Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bark, George By Jules Feiffer


I was at a dinner party speaking with a man wearing nothing but a codpiece who suddenly said to me, “Writing children’s books is easy. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run. Go screw yourself, Spot.”

So I punched the man and was escorted out of the party by police, but that is not the point of my story. The point is that, to me at least - and I’m an admitted maniac, alcoholic, and serial flasher – but good children’s anything will entertain adults as well, whether it’s literature, television, cough syrup or what have you.

The wife and I are so lazy and cheap these days that we get but three PBS channels on our adorable little television set. And we have a one year old so we watch a hell of a lot of PBS Kids. They have quite a bit of garbage on there that no child or adult should watch (For example, if you ever come in contact with something called It’s a Big, Big World, grab the nearest sharp object and begin poking at your eyes and ears relentlessly. You’ll thank me).

But there are indeed some absolutely delightful programs that the old lady and I enjoy watching with the kiddo, such as Martha Speaks, Curious George, and, of course, Sesame Street.

This brings me to Jules Feiffer. Not the character from Pulp Fiction. His name was Winnfield, like the Hall-of-Fame ballplayer Dave only with an additional “N.” This Jules is the very talented cartoonist, author, screenwriter and playwright. Whether or not he’s the father and/or uncle of actresses Michelle and Dedee, who disgraced the wonderful family name by adding a “p” to it, I do not know. I’m still trying to get a blood sample from both ladies, so stay tuned.

Now I must admit I have been cohabitating in a cave for a number of years with a family of grizzlies. Thus I was unfamiliar with Feiffer’s body of work: his famous comic strip, his Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartooning, that he wrote the screenplay for Carnal Knowledge.

That’s right, Carnal Knowledge. This is who we need writing our children’s books in the 21st century.

This fantastic man’s biography escaped me like an illegal on the border. But when we found ourselves in the possession of a wonderful children’s book titled Bark, George – well, let me just say I’ve read nothing else since our son was born.

It is a work of genius in children’s literature and makes me want to hop on my Big Wheel and buy more of this man’s books. Haven’t done that yet, but I will. And soon, believe you me. Whatever that means. I never understood that phrase. Who am I believing exactly? You? Myself? Go away!

Anyway, the basic plot, and I won’t give you any spoilers, is that George’s mother tries to get him to bark, but instead he meows, oinks, and quacks – anything but what a dog is supposed to do. So she takes him to the vet and hilarity ensues.

All books ought to be Bark, George, and if you’re a parent and you’re not reading this modern classic to your son or daughter then I have no choice but to send Child Protective Services to your house and have those little tykes taken from you immediately.

There is no finer book on our shelf, and we have The Joy of Sex, three Bibles, and about 1,000 Which Way Books. So you know I mean business.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Love You Forever, By Robert Munsch


Our neighbors to the north have given us many awful things, many of them far too awful to list here. In the mid-80s Canadian children’s author Robert Munsch gave us the book “Love You Forever” from Ontatio’s own Firefly Books. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this may not be true in The Heartland Province. The cover shows a rosy-cheeked little boy sitting beside a toilet. I’d say this is a pretty good representation, ay?

The story begins innocently enough. A mother rocks her newborn baby to sleep. The father, as throughout the book, is nowhere to be seen – true to the deadbeat dad epidemic that plagued Canada in the 80s.

As she rock the boy, she sings:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

There are song lyrics in movies like M and A Nightmare On Elm Street that are far less haunting than this, and it gets repeated over and over.

Next the boy is nine years old and quite a little pain in the keyster. He’s always filthy and using foul language, and Mommy even contemplates selling the rascal to the zoo, another historically accurate portrayal of parenting in Canada at the time. Nonetheless, Mother still cradles the lad and rocks him, all the while singing that horrible song, penned perhaps by Anne Murray or Leonard Cohen, or some other Canuck.

From here it gets downright creepy. As a teenager the boy performs a song, looking like Elvis or a member of Sha Na Na, for some reason, while a monkey-looking girl swoons beside him. Later, while the rock star sleeps, lonely ole Mum peaks into his room to cradle him some more, just as she has every miserable day of this child’s Oedipal life. Mommy will no doubt later use the baseball bat sitting by the door to crack open her son’s girlfriend’s skull so she can have the boy all to herself. Is it any wonder Dad hightailed it out of there?

As our story continues, the boy moves out of the house, leaving Mommy all alone with all those razor blades and sleeping pills in the house. He moves across town, far enough, he assumes, that the old lady can’t just pop in. Silly man. Little does he know. One night, perhaps that very night, Mom drives to her son’s new home, shimmies his bedroom window open, climbs in and again cradles the sleeping grown man like the baby he once was. Whether he is actually that sound a sleeper or he is faking sleep and pretending he’s just eating cotton candy at the circus, we don’t know. But we do feel for the boy.

This demented Cat’s in the Cradle winds down with the grown boy frying up some mushrooms in the kitchen when guess who calls? That’s right, needy old, now sick and dying Mother. “Come visit me, you neglectful, ungrateful bastard,” she demands. And guess who rushes to her side to cradle her just as she did him for over twenty years? Sonny boy. And by now we get the picture that this must be how Norman Bates grew up.

On the last page we follow the son back to his house. Maybe he laid his mother back down on the bed and finally pushed the pillow over her face. We don’t know. What we do know is that the son now has a daughter to whom he is now singing the aforementioned abysmal song. There isn’t a wife or girlfriend to be seen. So we’re left to assume the son turned out gay and is living in a very liberal state where people like him can adopt. Hopefully by the time the daughter is a teenager she’ll be bitchy enough to scream, “Get your dick beaters off me, Dad! I’m going to the movies!”

All in all, “Love You Forever” is not a book a parent should ever read to his or her child. Nor should it be read at all. Robert Munsch has some issues, and illustrator Sheila McGraw ought to be ashamed of herself for partaking in this venture as well.