Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Babies

Or, as Elisabeth would have me write, Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Parents.

Caveat 1: I admit that sometimes I have no taste.  Case in point, I hate The Big Lebowski.  I find it stupid, unfunny and basically pointless.  I hear other people think it's great.  They're wrong, of course, but that's their opinion.

Caveat 2: I'm about to criticize a bunch of gifts.  No offence is meant to the gift-givers, I know that this was done in good faith.  I want you to know that your gift was a) appreciated for the gesture and b) appreciated for the rant it provided me.  To be honest, I don't much remember who has given us what.

So, with that in mind, I come to Sandra Boynton.  An author I'd never heard of a few months ago and whose name I now curse.  And not just me, Henry recoils like an adder when he sees a cover of one of her books.  I've brought his reaction up with the owner of the local book store for kids who has told me he's too young to get it and will grow into them, but I feel that the way the aging process works, where a person becomes smarter over time (Until thirty and then you become your parents), this runs counter intuitive to logic and if indeed these books are for older kids, then why are they so stupidly, utterly dumb and offensive?

In all fairness, I'm sure there are stupider things.  Like toy poodles, Juggalo's and de-alcoholized beer.  But these aren't marketed to sensitive, developing brains.  People who buy toy poodles are already functionally retarded.  This is the kind of banal humour for people who thought Family Matters was piss-your-pants funny and who can help but go "Aww," whenever a toddler vomits out its catch phrase in Steve Guttenberg's latest attempt at prime-time relevance.

I thank you all who gave us these books as gifts but they are atrocious and poor old Henry hates them.  The literally make him cry.  They are also horribly morally suspect.  Case in point:

Blue Hat, Green Hat.  In which a retarded turkey in unable to dress itself properly.  It puts on clothes in inappropriate ways and is last seen dressed in too many layers, diving into a swimming pool to presumably drown while all the other better dressed animals who know how to put their clothes on properly, watch on in empty stoned silence.

Throughout this book, the animals gaze into nothingness, do not attempt to help the unfortunate who has crossed their paths and through their passivity let him die.

The Turkey is portrayed as a species (As opposed to the elephant, moose or small cute furry whatever) to be imbecilic, lemming-like and disposable.

But Not The Hippopotamus is another exercise in exclusion as it tells the tale of animals having fun with each other while either ignoring or being blatantly racist to the titular hippopotamus.  Page after page it stares at animals doing fun things until finally they invite him to join them.

The punchline is that as soon as the hippopotamus is allowed into the circle, an armadillo it excluded from it.  Any opportunity to turn this book into a message of inclusivity or to contextualize why it's not okay to ostracize someone is lost for a cheap joke that actually makes light of shyness/exclusion/ favouritism/ racism.  I don't want to go so far as to say the book actually encourages racism but Ms. Boynton has, according to Wikipedia, written more than forty book and four thousand fucking greeting cards.  It's not like she's new at this or learning the ropes or this is her difficult second novel, she's literally produced thousands of works.  She either thinks racism is funny or she is the stupidest children's writer since Chuck VonNasty wrote It's Okay to Poke Your Eye Out, It'll Grow Back in Time For Supper Now Smile and Eat Your Plate of Broken Glass.

But I digress...

Horns To Toes And In Between is about three inbred uncles who are also monsters.  They sing about the parts of their bodies, tickle each other and then dance around, celebrating their morbid obesity.

This is a lazy book with a lazy story and lazy pictures.  It commits the cardinal sin of children's books in being utterly forgettable.  I honestly didn't know we had it for at least a month.

It also features Ms. Boynton's most irritating flourish: The weird circular belly button.  I don't know if it's meant to be cute but it draws unnecessary attention to her creatures nether-regions as well as looks like a sadistic cork lodged in the bellies of all her cute kiddy animals; ready to pop at any moment and spill out their guts until the inbred uncles of Horns to Toes are little more that carpets of a middle-class couples basement.

Belly Button Book! (Yes, that's the title.  No "the" and the exclamation point is thrust in there, forcing you to think this is a fun and/or exciting literary trip you're about to embark upon) feels like an aggressive attempt to make your kid cute by calling it's belly button "bee bo."  This is the kind of humour for stunted adults who think that Saturday's Hi and Lois strip is Bill Hicks level cutting-edge satire.

This is a book geared for older kids (You know this because it's slightly larger than all her other books) to force them to act like younger kids.

Here, the hippopotamus (No longer an ostracized freak) acts like a freak that I'd like to ostracize by devoting its time to loving their so-called bee bo's and going to bee bo positive beaches where they sing songs about their bee bo.  There is a level of forced saccharine jokey wholesomeness that is thrust down your throat throughout this book that I'm left feeling hostile towards Ms. Boynton.  The book itself is pointless.  It's just an attempt to push a catch-phrase that is neither witty or clever or makes any sense at all.

Opposites was one of the, if not the, first books that Henry received and I had high hopes for it.  Just page after page of opposite stuff.  You know, hot/ cold.  On/ off.  Anterior/ posterior.  With corresponding pictures.  The thing that makes this book go from good idea to bad (See what I did there?) is that the words and pictures are such a jumble that it's hard for a kid to know what is going on.

It's here that I might think that the lady in the bookstore had a point.  Maybe Ms. Boynton's books are indeed for kids a mite older then Henry.  But if this is so then why is she writing about such simple notions?  Why is she making dumbed down books for dumbed down kids (Who's parents see nothing wrong with a quaint touch of racism)?  It literally baffles me.

The final book I need to address is The Going To Bed Book.  Just to show I'm not a spiteful jerk, I will admit when I enjoy something.  Even The Big Lebowski made me laugh.  Twice.

This book worked for a while.  Henry enjoyed it and we enjoyed reading it to him.  The thing is, unlike Sandra Boynton's other books, this book is a poem with pictures and the thing that he clues in on is the cadence and rhythm of the voice reading to him.  He's too young to grasp the pictures (Hell, he's too young to grasp anything) but he's able to bounce along with the voice saying stuff.  This is absent in all Susan Boynton's other books (That we own) and were they there, then perhaps Henry would like them as well.

Personally, I don't care for her artistic style (Though literally millions would disagree) but it's irritating that she doesn't ever vary it to reflect the age range that she's writing for.  If the words, pictures and layouts changed for a child's capacity to understand, I might feel very differently.  But they're not.  They're too complicated for young kids and too simple for older ones.  They feel like they've been written by someone who's never had, raised or met children but has a kind of vague understanding of what children are and has geared a career towards that misunderstanding.



I love checking this blog's stats.  More specifically the search keywords that bring people here.  The following, for gratuitous blogging purposes only, are some of my most interesting ones:

  • magical carrot Henry (?)
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And ironically, my rant about Gary Ezzo has prompted the most hits on them all:

  • Ezzo estrangement - 4 hits
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  • and a series of permutations of the above on a nearly weekly basis
Who'da known?


In Summary

I'm coming off a fairly successful weekend where I was able to take Henry to his first petting zoo and where we all went on a long trip to the beach yesterday which for the first time, he seems to have really engaged with, playing on swings and waving at pretty much anybody, so I figure that I should re-engage with the blog a little bit.  It also helps that the work on my office is finally finished and the most expensive room in the house is devoted to video games and aurally offensive music.

My analysis of the works or Beatrix Potter is still on hold.  Reading her books to him as he falls asleep continues to be a challenge due to a combination of the sparseness of her writing as well as a lack of rhythm while reading out loud.  Henry has had several colds and flus so I decided that since he was spending so much time in bed, I should start reading him something with a little more substance which lead me to The Thief of Always by Clive Barker.

I got this book during my Stephen King/ Clive Barker phase and remember being disappointed that it was a book for children.  I'd been hoping for the standard scary/ freaky/ violent fare I was gobbling up at the time.  I also devoured the book very quickly and loved it.

Reading this with new eyes, I was surprised to find so much going on in it.  The entire first act serves as a warning to children about how easy it is to fall into the hand of a stranger and be seduced my false promises away from your parents.

The second act traces the shift from the fantasy of how life would be without rules to the horror of discovering you've been kidnapped and cannot escape to return to your old life.  It ends quite darkly where the young protagonist gets to experience the horror his family has has to go through in losing a child.

Of course, this is a kids book so it is in the third act that the young man decides to regain control of his life and make amends, you get the sense that things are going to turn out alright however, as Mr. Barker has already gone down a rather dark route earlier, there is the niggling question as to just how happy the ending is going to be.

This is definitely a book for ten year olds (This point is reenforced several times throughout the story as well as on the flap) and can be quite scary if you're so inclined. The illustrations by Clive Barker add to the overall creepiness (e.g., fat naked lady melting with her eyeballs dangling from their stalks obscuring her breasts).  But with the books theme of illusions and the constant reminder that much of what is happening is not real, it should be a good kind of scary.  The final act is also dedicated to the concept of overcoming you fears so there is a nice little catharsis there as well.

Hollywood has been dithering about making this a movie for years and I find it a pity this has not come to pass.  It's also made me curious about Clive Barker's Abarat series of children's books and, should Henry have any interest in The Thief of Always when he's older, will certainly consider picking these up for him as well.

Next up, I read Henry The Little Prince.  To this day I'm still frustrated that the book really has nothing to do with this:

Which is a shame because then I would like the it.  This was my first time reading it to the  end, nt in spite of doing at least two book reports on it in my school days.  Both times I reached the same point and never finished reading the book (Granted, i was reading it in French) and wrote the book report based on my knowledge of the first thirty or so pages and the cartoon.  It's an interesting reflection of the school system that on both reports I got a fairly good grade, considering that I was a million miles off with regard to what happens in the rest of the book.  Namely that at the end, The little Prince does not go off into space and have further adventures; he gets bitten by a snake and dies.

I suppose a case could be made using the Life of Pi Defence that the book is open ended and you can decide that The Little Prince flies through space through the power of death but I find this is a stretch of the imagination even for a book that gets away with the idea that there is a 20' diameter plant upon which lives a drunk with a never-ending supply of alcohol.  Really, M. de Saint-Exupery, you paint such a wonderful picture of Heaven.

Any cynicism I have for the book is primarily due to an awareness that there is something going on, some kind of message in all The Little Princes adventures, that is entirely lost on me.  Other that the religious ones.  Those hit you over the head like you're in a whack-a-mole.

With that done, I have now moved on to reading Henry Treasure Island.  We're only three chapters in and I doubt we'll get much farther.  He's reached a stage where we need to retrain him to fall asleep on his own and if we're not doing that, he's so zonked out by the time we put him to bed that there's no point reading to him.  Which is unfortunate because I was pleasantly surprised by the first three chapters.  It was not the dry, dated kind of story I was expecting and trucked along nicely with lots of pirate-speak.  I'll keep at it for now for my own entertainment and should Henry go through a pirate phase, I imagine this will sate his interest nicely.

As for me, I've just wrapped up ShadowMarch by Tad Williams.  I don't want to turn this into a Game of Thrones rant but in relation to my thoughts on this book, but it feels inevitable.

This is the third novel of a four part series originally conceived to be a television series.  It was, however, never picked up.  This is unfortunate because George R. R. Martin wrote A Song of Fire and Ice after reading tad William's first fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and realizing that you can write epic fantasy while exploring adult themes in mature ways.

It frustrates me that HBO has picked up a still unfinished fantasy series  in which the author take five-plus years to finish a novel, while Tad Williams is a known quantity who, at the very least, has established that he can finish an epic and tie together all the lose ends.

As it stands, the Shadowmarch series is on track to better Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.  This being the third book in what is essentially one very long novel, he continues to pick up immediately where the last one ended and entirely lack an ending or resolution of any single plot point.  It's infuriating yet I love that the book just stops and you have to wait for the next one but, if you're going to write a single massive story, i think this is the way to do it, rather than to shoehorn in needless plot developments which do not serve the plot just to give your readers some satisfaction.  I can think of no greater cliffhanger that to have the story simply stop and have to wait a year to pick up where you left off.

Next time: A gratuitous attempt to post more than one entry in the month of June.