Silly Stories to Share

I don’t know about you, but despite the glorious weather, everyone I know is in need of a bit of cheering up.  I turn once more to the picture books, the silly and the sublime.

Waiting For Winter by Sebastien Meschenmoser
I know we’re all waiting for summer at this point, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this lovely, hilarious book. Some of the most expressive drawings I’ve ever seen, combined with an original story and a smart, subtle commentary on the state of our world. Really, though, just get it for the pictures. No one, but no one, has ever captured such an exquisitely sleepy squirrel or such a fabulously unkempt hedgehog. They’re just _so_tired. I can relate.

Hippo! No, Rhino! by Jeff Newman
Read this one aloud. Giving voice to the grumpy, grumpy hippo RHINO is immensely satisfying. The simple illustrations nevertheless convey our hapless hippo’s RHINO’s distress excellently and with feeling. There are days when I long to correct opinions forcibly with the strength of my vehemence alone. I could take lessons from the much maligned and very funny RHINO.

Monkey With a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe
“This is Chico Bon Bon.” Of course it is. If I were a monkey with a tool belt (and a banana hammer), my name would have to be Chico Bon Bon, too. And I would have lots of absurd adventures involving excessive tinkering and unnecessarily complicated escape plans and loud noises like “Arooga Boom Clang Clang Clang!” Oh, wait. That last one’s from the next book, Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem . Trust me, you’ll want to read that one, too.

Happy by Mies van Hout
This new book, written for the very young, makes up in extraordinary, luminous chalk drawings what it lacks in plot. Brightly colored fish portray a range of emotion from the simple joy of delight, to the spikey intensity of fury. Beautiful and satisfying.

Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai
Again with the expressive illustrations! Komako Sakai won awards for one of her other books, The Snow Day, but Mad at Mommy talks to me in the place where my inner child having a tantrum lives. Her engaging, delightful book provides a space to thoroughly enjoy being dramatically upset without collapsing in a heap yourself.

~Jenny, Central Library

Reading John Irving’s ‘In One Person’

                           Note: John Irving will speak at Town Hall, this Thursday, at 7 p.m.

Slightly shocking, discomforting and utterly wonderful: these words describe every book John Irving has written, some more than others. And if you check the literary components chart under Irving’s name in Wikipedia, you’ll note that nearly all of the author’s repeat images and themes recur in his newest, In One Person. We could make a good argument for Uncle Bob as the bear and others as possible “sex workers” as well (no spoilers here). Readers will find references to literature, drama, wrestling, writing and, of course, the big one in this novel: sexuality.

In One Person is a coming-of-age story about Billy Abbott, a young man who struggles with what he calls “crushes on the wrong people” – gender identity. That his first infatuation is for Miss Frost, the town librarian with a big not-so-secret secret, who applies lavish amounts of literature to Billy’s (she calls him William) quandary, instantly endeared him to this librarian! The microcosm in which he lives – the small town of First Sister, Vermont – is a tough place to grow up different: lots of people who’ve known Billy from birth weigh in on his self-image. And in First Sister, each person is an individual opportunity for Irving’s/Billy’s comic observation and a story.

Billy’s big question, who am I and why do I have these urges, is obliquely answered by the characters and the roles they play. The insertion of not one, but two theater production groups in the story, offering the plays of Ibsen (chosen by a choleric Norwegian director) and Shakespeare (directed by Billy’s stepfather and starring several family members) provide another stage for some of the book’s larger themes and presage both comedy and tragedy ahead. Like Shakespeare’s work, In One Person plucks out thorny issues, wrestles them to the mat and lets the reader decide who wins.

Billy’s casual first-person voice and wry observations about his own inadequacies and the foibles of others invite us to fall into the role of an audience to be merely entertained. Irving, a master of everyday comedy, makes you laugh, as in the whoop out loud and people stare at you and you don’t care kind of laugh! It will come unexpectedly, as will the sadness that’s inevitable in a story about sexuality, vulnerability and love. The literary references, masterful plot construction, immediacy of voice and metaphorical hints at larger themes are subtle and easily digested: Irving is not obsessed, as so many literary authors are, with his own cleverness. He invites his readers to put themselves into the drama: to remember our own teen years, revisit the AIDS ‘80s and to consider Billy’s (and our) normalcy.

If you loved Owen Meany, you will love Billy Abbott. Prepare yourself!