Books Are Pretty

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dinner and a Show.

Last week I called Steve after a long day toiling away in the salt mines at Big Machine and asked him if he and the kids wanted to meet me at Heaven on Seven to use the last gift certificate we had. Originally we'd gotten our hands on four of them, and now we were going to meet for one last meal of crabcakes and gumbo before our free ride ended.

This time, as every time, each of us set personal goals for our visits. Alex's and Christopher's goals were very similar:

Visit One: I will touch each bottle of hot sauce on the wall.

Visit Two: I will collect all the strings of beads strewn across the lighting fixtures.

Visit Three: I will take off my sneakers and lie on the floor in front of passing waitstaff. (That was mostly Christopher.)

Each of their personal goals conflicted directly with the personal goal of Steve and me, which was:

Visits One to Three: Get the children to sit down, shut up, and eat.

At last, at Visit Four, our goals totally matched. They adjusted. They are now ready to enjoy nice, peaceful meals at Heaven on Seven. And so now of course we're out of gift certificates and won't be able to go as often.

Halfway through the meal, a woman with a scarf draped around her neck like a big green fringey bib was seated next to our better-behaved-but-still-lively table. She placed her order, then opened a book.

At about this time, Alex and Chris asked if they could walk over to an empty section of the restaurant and look at a painting. I said yes because 1. They asked, rather than just darting over there, and 2. the section was free of patrons to annoy.

It was still a mistake, because once they got up and walked around, it reminded them of how great it is to get up and walk around, and I had to start threatening them with a loss of ice cream to get them to sit back down.

As we all know, once the threats begin, it's over. We called for the check and I kept an eye on the woman with the green scarf, who kindly ignored the festivities at our table and kept her eyes on her book, even when Christopher dropped a dollop of ice cream off his spoon and onto the floor.

"We have to go to the bookstore after Heaven on Seven!" Alex informed us. "We have to go to the bookstore after Heaven on Seven, because that is what we do."

He was right. That is what we do, so when the check arrived we banged out of the restaurant and aimed ourselves toward Anderson's Bookshop. A banner hanging from the awning read, "Author Signing Tonight 7:00 pm."

"Ooh, author signing," said Steve.

"I think they just leave it hanging there all the time," I said, "every time we come here that sign is up."

I still think that's true, but maybe the sign and an actual author signing coincided, because author Caroline Crimi was there to read two of her books, The Louds Move In, and Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies. I asked Christopher if he wanted to listen to a story and he was all, "whatever," so we sat down with a handful of other children on the metal folding chairs the owner had set out.

Crimi, obviously disappointed by the small turnout, brightened a little bit when she saw Christopher.

"Hey, I know you!" she said. "You sat next to me at the restaurant!"

Christopher gave her a look like, "There were other people at the restaurant?" but I remembered her: it was the lady with the green scarf and the bad luck to have been seated right next to us.

A few minutes later, Alex wandered over to the chairs wearing an oversized Mad Hatter's top hat and a pair of catseye reading glasses. He sat down next to me and Crimi read the first book, The Louds Move In.

"I was coming out of Blockbuster," she said, "when I heard what I thought was a group of about thirty second-graders screaming behind me. It was unbelievably loud, and when I turned around, I saw it was a family of four. 'I'm glad they don't live next door to me,' I thought, and then the idea popped into my head and I went home and wrote this book."

She had the kids, about six in all, come up front with her and make the sound of the Loud baby crying whenever it appeared in the text. Christopher loved this bit of audience participation, too, and after a certain amount of bashfulness from the young man in a giant hat and funky glasses, so did Alex.

The Louds Move In took that family Crimi saw at Blockbuster and had them move into the world's quietest neighborhood, where their new neighbors never spoke to each other and engaged in quiet hobbies like dusting china and collecting pincushions. At first their neighbors are horrified by their screaming new neighbors, but soon learn to appreciate the variety their new neighbors bring to their lives.

The kids got pretty whipped up, thanks to their active participation and Crimi's enthusiastic reading. After the story, she had the kids throw pincushions into a bucket for sticker prizes before starting in on Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies. Crimi's tale of the bloodthirsty, swashbuckling bunnies led by nebbish little bookworm Henry cracked Christopher up. The idea of bunny rabbits pillaging, mauling, and terrorizing was too much for him, and he laughed that loud, infectious baby laugh that's impossible not to enjoy hearing, especially if that baby is laughing at something you wrote.

When the books had been read and the book signing began, Crimi signed copies of each book, one for Alex and one for Christopher.

"When I saw you at dinner, I thought you might be coming to the reading," she said. "I hoped you were."

"I hope we didn't ruin your dinner."

"Oh, no," she said, "but every time I go to dinner I always get seated next to kids. I don't know why that is, but it never fails to happen."

I didn't have the heart to tell her it was a gift certificate that brought us together rather than set plans to attend the reading, but the kids had such a great time, and Crimi made it so much fun that I ended up wondering why exactly it is that we don't go to book readings more often. Maybe next time we'll make plans to be there without being lured in by the promise of Cajun food.


The Louds Move In
by Caroline Crimi
2006 by Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Hardcover, 32 pp
ISBN: 0761452214

Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies
by Caroline Crimi
2005 by Candlewick Press
Hardcover, 40 pp
ISBN: 0763624497

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