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.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inanimate objects with personality

Dear Aunt Debbie,

We await the birthday box of books with great anticipation!

A Flock of Shoes sounds wonderful.  There's something so appealing about giving personalities to inanimate objects.  Yesterday afternoon, Eleanor and I were having ice cream cones in the playground (and giving the eager Isabel licks from a spoon), and I was reminded of one of your gifts to us: the book Things That Sometimes Happen: Very Short Stories for Little Listeners, by Avi, with illustrations by Marjorie Priceman.

There are a lot of wonderful things about this book: the nine very short stories with simple, imaginative, funny plots; Priceman's vivid, sweeping gouache paintings.  There are animals (a hippopotamus who wants to buy a new car), and people (a little boy who makes himself small so he can run between the raindrops to get his mother some bread from the store), and there are some wonderful inanimate objects, each of which wants nothing more than to be of use.

In "The Story of the Glass of Water and the Elephant," the Glass of Water complains about having no one to drink him: "'I do wish,' the Glass of Water said to himself, 'I do wish somebody would drink me.  A Glass of Water needs to have somebody to drink the water or it is no good.'"  Happily, the Glass of Water meets a thirsty Elephant, and it all works out.

"The Black Crayon" begins: "A Black Crayon was feeling very unhappy because nobody used him very much.  All the other crayons, the red crayon, the blue crayon, all the different ones, were getting shorter and shorter.  But the Black Crayon was staying very much the same size."

He convinces a Little Girl to draw a picture of the nighttime, with lots of black, and everyone is happy.  The fate of "The Melting Ice Cream Cone" is not as rosy: though he wants to be eaten, he melts while two bears argue over who should take the first lick.  I love the sense in all three stories that everyone just wants to fulfill their role in life.

I can't write about Things That Sometimes Happen without mentioning the story "Going to Work," in which a Little Boy agrees to take his Papa's place at the office when his Papa has to stay home sick with a cold.  The description of an adult workplace is both clearly simplified and totally accurate: "After his Mama had made him a lunch, the Little Boy went to work.  When he got to work, he sat at a desk and said yes and no to a lot of people.  Then he picked up the telephone and spoke to some more people.  Then he looked at some papers.  Every once in a while he had some coffee."  Yep, that's pretty much how it goes some days.

Love, Annie


  1. The black crayon story makes me wonder what happens to the white crayon-- the white crayons are never used. :'(

  2. Lovely post. The Black Crayon would be so much fun to read with a big stack of paper and tin of crayons beside us.
    When my girls paint the black paint is actually their favourite -it makes such a bold statement on the paper and I think that's why they like it.