Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bear Shadow By Frank Asch

Normally, the biggest crimes committed by bears are stealing picnic baskets, sucking at football, and being large, hairy, male homosexuals. Oh, occasionally one will maul a few buttinskies at a campsite, but these incidents are few and far between. Most bears just like sitting with a jar of honey, like Winnie the Pooh, or a nice marmalade sandwich, like Paddington Bear.

The character Bear in Frank Asch’s Moonbear series of books, while adorable as all freaking hell, proves himself to be perhaps a little more psychotic than the average parent might like. It’s in the tale Bear Shadow that Bear becomes something out of a Quentin Tarantino film. Not since Teddy Ruxpin has a bear been so capable of scaring the crap out of our children.

The story begins innocently enough. Bear is doing some fishing when his shadow scares a fish away. Bear then tries to run away from Shadow, something we’ve all done at one time or another. Some of us run from our shadows in fear. Others box our own shadows and try to bite its ear off. So there’s nothing strange going on just yet.

Bear hides from Shadow. He climbs up a cliff to escape, but Shadow keeps following him. Every child must wonder what Bear has to do to escape the pestering of Shadow.

It’s then that Bear goes off the rails. The next idea he has is to grab a hammer and some nails and nail his shadow to the ground. Now you have to wonder whom the true villain of the story is. One need only think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the parrot from the Monty Python sketch, to know that being nailed to anything is not a good time.

Luckily for all right thinking people, Shadow is like Jason in Friday the 13th. You can’t get rid of him that easily. When Bear zigs, Shadow zags, avoiding every nail this grizzly little guy throws at him.

Next, Bear goes Edgar Allan Poe on Shadow’s ass and tries to bury him alive. He digs a hole, seemingly unaware that Shadow is watching his every move. The element of surprise is completely lost on Mr. Bear. And when Bear fills the hole back up, Shadow, with the trickery of Bugs Bunny himself, is free from the premature burial Bear had planned for him.

From there Bear tries every other method he can think of. He borrows a gun and shoots Shadow. He tries to drown him, and set him on fire, the latter causing Smokey the Bear to pay our anti-hero an angry visit. But you cannot kill Shadow.

Is this the same Bear who wished the moon a happy birthday in Happy Birthday, Moon? The same kind creature who bought the moon a top hat? Goodness, it can’t be. Why can’t he just tell jokes like Fozzie? Or pitch for a sugary cereal like Sugar Bear?

If you compare Bear Shadow to the book The Berenstain Bears Kill and Eat Sister Bear or the episode of the Care Bears, “Bedtime Bear Goes to Sleep…For Good!” it’s relatively mild. Nonetheless, while Bear Shadow is indeed a wonderful little story, you may want to hide your hammers, nails and shovels after reading it to your child.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let’s Read About Ruby Bridges By Ruby Bridges and Grace Maccarone

Martin Luther King Day is the day that we righteous Americans celebrate the time MLK said, “I’m MLK, and I’m here to recruit you,” as well as when James Earl Jones shot him for saying such a thing. These events both happened on the same day; thus, most people take the day off.

In honor of this day and man, I will be reviewing Let’s Read About Ruby Bridges, co-authored, perhaps coincidentally, by Ruby Bridges herself, the least known of the Bridges family. While her brothers Jeff, Beau and Todd became great actors, Ruby became a hero in the black community, a la Kool Moe Dee and Jaleel White.

Bridges co-wrote the book with Grace Maccarone, author of such wonderful children’s books as Three Pigs, One Wolf and the Seven Magic Shapes, Mr. Rover Takes Over, and Classroom Pet. Maccarone got her name, incidentally, after her father Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap.

We all know Ruby Bridges’ story. In the early 60s many American schools that taught nothing but white children begged Bridges to come and matriculate at their facilities. But she wouldn’t. She would only attend black schools, until one day she agreed to go to a mostly white school.

Yet, this book tells a different story. It insists that it was the whites who kept Bridges out of their schools. Of course Bridges herself would tell the story this way more than forty years later, but how are we supposed to believe that Mr. Rover really did take over if Ms. Maccarone is revising history like this?

Thus, innocent white children everywhere are reading Let’s Read About Ruby Bridges today and looking at their parents with shame. These parents can only say, “Dude, I wasn’t even born yet. And, besides, my school was part of the bidding war for Bridges. We wanted her. She turned us down.”

But the children won’t believe it. Not when they hold the story told by Bridges and Maccarone in their tiny, alabaster hands. Not in Obama’s America. Next they’ll try to convince our children that Birth of a Nation was not a comedy.

The only thing I have to say to Ms. Bridges is, “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Ruby?” And to Ms. Maccarone, I say, you’re delicious, but only with tomato sauce. I cannot eat you with just butter. Sorry.

By the way, these are jokes, people. I know the story didn’t go the way I’m saying it does. I admire Ruby Bridges just as much as John Steinbeck, Norman Rockwell, and Eleanor Roosevelt did. You learn all this in the book, which is wonderful. Read it. Cherish it. Tell your kids how awful white people are.

Again, kidding. Satire. Tongue in cheek. Planted firmly in cheek. God bless Ruby Bridges, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and God bless the U.S.A.

After 1968, of course.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cock-a-Moo-Moo By Juliet Dallas-Conte


The beautiful thing about children’s literature is that you can tear through it pretty quickly. Tell the know-it-alls in your book club you just didn’t have time to read Nicholas Sparks’ stupid book because you read about 200 better ones. None of their beeswax that each is twenty pages long and full of pictures.

Such is the case with Juliet Dallas-Conte’s epic Cock-a-Moo-Moo from Little Brown. It’s perhaps 25 pages, but who knows? They ain’t numbered. Could be 40 or 50. Who’s counting? Not the little turds having this read to them. That’s for sure.

But here’s the problem with Dallas-Conte’s tale: Try to read it to your child without giggling. I myself turn into Beavis and/or Butt-head each time I say “Cock-a-Quack-Quack” or “Cock-a-Oink-Oink” to my son. One could imagine the author published the book after a wager with a friend:

Dallas-Conte: I’ll bet you I can publish a children’s book with the word “cock” in it no less than twelve times, including in the title.

Friend: It’s a bet, you naughty little minx.

A bet like this hasn’t been made in the publishing world since Wolfgang Petersen’s wager with one of his German buddies that he could turn Michael Ende’s novel The NeverEnding Story into a homoerotic fantasy film that would be screened at every NAMBLA meeting.

Cock-a-Moo-Moo is your classic loser-turns-hero tale. A rooster (See. Ms. Dallas-Conte never told her friend the main character would be an actual penis) is the laughing stock of an entire farm because he can’t properly cock-a-doodle-doo. Rather than turning the place into Columbine or setting all the animals ablaze with his telekinetic chicken powers a la Carrie, the rooster pays a fox to break into the henhouse one night and rape all the hens. Of course, Rooster pulls a swerve on the fox, clucking like a maniac, thereby waking up the animals so that they may chase the rapist fox away.

Oh, yeah. They may have come to snuff the rooster, but he ain’t gonna die. This is important because roosters had a bad name in 20th century American literature for years with Foghorn Leghorn shooting his mouth off in the 40s, 50s and 60s. It took a man like Rooster Cogburn and his “It’s payday, boys. Come and get it!” attitude in the 70s to change that. Things took a turn for the worse again when Terry Taylor wrestled as The Red Rooster in the WWF in the late 80s.

But, when the 21st century began, this unnamed fella brought honor to roosters everywhere. Cock-a-Moo-Moo, as far as my lazy bit of research has turned up, is Dallas-Conte’s only children’s book. Oh, she’s illustrated a couple of cookbooks (probably chicken recipes), but this is her To Kill a Mockingbird. And, just as President Bush handed Harper Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, maybe ole Barack ought to consider handing the same honor to Dallas-Conte for showing us just how brave and hilarious a rooster can be.