Books Are Pretty

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ten Apples Up On Top.

I'm probably way too close to this Dr. Seuss classic to be able to review it impartially.(the pseudonym he uses here, Theo Le Sieg, was used when he wrote the text but did not create the accompanying illustrations. "Le Sieg" is "Geisel," Seuss' real name, backwards.)

I remember reading it when I was in preschool, and loving those odd color combinations that I've never seen anywhere else, goldenrod and crimson the only highlights to the thick black lines of india ink. It's the only book I've ever seen that, while obviously in color, feels black-and-white. I still don't know how illustrator Roy McKie managed to pull that off. A quick Google search dug up a couple of McKie's other books illustrated for LeSieg, and noted that he collaborated with National Lampoon editor Henry Beard as well as having had a hand in books ranging in topics from black hair care products to bass fishing, nothing turned up an evidence of the artwork that I loved staring at as a child. Like, those apples! Remember how those animals got those apples to balance on their heads like that? That was crazy stuff! And they drank milk out of glass bottles with the apples on their heads! Hey, I drank milk that came in glass bottles, too! But my mother wouldn't let me open the refrigerator and chug like they did, and I think that is the key right there to a lot of the genius of Dr. Seuss.

Without parental supervision, they opened that fridge right up and broke the rules. The lion, the tiger, and the dog were milk drinkers like me, but they were just a little bit wilder. They were little Goldenrod milk rebels, and God, that was riveting. I would have followed them everywhere after that.

And that bear! What was up with that party pooper bear, swinging that tennis racket around like that? What a buzzkill she was!

(Just as an aside here, have you noticed how many of these children's books published in the 60s and 70s had tennis rackets lying around? It seemed like every cartoon character had its own racket. And its own rock band.)

This is all stuff I remember so vividly when I was around 4, so when I was reading it to Christopher and he pointed at the drawings and asked, "Are they drinking milk?" it felt like, oh, yeah. That's one of the reasons why we have kids.

Ten Apples Up On Top is age appropriate for 2-5.

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The Honest-To-Goodness Truth.

The last time I was in the city, an independent bookseller was having a sidewalk sale, so I picked up a couple of books for the kids, this being one of them. As I was reading it to Alex later on that evening, I got very excited by the possibility of uncovering a children's book scandal! The illustrations in The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, you see, are almost identical to the illustrations in another children's book, Toni Morrison's The Big Box. But the artist credit on the Truth book is Giselle Potter, while the Morrison book is illustrated by Morrison's son Slade Morrison.

Look how similar the artwork is. Here's the Truth book:

and here's the Morrison book:

As you can see, my career as an investigative journalist came screeching to an abrupt halt when I doublechecked the cover and saw that Slade Morrison was credited as a co-writer with his Nobel Prize-winning mom, and Giselle Potter was the illustrator on both.

Imagine my disappointment that I have to write a totally scandal-free review.

Sigh. Okay. The Honest-to-Goodness Truth actually deals with one of my favorite pet peeves - those assholes who hurt your feelings and then, when you protest, hold up their hands and shrug and say, "Hey, I'm just being honest."

I hate those people. One of Steve's friends from high school came to stay with us for a weekend a few years ago, and he was big into this, especially when the subject was my cooking, ha ha. His wife tried to smooth things over by loudly talking about how good dinners were, an effort that I appreciate but have to say didn't help any. Finally we gave up and took them out to dinner at R.J. Grunt's in Lincoln Park, and damned if he didn't bitch about that, too. Like Steve's friend, most people who insult in the name of honesty usually have another agenda in mind. In this case, it was the fear that Steve and I, the city mice, were looking down on the friend and his wife, the country mice. Even though this wasn't even remotely true, each effort at hospitality on our part, from buying their child a gift at F.A.O. Schwartz, ("My mother-in-law already bought her a teddy bear backpack that's a lot nicer than this one") to my "unappetizing" food, was seen as trying to make him feel lesser rather than as an effort to show appreciation for their friendship by making them feel welcome. Steve never spoke to him again after that weekend, and I'm sorry about that, but the friend just acted like a big turd and ruined a 10 year friendship.

In The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, the "just being honest" protagonist is a little girl named Libby, who has no hidden agenda, she just doesn't understand that the unvarnished truth is often unwanted.

Caught in a lie by her mother, Libby swears to tell "from now on, only the truth." The next week she puts her resolution into practice, telling her best friend that she has a hole in her stocking in front of all the other children at church, ratting out a fellow student to the teacher for not completing his geography homework, and insulting a sweet neighbor lady by telling her her garden looked like a jungle.

Finally, her mother explains to her that "sometimes the truth is told at the wrong time or in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. And that can be hurtful. But the honest-to-goodness truth is never wrong." With, I assume, the emphasis on "goodness."

Although I liked the message very much and found the book interesting to read aloud, Alex had a difficult time with the concept. He's been tapped with a little bit of the Asperger's stick, so the fine shading of grey when it comes to truth-telling may be more difficult for him than for most children. Or perhaps it's a book better suited for 7-8 year olds. I'll have to wait until Christopher is 5 to know for sure.

And the illustrations were good.

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