Saturday, April 07, 2007

Children's Books That Never Were, Part 2

I planned to wait until Wednesday to post the next installment of Children's Books That Never Were. Then I realized that I never promised CBTNW would be a weekly feature. In fact, I hope other people think up books of their own and let me know so that I can post their links. While it's fun to have a tweaked cover, you don't have to have one. Lisa Yee's Book Title Contest was all about text.

What inspired me to write the editor letters was the satire of Leonard Marcus' Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordrom called "Dear Clueless: The rejection letters of Edna Albertson" by Peter D. Sieruta.

Today's CBTNW features one of the books found in the Triumvirate of Mediocrity. I dedicate it to Fuse #8 as an early birthday present.

From the editor:

Dear Uncle Shelby,

Ursula Nordstrom is very busy right now, so she asked me, her new assistant, to take a look at your recent picture-book manuscript submission. The Misgiving Tree is a most intriguing title for this brief morality tale of a boy who brings burnt offerings of vegetables to the Great Tree of the forest, only to have his sacrifices rejected again and again. I am reminded of the story of Cain and Abel--without the distracting presence of that ninny Abel. The cover is delightfully disturbing, if a bit overstated. (Was it your intention to have some of the leaves shaped like the traditional insulting form of the two-fingered salute?) The tree bequeathing a so-called “blessing” in the form of a partially-devoured apple is chilling in its Biblical implications. However, I can see right away that there would be trouble with the censors. Tant pis (that’s French).

Some suggestions:

Have you thought about how much you could accomplish with dramatic irony? What about turning the tree into a the kind of grownup who indulges the boy in whatever he demands and refuses to say "no" even if it's for the boy's own good? The boy can completely ravage the tree of her apples, her branches, her trunk, and in a final grand insult to parents everywhere, sit on her stump-like form in the last scene. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child," indeed!

Think about it. Also, what about a slightly different title? I think “The Giving Tree” would really hammer home the satire. Years from now, people of all ages will talk about this book and how it changed their lives.


Garrulous MacKenzie
Assistant to Ursula Nordstrom
Children’s Division
Sharper & Crow

P.S. I am enclosing my edits for the book cover. I hope you don't mind that I wrote on your artwork. You do keep copies of your illustrations, yes?


Vivian Mahoney said...

This is quite amusing. I never heard of the Dear Clueless book...I need to look into this one. It sounds like something that would be very interesting to read.

I've got an idea brewing for a CBTNW post, but it must wait. Have a great weekend!

Saints and Spinners said...

HipWriterMama: "Dear Clueless" is actually an article from Horn Book. If you have access to a full-text database like ProQuest, it should be in there.

I look forward to seeing your CBTNW post!

Melangell said...

Huzzah! Huzzah! The Giving Tree is the book which drives me WILD, and I am so glad you have given it such a wittily excoriating shredding. I have read arguments on both side; it is a book that elicits passionate feelings. When I meet someone who ostensibly knows children's literature, I often sneakily ask his/her stand on The Giving Tree to see how far I can trust this person.

Anonymous said...

Thank you ever so much for this wonderful post. The Giving Tree and the other two books in the unholy triumvirate continue to vex me, and this send-up was just the sort of thing to brighten my day.

Saints and Spinners said...

Kelly: You're welcome! I am glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by my blog, too.

Anonymous said...

I only read the Giving Tree as an adult, and I didn't get it. Is this supposecd to be a happy situation? A cautionary tale? Thanks for helping me see I'm not alone in my confusion?

As one deprived of a grounding in children's literature, I am curious, though: what are the other two books in the "unholy triumvirate?" Or are they up next in the CBTNW series?

limpy99 said...

I just read "The Giving Tree" to my kids about a month ago. At the conclusion I said "What a horrible story" and went back to reading them Calvin & Hobbes cartoons.

Saints and Spinners said...

Goddess: There is a link in the post to the other two books in the Triumvirate of Mediocrity. In brief, they are The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, and Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. There are plenty of other shudder-worthy picture-books, but these are remarkable for their heated debates on all sides.

Limpy99: For some reason, my mother (who hates the book) had it on one of our bookshelves when I was a child. I picked it up, read it. Then I read it again. "I don't get it," I thought. "Why do we have this book?" Mom finally got rid of it, but it's telling that even though she had a book she hated sitting on one of our shelves (maybe someone gave it to us?) she wasn't worried that I would fall in love with it.

I heart Calvin and Hobbes, by the way. I knew a boy in high school who was the red-haired "grown-up" version of Calvin. He had a wicked smile.

Lone Star Ma said...

Ha! If only I believed that Shel had menat to be satirical. Bleh.

I kind of like I'll Love You Forever...except that it is too sappy for as often as you hear it.

Anonymous said...

It was cathartic, reading this! Many thanks!! I'm going to browse through a few more of your cbtnw.