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.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Breaking the fourth wall

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Before I move too far away from the subject of books on color, I want to include a shout-out for another Eric Carle book that Isabel adores: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  Carle is the illustrator here (Bill Martin, Jr. wrote the text), so the pictures are his wonderful familiar streaky collages.  It's kind of the proto-version of The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse: lots of illustrations of brightly-colored animals, though here most are the colors nature made them.  The question and answer format is rhythmic, and encourages kids to respond when you read it aloud: "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?  I see a yellow duck looking at me." We read it a lot.

Your discussion of Linda Sue Park and the way she plays with narrative voice in Project Mulberry got me thinking about other authors who address their audiences directly or in other ways consciously engage kids with the fact that they are constructing a book.  Sometimes this involves a conversation between author and character, as you write about with Park; often, it happens through a second-person address directly to the reader.

Judith Viorst (of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day fame) has a recent entry in this category: Lulu and the Brontosaurus, which you mentioned briefly last year here.  It's a short chapter book, packed with attitude from the first page:

OKAY!  All right!  You don't have to tell me!  I know!

I know that people and dinosaurs have never lived on earth at the same time.  And I know that dinosaurs aren't living now.  I even also know that paleontologists (folks who study dinosaurs) decided that a dinosaur that was once called a brontosaurus (a very nice name) shouldn't be called brontosaurus anymore, and changed it to apatosaurus (a kind of ugly name).  But since I'm the person writing this story, I get to choose what I write, and I'm writing about a girl and a BRONTOSAURUS.  So if you don't want to read this book, you can close it up right now -- you won't hurt my feelings.  And if you still want to read it, here goes:

Most of the rest of the book is a straight narrative (though it does contain a number of parenthetical asides), about an extremely bratty little girl named Lulu who decides she wants a brontosaurus for a pet.  She's spoiled, and won't take no for an answer, so when her parents refuse to get her one, she takes off into the forest by herself.  Lulu runs into several wild animals, who she's rude to and then defeats easily: squeezing a snake, bonking a tiger on the head with her suitcase.  She finds her brontosaurus, but -- here comes the twist -- it turns out that he wants to make her into the pet, not the other way around.  She learns a little humility, and ultimately apologizes to the other animals, and life is better.  As so often happens with these Children Behaving Badly stories, she's more interesting when unrepentant.

The catchphrase that has come to us from Lulu is her catchy, repeated rhyme:

I'm gonna, I'm gonna, 
I'm gonna gonna get

A bronto-bronto-bronto 
Brontosaurus for a pet.

I'm gonna, I'm gonna, 
I'm gonna gonna get

A bronto-bronto-bronto 
Brontosaurus for a pet.

Fair warning: reading about Lulu leads to lots of chanting of the above.

At the end of the book, Viorst plays heavily with narrative voice again ("Wait!  I'm really not all that sure about this ending.  It may be a little too mushy, a little too sad").  Eleanor enjoys this telling and re-telling, and I think it's a interesting model to expose kids to when they're making up their own stories all the time.

There are some picture books I have in mind as well, but I'll save them for another night.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. Hi Annie and Aunt Deb: Thank you for the color books. I put some of them on my wish list for Emerson who is turning 2 on the 30th. Brown Bear, Brown Bear is one of our favorites, as is a bilingual Eric Carle book called Colors/Colores.

    As I have been thinking of books to get Emerson, I have been noticing that he gravitates toward Superman and popular cartoon books that involve action, fighting, and lots of loud glossy pages, books I do not enjoy reading. He likes Star Wars, the Incredibles, all those Nickelodean characters.

    I would love recommendations for my lil' boy who loves to pretend fight, play with balls, and turn anything into a bat.