Debatables

Debatables: The Most Influential YA Series

Cricket and I are debating again!

And, well, I’m a little worried about my opponent this time around.

I think the poor gal has gotten somewhat addled.

If I asked you to name the Most Influential Young Adult Book Series of all time what image immediately springs to mind?

Yup. You guessed it: This guy.

Well Cricket disagrees. She says the most influential YA Series is The Hunger Games.

Don’t ask me why.

For THG to be the most influential, you’d have to ignore that fact that Harry Potter came out more than a decade before THG. Or that HP produced a septet of books to THG’s three. Or that HP spent an entire uninterrupted decade on the New York Times Bestseller List. Or that HP led to midnight book release parties and lines around the block. Or that HP spawned a bazillion merchandizing tie ins. Or that HP singlehandedly changed the children’s book publishing industry as we know it. Or that geeks across the globe are actually skipping around on brooms playing honest-to-God games of Quidditch.

I mean, geez!

Cricket is a lovely person, but she has a bad habit of believing Alternate Facts.

Anyhoo, the debate can be found on Cricket’s blog. Head on over, read our arguments, and chime in with your opinion! It’ll be fun!

See ya there!

Family and/or Autobiography

Mouse Mindgames

Small fella, big brain!

I am pleased to report that, once again, our house is home to wee rodents, this time a pair of gerbils named Salt and Peppa.

Salt is the smaller of the two, clever, energetic, and mischievous. Peppa is more reserved, less social, and also mischievous.

Basically, if you own a rodent, you’re going to have to accommodate some degree of mischief.

Case in point: In 1970, my parents purchased their first home in the North Jersey suburbs, a modest, two-story fixer upper. My father wasn’t very good at fixing-upping, however, so he left the painting, hammering, and electrical stuff to Mom and searched out a task that was better suited to his unique set of skills.

When the house revealed itself to have a mouse problem, Dad was on the case.

He toddled to the hardware store to pick up a humane Havahart trap and borrowed an unused, dusty, rusty birdcage from Grandpa. Dad’s plan was simple. He would trap the mice in the Havahart and deposit them in the cage. Once the mice were all caught, he would take the cage to a wooded area some distance away and release them.

That night, Dad set the Havahart using peanut butter for bait. Then he fixed up the cage, stocking it with everything a mouse could ever want: plenty of food and water and high piles of shredded up newspaper to serve as bedding. (Dad was nothing if not a good host.)

Less than an hour later, the trap sprang shut. His first mouse! Dad deposited the critter into the cage. He covered the cage with a sheet (I’m not sure why that was necessary, exactly. For privacy, maybe?), got more peanut butter, reset the trap, and went to bed.

The next morning, Dad awoke to find a new mouse in the trap. He pulled back a corner of the sheet, put the new mouse in the cage, replaced the sheet, grabbed the peanut butter, and reset the trap. Late in the afternoon, the trap clattered shut yet again. Again, Dad pulled back a corner the sheet, deposited the new mouse in the cage with the other two mice, replaced the sheet, got out the peanut butter, and reset the trap.

And so it went. For days Dad caught mice and put them in the cage. He replenished the cage’s food and water supplies as needed. He also began to ask himself—with increasing alarm—Just how many freaking mice are in my house?!

The answer to his question was: one.

One mouse.

One mouse who really liked peanut butter.

This mouse liked peanut butter so much, he would escape the cage several times a day and get himself re-caught several times a day just so he could keep eating the Havahart’s bait.

The sheet draped over the cage was the means for his escape. The mouse had grabbed a corner of the sheet in his mouth and pulled it into the cage until the thin wire bars stretched apart wide enough for him to wriggle through.

The mouse—with help from Dad—had carved out a wonderful life for himself. He had complete freedom of movement, a safe comfortable place to sleep, and an endless supply of good food and water.

It was Mom who discovered the escape plan. When she did, she expelled what would be the first of several lifetimes’ worth of exasperated sighs. “How on earth,” she asked Dad, “did you not notice that there were no other mice in the cage?”

“I thought they were all hiding under the newspaper,” he replied sheepishly.

“It was at that moment,” Mom told me many years later, “I first realized that your father needs constant supervision.”

Mom was right, of course; Dad was not a guy one could leave alone with a task. But, to be fair, when a person engages in a battle of wits against a rodent, the smart money should always be on the wee one.

Debatables

Debatables: No Hugging No Learning

It is time once again for Debatables, the monthly column where esoteric kid-lit questions are argued with way too much passion.

My Debatables sparring opponent is, as usual, my colleague, friend, and collegial frenemy, Cricket Muse.

Cricket and I are coming off a bit of a Debatables hiatus, so we’re going to be a bit less argumentative this time around. We also decided to make this month’s esoteric topic more esoteric than usual, so bear with me as I explain what we have in mind:

In most books, the main character goes on a journey. He or she must overcome a challenge or solve a problem or learn a lesson. In other words, the character has an arc. On the journey from Point A to Point B, the character changes.

In the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax, for example, The Onceler has a very pronounced character arc. In the span of a few pages, he changes from a gregarious, short-sighted money-grubber, cheerfully willing put his bank account above the health of the planet, into a regretful hermit, searching for a way to undo the damage he has done.

I love The Lorax. The story is tragic, but The Onceler’s character arc provides hope for a better future.

The Giving Tree, on the other hand, has no character arcs. The Boy hacks away at the Tree without ever giving his actions a second thought. And the Tree happily lets herself get hacked. By the book’s end, the Boy may be older and the Tree may stumpier, but neither character has learned a thing. The Boy is still a narcissistic, entitled turd, and the Tree still thinks nothing of destroying herself to cater to the Boy’s destructive whims.

God, do I HATE The Giving Tree.  

But here’s the thing: I don’t hate The Giving Tree because the characters have no arc. I hate The Giving Tree because the characters are horrible and they stay horrible.

Cricket and I believe that there are lots of great picture book characters who have no character arc.

And that’s today’s topic:

Who’s the Best Arc-less Character in a Picture Book?

Cricket believes it is Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon.

And I’m going with Ferdinand from The Story of Ferdinand.

So! Let’s begin.

***

CRICKET

Some literary folk say a character becomes more memorable through the noted distinction of “arc.”

Not true.

I say Harold of The Purple Crayon has perfected the art of arc-lessness. After all, he has been around since 1955, inspired a variety of creative endeavors from movies such as The Story of Us to television icon Homer of The Simpsons. Yet no personal growth, no arc is present in Harold, the kid who goes from point A to point B without expressing any character change.

Harold draws

Harold is no doubt unruffled by all the attention he’s garnered. In fact, he is one of the most pragmatic four year olds in literature. He is a problem solver from the moment he decides to take a walk in the moonlight to finally going to bed after a long night of creating his own little world. No muss, no fuss, just grab a crayon and draw.

His intention is to not learn a lesson nor impart one, he simply wants to do his thing. And he does so.

Who says a character has to arc and sparkle to have meaning? Over 50 years of being Harold, the kid with a purple crayon, he has provided inspiration and insight on what it means to simply “be”. That carries some kind of convincible clout.

 

MIKE

I love Ferdinand the Bull. From the time he was a wee calf, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. And, despite the increasing madness that swirls around him as his story progresses, he never wavers. Ferdinand wants to be a flower sniffer. That’s it and that’s all.

Whatta cutie!
Ferdinand sniffs.

You might question the merits of Ferdinand’s life goal, but you certainly can’t argue with the strength of his convictions. He feels no peer pressure to roughhouse with the other bulls in the pasture. He is unswayed by his mom’s gentle prodding to be more bull-ish. (And let’s take a moment to appreciate Ferdinand’s supportive mother! WOO!) And when Ferdinand is foolishly selected to be the ferocious main attraction at the bullfights in Madrid, the peaceful bull feels no pressure to perform for the braying, bloodthirsty crowds.

In fact, Ferdinand barely seems to notice the crowds, the matador, the picadors or anything else. As long as there is a comfortable place to lie and flowers to sniff, Ferdinand is cool.

I love Ferdinand because I see a little of myself in him. I was a peculiar child. I liked to do my own thing, even if it meant doing it alone. So Ferdinand’s quiet and unshowy nonconformity struck a chord with the young me. That flower-sniffing bull taught me that being different was okay. (And, like Ferdinand’s mom, my mom was similarly supportive of my peculiar-ishness.) 

The book The Story of Ferdinand is not flawless—in fact, I’ve written about the book’s flaws on this blog. But Ferdinand the character is flawless in my eyes—and he always will be.

Don’t you go changing, you nutty flower sniffer, you!

***

And that’s the debate! Who is YOUR favorite arc-less character? Leave a comment and let us know!