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, June 7, 2013

Tooth fairies with cell phones

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Really interesting speech from Veronica Roth about the importance of humility as both a reader and a writer. The way she writes about her fans educating her about the problems with her use of sexual assault as a plot device made me think of Kristin Cashore's acknowledgments section at the end of Bitterblue.  Cashore describes the way she came to see her treatment of one of her main characters as problematic when viewed through the lens of the disability rights movement.  This character goes blind towards the end of Graceling, but is endowed with special powers which allow him to effectively hide his blindness from the rest of the world.  While he is physically disabled, he doesn't have to deal with the real-world effects of that disability.  There's something kind of wonderful about this quick and detailed back-and-forth between author and readers, though I imagine something terrifying about it too.

It was lovely to see you last weekend!  The books you brought have already become household favorites; today, in fact, I was asked to read Bob Graham's April and Esme, Tooth Fairies, no less than three times.  (Regular readers will notice that I've put up a brand-new picture of you reading to Isabel; that's the book she's gazing at so intently.)

I love Bob Graham's books.  They have a sweetness to them, a kind of mellow, oddball feel.  His characters are gentle -- not a lot of conflict in the worlds he creates, though there is some drama.  In April and Esme, the title characters are two young tooth fairies, setting out to bring back their first tooth, and leave their first coin.  Their parents, also tooth fairies, worry at first:

"You and Esme?  A tooth in Parkville?" said their mom, Fay.  "Darlings, you're far too young."

"You went by yourself when you were six, Mommy," said Esme.  She balanced a bubble on the end of her finger till it popped.  "Same age as me--and April's even older."

"Well, that was long ago," said Mom.  "Before the highway came.  Foxes still chased hares on the hill, and things were different back then."

"Well, some things haven't changed, Mommy."  Esme took a sip of her dandelion soup.
"Children still lose their first teeth," April said, "and ducklings still have to take their first swim."

So April and Esme set off, with instructions from their father to remember that the boy, Daniel, thinks they are magical spirits, and must not see them, and from their mother to text her if they need to (they do).  Yes, text: one of the things I like so much about Graham's work is the way he combines the old and the new, nature and the intrusion of the modern world.  Fairies carry cell phones, and their home in a field next to a stump is right up next to a busy highway.  In Oscar's Half Birthday, the family lives in an apartment building and has to go past train tracks with graffiti on them in order to get to "the half-country" for their picnic.  There's no fight between these different elements; they simply exist, side by side.

Graham illustrates his own books, and his detailed pictures often hint at elements of the story that he doesn't explain directly in the text.  In April and Esme, the fairies find Daniel's tooth in a glass of water by his nightstand, and April has to dive to retrieve it.  A couple of pages later, we see Grandma asleep with her dentures in a glass of water on her nightstand.  April tells Esme not to try to take the dentures, but no one explicitly says what the drawings show you: that Daniel has put his tooth in water to be like his grandmother. In a drawing of the fairies' living room, you might notice that their rocking horse is a chess piece: a knight turned on its side, with wheels added.  In a bathroom scene, the mom dries her hair in one panel, then holds up the hair dryer to waft Esme higher in the air on her wings as they talk.  There's a lot to find and enjoy, amid the pleasing round-faced characters and ponytailed dads.

Thanks for the gift!

Love, Annie

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