puppy away "to a farm" if Arthur didn't train it properly, involved several euphemisms for pee and poop ("ooh, he just went! I think you need some newspapers") in detailing the puppy's misbehavior, and when Arthur finally trains the dog, no mention of training him to "go" outside -- and had an unfunny plot twist about the dog hiding things it didn't like that was way over Tulip's head but might well delight older children. It featured bland, orange-y pictures of simple domestic scenes; a typical suburban nuclear family, which is all very nice but not how or where we live.

Tulip loved it.

She asked for another Arthur story at the library (she knew there were lots because the covers are featured on the back jacket of Arthur's New Puppy) -- so I figured, let's start with the original: Arthur's Nose. The first one must be the best, right? It will explain the whole appeal.

Arthur's Nose is the story of an aardvark whose unkind friends constantly make fun of his enormous nose. He decides to get a NOSE JOB and goes to the "rhinologist" -- a rhino named Doctor Louise -- who essentially offers to surgically alter his nose to improve his self-image. He is clearly a schoolchild. There is no mention of HOW she will change his nose, but she is a doctor, not a magician.

She gives him cards of all different animal noses to try up against his face to see what he'll look like with, say, an elephant's trunk. There are several amusing pictures of him with different cards, which I'm sure are very appealing and funny to elementary school-aged children.

Cut to: A's friends wondering what he'll look like -- and then he emerges from the office saying he's gonna keep his long nose: "I'm just not me without my nose!" Then the last sentence reads: "There's a lot more to Arthur than his nose." -- although it doesn't say WHAT and suggests that he hasn't learned to love it, but just to live with it and not think about it so much (which is okay, I guess).

Don't children ask HOW the doctor is gonna change the nose? Don't parents have trouble answering this question? Don't all to many children KNOW people who have had their faces surgically altered? Shouldn't we teach them that such surgery DOES NOT change the way you look in the radical ways that Dr. Louise promises, and that it is a painful and expensive path for attempting self-love? Should we have a picture book about this topic at ALL? Shouldn't Arthur tell his friends to STOP TEASING HIM or go find some friends with big noses or tease his friends back, or SOMETHING other than his lame attempt to change? he does nothing but consider surgery to rectify his situation.

And last -- but certainly not least -- the subsequent books HAVE LOPPED OFF HIS NOSE. On the cover of Arthur's Valentine and Arthur's Halloween, he still has a very slightly elongated face; by Arthur Writes a Story (see image below), he is completely castrated/anti-semitically altered/rounded. Effectively negating the entire message of the first book anyway.

I did a web search to see if Brown discusses the change in Arthur in any of his interviews, but haven't yet found anything. I'll keep looking around, though. "

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