Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 2)- Nakeyness!

We are talking subversive books this month, and today I want to cover the oh-so-shameful topic of nudity in picture books. GASP!  Since nudity has caused books to be banned, it's appropriate to consider in a subversive light. 

I'm going to start with the blatant books which use NAKED right in the title.
"They brought Wilbur to a giant portrait of Grand-pah, the oldest, greatest, and most naked naked mole rat ever."
(Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems)

Please use your best movie commercial voice for the following: "In a world where everyone is naked, one naked mole rat dares to wear clothes." Mo turns the tables on us. He makes us feel uncomfortable not by the nudity, but by the un-nudity. And in doing so he weaves a lovely tale of being yourself.

"and ONE naked baby goes back in the bath!"
 (One Naked Baby, by Maggie Smith)

This book has been a staple in our house for six years, because it made my kids (who are champion streakers) laugh and it made me feel like a normal mom. I understood what it was like to chase a wet streak down the hall only to have that same baby roll around in a muddy puddle within hours. Plus, it has counting to ten and back, exploring the outdoors, and just enjoying life on every page.   

"The sneaky cat pounced on an unsuspecting group of squirrels and gave them all wedgies -- not an easy thing to do, because generally squirrels do not wear underpants"
(Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door, by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri)

This book could get attacked by a critique group for many reasons.
"The MC is named Mr. Fookwire- have you read that out loud?"
"There's a lot of violence."
"There's only adults and animals."
But I want to focus on the most disturbing part. I have been haunted by the image of squirrel wedgies on page 22. I've found myself asking, "Does the squirrel wedgie move the story line along?" I've also found myself asking, "Why can I not stop staring at these squirrel buttcheeks??" But it is relevant to the story, because a wedgie so perfectly establishes the pain of the squirrels and the character of the mean bully cat Muffins.

"It may help to have on pajamas."
(Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee)

Oh you didn't see this one coming! But this gorgeous, thought-provoking, heart-warming picture book holds a secret on page 25.  Yes, there is one boy with his jammies not quite on. My kids can find a butt from a mile away, so this is obviously the best part of the book. Do you need a butt? No. Is a butt-giggle a nice bit of comic relief after thinking about days when you don't feel shiny like a star? Yes, it is. And when it comes to including something relatable, why not a tushie? We all have them.


"I forgot!"
(David Gets in Trouble, by David Shannon)

David Shannon doesn’t wait so long - by page 9, poor David is headed for school in his tighty whities. More pictures of David's wrong-doings fill every page. Even I felt a little unsure reading this to my first child. Do I want her to see cat-tail-pulling and funny-face-at-the-wrong-time-making? And what is wrong with my spawn that she is laughing at every page? But if we didn't go on a naughty ride with David, we wouldn't so appreciate the "I'm Sorry" spread at the end.

Yes, all of these books have a little bit of nudity, but they all make it necessary to the story or the experience of the book. If you have other favorite books which fit here, please share them in the comments.

*And you shared!!! I was oh so negligent in skipping these book on the original post.*

"Eating a cookie totally and completely naked!"
(Naked!, by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi)

It's fun to celebrate being naked and having a good run around the house. But Black also warns us of the danger of nakedness - getting cold. Ridpath Ohi does an expert job of "keeping it vague." It's clear the boy is naked, but you never see any naked parts - not even a butt cheek. 

"And fell through the dark, out of his clothes."
(In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak)

I can't lie: a lot of Sendak books scare the doody out of me. The thought of nearly being baked alive definitely scares the doody out of me. Thankfully Mickey is resourceful enough to save the cake and save his hide. Speaking of his hide, we see a lot of it! Many illustrators use a well-turned body of a well-placed prop to hide the goods, but not Sendak who gives a full frontal 4 times. I think it's relevant to read this 1970 book in context of the streaking craze which began in the late 60s. Are we less free now than we were then? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 1) - While Your Parents Are Out

I have a picture book idea which is a tad subversive - y'know, a little cannibalism, inappropriate toad jokes, poop-eating, etc. I really want to write this book. I'm positive I can decapitate a cute bunny rabbit is a very classy way. (I'm sure I've made this sound worse than it is...or perhaps not wicked enough.)


Approaching the critique group with such a wild beast of a manuscript is a challenge. I'm guilty of critiquing out others subversive attempts too.

"Your protagonist cannot eat the antagonist in a picture book." (It's happened)

"Why was this child alone?" (PBs do it all the time.)

"The deep dark woods seem a little scary for the 4-6 crowd." (Well... that's where the wild things are.)

So I'm becoming a student of the subversive. Today I want to look at the class of books where the parents are missing, but really aren't "missed." A great picture book rule is to get rid of the parents. But as critique partners who are parents, it is really hard to read manuscripts without thinking, where is the mother? 

"A lot of good tricks. I will show them to you. Your mother will not mind at all if I do."
(The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss)
Critique: As a mother, I would certainly not want my children to think it was okay to let a strange apparently adult Cat and his two Things in the house while I'm out on a very important errand. But if I'm there, they miss this insane experience, and would never learn how well they can handle themselves in a difficult situation.

"It was midnight when the dancing and the howling began."
(The Boy and The Moon, by James Christopher Carroll)

Critique: You can't have a small child running around climbing to the top of an apple tree at midnight! But one can't be scared of nighttime, and every child should get to experience it. And if I was there, he wouldn't have come up with such a wonderful solution to get the moon unstuck from the tree.

"A pancake here, a pancake there. One in the pan, and three in the air."
(Hey, Pancakes!, By Tamson Weston and illustrated by Stephen Gammell.)

Critique: A hot stove? Rickety stool? Syrup everywhere? Danger, danger, danger! But...we've all made pancakes. We don't know how old big sister at the stove is, but we know if mom and dad had been awake, these siblings wouldn't have had the challenge of finding something to eat to overcome and show their parents how responsible they can be (cleaning up) while still being kids (hiding pancakes in the basement for later.)

"Then the sun came out and we swam together. We rode the waves as if they were horses."
(The Sea Serpent and Me, by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Catia Chien)

Critique: So...there's a sea serpent in the bathroom and Mom hasn't noticed? What. Are there any rules in this house? You can just go the beach by yourself carrying a giant sea serpent? That's not how we roll in my house.  But I've read this book 100 times, and I don't recall ever missing the parents. They don't really matter. This isn't their story; it's the story of a brief and extraordinary friendship.

Red marker in hand a lonely girl creates a boat, flies on a carpet, and saves a magical bird.
(Journey, by Aaron Becker)

Critique: A little girls shouldn't be running around in a fantasy world, nearly falling off waterfalls, and battling knights. But, in this beautiful wordless PB, the parents sort of choose not to be in the story. They are cooking dinner and working, and there isn't enough time. I think that's very relatable. Then little children have a lot of responsibility for making their own fun, and that's an awesome responsibility to have.

What are some of your favorite PBs, new or old, which you would classify as "subversive?"  I'm planning a post on "Slightly Scary" and "Nakeyness," but I'm sure there are other subversive genres I haven't considered yet. 
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