Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Just when I start to get some foot traffic on this site, I neglect it like a senile uncle. Well, at least I'm posting in February. That's something. I had some lofty plans to do this once a week, but [insert lame excuses here] and you know what they say, [insert tired and/or inappropriate maxim here].

I thought it would be nice to revisit some of my kid's book friends, the ones unkindly marked "OBSOLETE" and cast to the fates of the junk store shelves. In truth, many of these books may in fact be harmful to the mental health of the children they were intended for, so if you're the librarian responsible for their expurgation, kudos.

Usually I'm especially happy to come across former-library orphans, because I can then add select tomes to my growing collection of crap. (Did I mention I'm moving in the near future? Is there an emoticon for an impending migraine?) The following books, however, just didn't make the cut -- and my standards are low.

I know it's the basic building block of life and a cold glass of it tastes great on a hot day, but this is not a book to be sought after. I like how the publishers tried to to find a painting that captures the drama, the dynamism, the awesome majesty that is WATER ... and just failed miserably. So, as an afterthought they decided to add some dubious semiotics to the bottom: trees love it, right? It turns the cogs of industry, yes? It, uh, comes out of the tap? Oh, and that mainstay of all kids books from the 50s to the late 70s, the atomic orbit icon. Even though a quick scan of the book's interior shows nothing in the way of atomic fun. (Believe me, it would have ended up in my collection if there was just one nuclear reactor inside.)

Instead the pages are filled with kids staring at ice cubes melting and tea kettles steaming. Including this demented illustration:

This almost has a certain deepness to it. The child inquisitively regarding the glass of water, perhaps regarding the origin of himself and the whole earth. But that notion dissipates, or should I say evaporates (ha!), when we see the very same kid, with the very same dull thousand-mile stare expression (like he's just back from mechanized combat) repeated three times further on in the book (it's a short book, too), with only the disembodied question changing: "How?" "Where did it go?" "What the *%#@ am I doing here on a Saturday just staring into a glass of water?" Dullsville.

Oh, but that's not the only book about water. This book was found at the same thrift store. Must have been a house-cleaning of some sort:

Now, in comparison to the previous book, this cover looks like an action movie, but in all fairness, it's just a kid entertaining himself by staring through a glass of water. I know that indoor plumbing was a relatively new process in the 1950s, but wasn't that also the golden age of television? This kid's expression is only mildly less doltish than the other kid's -- he actually seems to be enjoying himself. Which is just sad. I blame the parents.

And speaking of sad... I guess it's just the type of person I am that when I look at this cover I think two things: 1) something terrible is going to happen to these kids (and that bunny) by at least page 4, or 2) this is one of those "be obedient to god" books, for which I always have the suspicious feeling of some hidden government agenda. At any rate I didn't open the book to see why Sally (she's always named Sally) is so orgasmically happy. Maybe she just found out about television.

Imagine the debacle faced by this book's cover illustrator: Your assignment is to deliver a charcoal drawing that captures the drama, the dynamism, the awesome magic that is FOG. To which she muttered, "How the *&%$# am I supposed to illustrate fog? I know, I'll just throw in a Teutonic-browed Village-of-the-Damned-child (for mystery), a doe-eyed kitten (for maximum cuteness), a house, a sailboat, and trees (for more mystery) and some wispy shapes that look like someone set the water sprinklers too high. Voila! Fog magic, indeed.

Refused to die, huh? Disobedient mutt. At least we know that this book will be replete with sadistic violence towards dogs. And perhaps a good bit of revenge, he is one of those amazing dobermans, right? Or is he merely one of a large group of daring dobermans that seem so ubiquitous these days? Ah, what would the 1980s have been without dog movies on KTLA?

And speaking of imminent death to animals, it seems to be an all-too-common theme in children's books, at least the ones laying around thrift stores. Just what the hell did they do/ are they about to do to that pony? Damn Whitey, always ruining everything. Fight the power.

Now, I took this pic so long ago, I don't even remember the book it's from. Maybe it's the "Colt=Killer" from the previous volume. All I know is that kids get bad ideas. Lots of them. Some from the most innocuous sources. Like, "Hey, I bet I could jump off the roof of my house with an open umbrella and I'll just float gently to earth like Mary Poppins (yeah, I tried that one and it's a small wonder I didn't crack my head open... again). Another bad idea is target practice near an occupied crib. Yeah, I know this is some frontier kid, and to him blasting shotguns at rattlers is like a Sunday afternoon on the PS3 (or whatever, I've been out of the video game loop since SNES), and he's saving his little sister's life, but it just doesn't seem like the right image/ message to impart to your typically doltish 9 year-old, whose only other possible distraction is staring into a glass of water. However, I do love the doll on the ground, replete with smiley face and arms out-stretched in Guernica-like horror.

Okay, one more, because as usual it's 3 in the morning...

Unlike in the other books, in this one the animal decisively has the upper hand. And this little British kid -- it just occurred to me that for some reason I've logn held the stupid idea that British kids still dress this way -- anyhow, he's obviously about to be crushed. Why? Because he's British. Why British? Well, the elephant is clearly a potent symbol of anglo-imperialism, and the lad a symbol of the waning stature of England in the post-world war two geo-political scene, now confronted by the behemoth of 200+ years of brutal colonialism. Yes, he's "lost in the zoo," that of his own making and... sorry, 3:38 am. Time to hang up.