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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gaiman picture books

Dear Annie,

Ah, the two-year old world.  Ah, wolfes.

Isabel has provided me with the perfect segue to two strange and wonderful and not necessarily young-child-friendly picture books by the excellent Neil Gaiman.  We seem to have written about him only once, in relation to Norse mythology.

Wolves in the Walls
by Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, starts with Lucy hearing things:
(Not a book to read at bedtime.)  Her family members dismiss her belief that there are wolves in the walls, but all three tell her, "You know what they say, if the wolves come out of the walls, then it's all over."  They finally do, in a burst of black line drawings, causing the family to flee:

(Lucy's father is a professional tuba player.)  The family huddles in the garden while the wolves party in the house.  Lucy is the only rational one of the bunch.  She sneaks back to rescue her pig-puppet, then concocts a plan for the family to return to the house and live in the walls.
"What?" said her father
"What?" said her mother.
"What?" said her brother.
"What?" said the Queen of Melanesia, who had dropped by to help with the gardening.
That's the Queen's entire participation in the book: she's a cameo.  Lucy leads the family into the walls, then in an attack on the wolves:
"Arrgh!" howled the wolves.  "The people have come out of the walls!"
"And when the people come of the the walls," shouted the biggest, fattest wolf, flinging aside the tuba, "it's all over!"
The wolves all flee and the family eventually restores order. Then Lucy starts hearing new noises...  It's creepy and fascinating and wacky.

In the process of searching for already-scanned pictures from Wolves, I came upon a site called Teaching Children Philosophy which discusses "numerous philosophical issues concerning knowledge, metaphysics, and ethics" brought up by this off-beat book.  Kind of lovely, actually.

Six years before Wolves, Gaiman and McKean collaborated on
The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish
, which I sent to you as an un-birthday present for Eleanor. It's another odd one, but higher on the purely funny end of the spectrum.

A boy's friend comes to visit with two goldfish in a bowl.  They discuss a trade, but nothing offered by the narrator is acceptable.
I thought for a bit.

Some people have great ideas maybe once or twice in their life, and then they discover electricity or fire or outer space or something. I mean the kind of brilliant ideas that change the whole world. Some people never have them at all. I get them two or three times a week.

"I'll swap you my dad," I said.

"Oh-oh,” said my little sister.
"That's not a fair swap," said Nathan. I've got two goldfish, and you've only got one dad.
 But the dad is bigger than the goldfish, so the swap is made.  When Mum comes home the kid sister rats on her brother, and both children are sent off with the goldfish to retrieve the dad.   Nathan, the goldfish boy, shows the narrator an electric guitar he has just acquired in a swap:
And of course Vashti got the dad in exchange for the guitar.  Brother and sister, bickering all the way, find that guitar girl swapped dad for a gorilla mask, and on it goes.  Finally the siblings bring a very large rabbit named Galveston to Patti's house, where the bunny is greeted with glee (including enthusiasm from the Queen of Melanesia, in another cameo).  The father is found reading his paper in the rabbit hutch and the children take him home, reading the paper all the way.

It's fun and nutty and, like Wolves,  much more visually sophisticated than your average kids' picture book.  I've never offered it to someone Eleanor's age -- I think of it as a bit older sense of humor.  But I'm curious what you guys think of it.



1 comment:

  1. This is now the second picture book I know with a character named Vashti (the other being one of the Peter Reynolds ones - Ish, perhaps?). Vashti was, of course, the queen deposed by her husband when she refused to dance naked for his court; she was subsequently replaced by Queen Esther of biblical fame (celebrated on Purim and the origin of the phrase, "the whole megillah"). What do you make of that name choice? In recent years, in Jewish feminist circles, Vashti is held up as an ideal in addition to Esther - someone who refuses to parade her body for the pleasure of men, someone who takes a stand. But that reference is surely over the heads of the child audience of these books and is even a bit obscure for many of their parents. Hmmm.