Lately Chebk and I have been coming back around to the idea of attempting to write children’s books (which I previously wrote about on my personal blog), with a particular focus on Okinawan culture.
For a while I was researching Micronesian culture because there is a severe deficiency of resources for Micronesian children in both local and national bookstores and libraries, but I am still uncomfortable about possibly misrepresenting an entire culture. With the start-up of OKPotato, Chebk and I have been gradually discussing our Okinawan background a little more and we have some ideas on the horizon for some children’s books focused on shiisa.
We’ll probably discuss that more later on this blog when we have actual content to show for it. For today, I think there’s something we all need to acknowledge, as a community: Children’s books are fucking crazy. Anything goes — which is amazing, but also, sometimes, frightening?
Here are some inexplicable books we came across in our casual research (in no particular order):
1. Adventures of Space Gecko by Bruce Hale
This is a local book and part of a series about a gecko named Moki. Normally Moki surfs a lot and learns wholesome lessons. You’ll notice this episode is not listed on Bruce Hale’s Moki page. I suspect this has much to do with the fact that nothing that happens in this picture book makes ANY SENSE.
Moki gets into a fight with his gecko parents about a new surfboard. Sad times. He goes on a walk, comes back to find his parents missing. Someone tells him his parents have fallen into a magic pond. And so for Moki to save them he has to go to the moon. (What.) The Sun tells him he can only save them if Moki acquires a special thing. By the time he does, his parents are like, “Nah, we’re gonna live on the moon.” They don’t end up living on the moon. No one ever mentions a surfboard again.
2. Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch by Nancy Willard, Illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
Chebk and I love this children’s book about the famous 15th century painter and his housekeeper, who has trouble completing her duties due to the proliferation of Bosch’s creatures around the house. The whimsical rhymes (“”I’m quitting your service, I’ve had quite enough/of your three-legged thistles asleep in my wash,/of scrubbing the millstone you use for a dish,/and riding to shops on a pickle-winged fish.”) and the beautiful illustrations make it a winner…
But let’s talk about the actual historical Hieronymus Bosch and his paintings. He’s famous for triptychs (three-paneled paintings) with their religious themes. Mainly of Hell.
Nothing’s disturbing about this book except the uneasiness I feel every time I think about a child growing up and learning about Bosch’s actual paintings and creatures.
We read this one standing around in Barnes and Noble. This book still haunts me.
A basic summary: Small fish swims on scene with a nice looking hat. Turns out, he stole this hat from a sleeping big fish. We follow small fish as he swims through various corals and seaweeds, bragging about how he’ll never get caught. Wrong. Know how this book ends? Big fish following small fish into the cave. Big fish comes out with his hat.
SMALL FISH DOES NOT COME OUT.
Guys. We read a book about homicidal fish.
Oh, man. Tomie dePaolo is famous for the Strega Nona books I remember from elementary school, full of magic pasta and wise old ladies. This book has none of that. Chebk let me read this when I was in the midst of researching children’s books, with the endorsement that she had liked it since childhood. Friends, let me tell you about this book:
A small orphan child begins to juggle vegetables in the market in exchange for soup. In any reality, this version of commerce would not help any sad child, but, okay. Small orphan child keeps juggling and comes upon a traveling circus someday so, of course, he becomes a juggler. The best juggler ever. He becomes famous for juggling balls all the colors of the rainbow, with a single golden ball that symbolizes the sun.
Unfortunately for us all, the story does not end there. The juggler becomes an old man who loses his agility. Back to being poor and sad, he juggles one last time. For baby Jesus.
How do I begin to explain this strange, sad book?
Hunwick, a bandicoot, finds an egg outside his hole in the ground after a storm. He takes care of it, talks to it, looks after it. Everyone (i.e. the other animals) thinks this is pretty cute at first. Until, day after day, the egg doesn’t hatch. The official Amazon summary says:
“And when it doesn’t hatch right away, everyone is even more bewildered. Everyone, that is, but Hunwick. For Hunwick understands the egg. It is his friend. And he is the only one who knows its secret.”
Everyone secretly whispers about the egg not hatching. BUT NOT HUNWICK. Why?
Because the egg is a rock but he doesn’t care because the rock is his friend.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH CHILDREN’S BOOKS?!
Probably something awesome. Re-evaluating some of this weirdness has given Chebk and I a (false?) sense of invincibility. Children, as readers, pretty much accept anything you throw at them. Anything goes, especially the fantastical. I think that’s part of why introducing diversity in children’s books (the We Need Diverse Books campaign) is such a good idea to ease children into acceptance of different cultures, races, abilities, and people in general. We’ll keep you all posted on the progress of our children’s book stuff if we get anything off the ground.
Sorry this post is so late, but Chebk will be by pretty soon to talk about some anthologies she’s been reading, which will completely negate all this children’s book stuff but it’ll probably be awesome.
Remember any weird children’s books from your childhood? Got any new recs for us (children’s books or otherwise)? Leave us a comment!