Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Forbidden Children's Books

Still working on those BGHB pictures . . . there is one up of Neal Shusterman on our website at the BGHB link to the right.

I'm just back from a couple of days in New York, staying with my dear friend Elizabeth. We met twenty-five years ago as students in Zena Sutherland's children's literature class at the University of Chicago, and now she is a children's book publisher in New York. What has perhaps sealed our friendship even more than our vocation has is our shared devotion to the Off-Broadway revue "Forbidden Broadway," an evening of speedily-paced parody songs and sketches burlesqueing the current Broadway season and spoofing theatrical stars of today as well as yesterday's legends (there is always an Ethel Merman or a Carol Channing moment). We thought the highlight of last night's performance was a showdown between "Cherry Jones" and "Kathleen Turner," each in character from her most recent performance, Jones as Sister Aloysius in "Doubt" and Turner as Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The climax of the number was Jones exhorting Turner to "DOUBT!" to the tune of "Shout!"

It made me think about when children's books make fun of themselves, as in the Lemony Snicket Books, The Happy Hocky Family, or A Fate Totally Worse than Death. (There are also those books whose status as parody is debatable, but I'll let you name your own choices there.) I also recall what I think was a Sheila Greenwald novel in which the young heroine is being fed a diet of Judy-Blume like novels, including one blissfully, perfectly, named, Life Goes On, I Suppose. Thirty years or so ago, the ALA's Gay and Lesbian Task Force (as I think it was called then) performed a skit at annual conference, underlining all the cliches of the then-young gay-themed young adult novel. The skit ended with a car crash--the defining moment of books including Trying Hard to Hear You, I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip, and Sticks and Stones (that last by the wonderful Lynn Hall. Where is she?) While we can still acknowledge the grievance, I always thought that criticism failed to concede that the car-crash-climax was by no means limited to gay-themed novels--the books about teenaged alcoholics worked exactly the same way. Before you all start stepping on my head for equating homosexuality and alcoholism, just . . . wait. Have a drink, darling. I know, I know, that's not funny, and we were talking about humor.

Another place I see children's books being needled (car crashes figured in the drug books as well, btw) is in those lists of parody children's-book titles (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Dead Fish) or creatively redesigned children's book covers--the one I can think of at the moment has Eminem superimposed upon the great green room for a book called Goodnight, Bitch. Hee. I love this kind of demonstration of the place children's books can take as cultural markers in the big world. The country she-done-me-wrong lament that goes, " . . . now I'm the one who's caught in Charlotte's web," presupposes that the listener knows Charlotte's Web. I think that's great.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Sheila Greenwald novel is "It All Began With Jane Eyre...", I think.