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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tummy misery

Dear Annie,

I'd never thought of The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a cautionary tale on overeating -- interesting interpretation!  But the overeating leads ultimately to beauty and flight...

The other illness from overeating I can think of is
The Lady with the Alligator Purse
, which is about a baby drinking the bathwater, eating the soap, and being misdiagnosed. Lovely video of three sisters reading it here.

I'm taking you up on the Throw-Up Challenge.  (The Upchuck Event?)  I still can't think of any in the picture book category. 

I return to the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, exquisitely empathetic portrayals of life from pre-school to fourth grade.  I've just re-read Chapter 6 of
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
: "Supernuisance."  Ramona is in third grade and her loving but overloaded parents are struggling with financial problems.  She has overheard her teacher describe her as "a nuisance," which has deflated her enthusiasm for anything in school.  So one morning when her parents' car breaks down, she arrives in her classroom with its wall of science experiments (fruit flies growing in colored oatmeal), feeling increasingly bad:
She sat motionless, hoping the terrible feeling would go away.  She knew she should tell her teacher, but by now Ramona was too miserable even to raise her hand.  If she did not move, not even her little finger or an eyelash, she might feel better
   Go away, blue oatmeal, thought Ramona, and then she knew that the most terrible, horrible, dreadful, awful thing that could happen was going to happen.  Please, God, don't let me. . . . Ramona prayed too late.
   The terrible, horrible, dreadful, awful thing happened.  Ramona threw up.  She threw up right there on the floor in front of everyone.  One second her breakfast was where it belonged.  Then everything in her middle seemed to go into reverse, and there was her breakfast on the floor.
Ramona is miserable and humiliated.  The teacher sends a student to take Ramona to the office, and she gives the rest of the class permission to "hold your noses and file into the hall until Mr. Watts comes and cleans up."

The school secretary is the mensch of the story, cleaning Ramona up, settling her on a cot, and calling her mother.  Mrs. Quimby is at work, leading Ramona to worry that her illness will cause her mother to lose her job.  When Ramona throws up again, the secretary gets her to the toilet in time, gives her a cup of water and cheerfully says, "You must feel as if you've just thrown up your toenails."

Cleary charts Ramona's misery -- from willing herself not to throw up in the taxi her mother has brought to take her home, through the days of fever and slow recovery.  First she can think only of the secure feel of the clean sheets on her bed.  Family members look in on her from the doorway.  Then she's aware they're having dinner without her.  Next her world expands enough to understand that they're being especially quiet just for her.  There's ginger ale, and later dry toast.  And when she asks sadly for  butter on the toast, we know she's on the way up, at least physically.
Remembering what had happened at school, she began to cry.
   "Dear heart," said her mother. "Don't cry.  You just have a touch of stomach flu.  You'll feel better in a day or so."
   Ramona's voice was muffled.  "No, I won't."
   "Yes, you will."  Mrs. Quimby patted Ramona through the bedclothes.  
   Ramona turned enough to look at her mother with one teary eye.  "You don't know what happened," she said.
   Mrs. Quimby looked concerned.  "What happened?"
   "I threw up on the floor in front of the whole class," sobbed Ramona.
She works her way out of misery during her convalescence in the next chapter, and by the time she gets back on the school bus, throwing up is in the distant past. 

I trust your misery is also a dim memory at this point.  And that it hasn't visited itself on others near and dear to you.



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