Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I vote for llamas! (Sorry Mickey)

Since I haven't had much time lately to read grownup books, I thought I'd offer reviews of the books I am reading, which I was surprised to find offer great writing lessons!

Lily loves being read to, which as a writer and a 
reader and a major supporter of words in general, I'm pretty happy about. 

We have an ever-growing collection of books at home and visit the library once or twice a month to spice the repertoire up. 

Of course, Lily and I have somewhat different tastes in children's reading material. Unfortunately for the person who gets to read the same four to five book rotation week after week, Lily is the tastemaker in this household.

A while back our babysitter gave Lily a large stack of Little Golden Books from her childhood (I know, sweet babysitter, right?). Lily immediately rooted through the pile and found several that featured her favorite characters -- namely, dalmatians and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang

For the past couple months, not a day goes by when we don't read "Mickey Picnic" (as Lily calls it) at least once or twice or five times a day. 

In "Mickey Picnic" Mickey Mouse and his pals head out for a day of singing merrily, frolicking and eating the delicious lunch that Minnie had packed for them (the menu includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold meat sandwiches, deviled eggs, potato salad, radishes and onions* and pink lemonade and a great big chocolate cake.** And yes, I did write that from memory.).

 As the gang piles into Mickey's car, Mickey comments about how strange it is to head out on a picnic without Donald, but everyone reminds him that "there's always trouble when Donald is along." In a subtle use of foreshadowing, nobody notices Donald Duck jumping up and down "in rage" as they drive down the road. 

The plot thickens when, after walking along the river bank  and going for a swim, the gang gets hungry and goes to change back into their clothes, only to find their pant legs and shirt sleeves tied into knots. It is determined that "some mischief maker" is about, and they hurry off to check on the lunch basket, and discover it has disappeared. 

I won't spoil the ending, suffice to say that there are some pretty tense moments involving the hunt for the missing lunch and uneasy relief when Donald Duck turns up with an eerily similar lunch he's happy to share with his friends.

What amuses Brad and me about "Mickey Picnic" (and at this point, very little about "Mickey Picnic" amuses us) is the language. The story was written in 1950, and it's really amazing how much the style in which we speak or write has evolved (or devolved, depending on who you ask). Take this page for instance:

"Oh!" groaned everyone. "Not the lunch!"
"Hurry into your clothes, everybody!" Mickey cried.
"We'll soon find out about this." 

Who talks like that anymore? I often stumble when reading the book out loud because the cadence and attribution are too clunky and formal. 

(Incidentally, if you like olde tyme things like this, check out Papergreat.com which pheatures all sorts of phun ephemera).

Fortunately, we have some other books on hand that are much easier and enjoyable to read out loud, and that always remind me how fun language can be. (It's been at least a month since I've picked up my Kindle - I can't even remember what book I'm in the middle of - so at least I'm finding good reads somewhere!)

Like, for instance, "Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin" by Lloyd Moss and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman -- one of my favorite baby shower gifts from a college friend. (OK, so Lily doesn't gravitate toward this one, much, yet. Probably because it doesn't feature a talking mouse or spotted puppies). It introduces children to the different instruments in an orchestra and itself reads like a song with a great sense of rhythm and rhyme. Plus, the illustrations are bright and colorful and dreamlike. I love this page especially:

"With steely keys that softly click,
Its breezy notes so darkly slick,
A sleek, black, woody clarinet
Is number seven - now septet"
In addition to the rhyming couplets, I love the the ways the words complement and parallel each other within each internally (steely, softly, darkly, woody ... steely, breezy, sleek). What wonderful poetry.

And then there are the Llama books written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney -- given to Lily by Stephanie the most thoughtful gift giver I know (and also a llama enthusiast).

 In "Llama Llama Mad at Mama," little llama is forced to go shopping with his mom at generic mega-store when all he wants to do is play. The shopping trip becomes more and more aggravating for the young llama (as illustrated to adorable perfection at left. I know how he's feeling) until he eventually loses it and throws a great big temper tantrum in the middle of the store.

Thankfully, Lily has not had an in-store meltdown yet (consider myself jinxed) but I know my days are numbered. Toward the end of our grocery store trips (after she's finished her fruit snacks and the free piece of cheese the nice lady at the deli counter gives her) she begins chanting "back to Wiwy's house" with increasing volume. Her patience is bought at the checkout by the promise of a sticker from the nice lady who rings up our groceries ... but not before she attempts to rip off each plastic bag from the plastic bag holder and throw them on the floor.

The story is written in rhyme and Dewdney does a great job of building tension using long and short phrases -- they get shorter the madder Little Llama gets until we reach this page:

Flying pasta, spraying juice. Paper towels rolling loose.
Coffee, bread and chips galore. Shoes and sweaters hit the floor.
Dewdney does such an excellent job capturing the perspective of Little Llama (having to stare at knees because he's small, smelling gross perfume, not caring about what type of breakfast cereal his mom buys). I think as Lily gets older, she will totally relate to the story (although hopefully we can avoid any cart-emptying explosions).

Alright, I've rambled enough for now.***

* Onions? Seriously Minnie? Who eats whole onions?

** I really think the only reason Lily requested a chocolate cake for her birthday was because of this book. How do I know this? Because every time she talks about cake, she talks about "a great big chocolate cake," as it's referred to in the story.

*** How I end posts when I can't think of anything clever to say

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