In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Boy-girl best friends in an easy reader format

Dear Aunt Debbie,

At her new reading level, Eleanor has discovered another series of Easy Reader books that she's really into, and  I've been enjoying as well: the Pinky and Rex series, by James Howe. You blogged about one Pinky and Rex book a while back, when we were writing about gay and gay-friendly YA and middle grade books.  As you mentioned at the time, no one in the series is explicitly gay, but there's some nice gender-bending going on.  

The series focuses on elementary-school-age best friends Pinky (a boy whose favorite color is pink) and Rex  (an active, ponytailed girl).  Pinky has a younger sister, and Rex has a younger brother; their families live next door to each other, and their parents are friends as well.  Each book contains six short chapters, with a decent amount of text on each page, and pictures (by Melissa Sweet) on each facing page.

Howe says in a note at the end of Pinky and Rex and the Double-Dad Weekend: "Writing the Pinky and Rex series gives me a chance to remember what it was like when I was seven. It also gives me a chance to say: It's okay to be different, and it's okay for boys and girls to be friends--even best friends."  Happily, Howe knows how to get these ideas across without becoming treacly.

In Pinky and Rex and the School Play, Pinky wants to be an actor, and has his heart set on becoming the lead in the school play, "Davi, Boy of the Rain Forest."  He convinces Rex, who has no interest in acting, to join him for the auditions.  Rex impresses the director so much that he casts her as the lead, changing the name of the play to "Bahi, Girl of the Rain Forest."  Pinky is cast as a monkey.  Jealousy and bad feelings ensue.  As rehearsals continue, however, Pinky decides to learn as much as he can about acting, even though his character is minor.  He pays attention to everything that Mr. Lacey, the ponytailed teacher directing the play, says.  On the day of the performance, Rex does a terrific job, and Pinky saves the play by ad-libbing and directing the other kids on stage who have frozen up and forgotten their cue.  Hard work pays off: Mr. Lacey compliments Pinky, and offers him the opportunity to be the director's assistant on the next school play.

One of the most interesting moments for me comes with Rex's reaction to her success as an actor.  Pinky's sister Amanda praises her after the show:

"Oh, Rex!" Amanda cried. "You were so-o-o good.  Are you going to be a movie star when you grow up?"

"No way," said Rex.  "I'm through with acting."

"That's too bad," her father said.  "You were very good."

"I can be good at something and not have to want to do it, can't I?" Rex asked.  Her father looked surprised, but nodded his head.  "It's just that there's other stuff I'd rather do, like soccer."

Not the predictable moral, and a nice lesson to pull from this story.

Eleanor was so excited by these books that she came home wanting to read them aloud that evening instead of having me read to her.  She took one on the subway to a birthday party the next day finishing reading it aloud to me, and on the way home, reread it silently while I talked with a friend.  I'm loving this stage.

Love, Annie

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