Friday, July 2, 2010

Analysis of an Awful Children's Book, Part 1 of A Million


My daughter loves to read, so I am very familiar with the canon of children's books, and I therefore feel I have the expertise to offer this reasoned opinion of children's literature: It sucks. Oh, there are occasional exceptions, but most children's books make you want to hunt down the author and demand they re-take 11th grade English. Part of the problem is that Stella wants to read the same book over and over again, and repeated readings do not do shoddily-written books any favors. It's a bit like carpeting; standing up to high volume sometimes requires something truly ugly.

This is as good as time as any to admit that I could not make it through Infinite Jest.

We used to buy books a lot at St. Vincent's, before I wised up to the fact that no matter how many I bought, I would still get heartily sick of them from repeated readings. Now we just go to the library to get books we will be sick of in a week. The book I wanted to discuss today, Tiger in the Jungle, was a St. Vinnie's purchase and you can still see the $0.50 price sticker on the front which now that I am thinking about is kind of a lot, both for the quality of the book and considering the fact that I bought Everything is Illuminated there for $1.50, and it's way more than three times as good.
 Now on to the analysis.
Page 1: This is Tiger. He has wandered away from his mother to get a drink.
Like too many children's books, this one goes for the cheap anxiety of getting lost, which might be one reason my daughter freaks out if I step out to empty the compost and don't tell her where I am.

Page 2: "Have you seen my mother?" Tiger asks Parrot. A reasonable enough question.


Page 3: "Squawk!" says Parrot. "She's here somewhere, Tiger." Yes, you morons, that's her happy tiger face poking out from behind the grass. Inane, yes, but if we're not expecting Tolstoy there's no particular reason to be disappointed so far.


Page 4: "I've lost my mother," Tiger tells Elephant, have you seen her?" It took me something like 40 minutes to upload these photos of the book.  This blogging site is through Google, and I was using Picasa (which is a Google program) to upload the photos so you might think that the two programs would work well together but the Blogger would only let me upload four photos directly from Picasa.  That strikes me as positively retro.  Ok, maybe in the 1950s maybe they would only let you load four photos at a time onto your blog, but that was when launching Sputnik took up the whole world's bandwidth for six days and Facebook barely existed.  But now that the internet has celebrated its hundredth anniversary you would think it would be possible to actually move to the stage where we can upload five photos at once, yet no. Which is why the photos show two pages each and are therefore too small to read.  Yet I really wanted to have photos on this post, as photographic evidence of the weirdness of this book.


There is an odd number of quotation marks on this page.  There are THREE quotation marks.  Now, I think people who pride themselves on being sticklers for proper grammar as secretly insecure people trying to find something to look down on other people for, and yes you bet I ended that sentence with a preposition. Still. I believe there are supposed to be an even number of quotation marks, in the sense that there are opening and closing marks, unless perhaps it's an e. e. cummings poem.


There's also the whole business of the comma instead of a period between "Elephant" and "have" but I'm going to gloss over that for fear of sounding like a grammar stickler.


Page 5: "She's not far away!" says Elephant. "Look carefully and you'll see her." Didn't we already do this with parrot? This is familiar ground and getting a bit repetitive.  Michiko Kakutani is not going to be pleased, not one bit.


Page 6: "Growl!" It's Tiger's mother! Can you see her tail? I believe this is called foreshadowing. Shakespeare also used this technique.


Page 7 and yes we're almost done: Tiger looks around and sees her. "Mommy, I've found you at last!"


Page 8: "I was with you all the time!" says Mom. Did you see me? Now the quotes are skipped entirely for the last sentence.  Perhaps the author was trying to save money on ink costs and therefore skimped on quotation marks. Or perhaps the book was written during the terrible quotation drought of 2003.


This book contains 86 words. How long would it have taken to run it by a proofreader?

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