This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Leslie M.M. Blume

Loved the title when I first saw it and the adorable French Bulldog on the cover. Was very curious to learn what a youthful Oxford and Cambridge-educated author had written.

I pretty much flew through this book. Cornelia is actually not a dog, contrary to what the cover of the hardback might make you think. But she is a winsome young character who lives in the sophisticated world of concert pianists in Manhattan, which is interesting enough. Leslie M.M. Blume, the author, adds something, though. And what she adds really makes the book....

Now, here is where I start to worry about the many articles, blogs, books, etc that I read. Somewhere sometime somebody in the very recent past compared some piece of literature (or some story or something else) to the magical residence of Sarah Crewe's next-door neighbor in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (You see how hazy my memory is?) And I'm not sure if it was this book, Cornelia, that that person was comparing Princess to or not.

Regardless, let me appropriate the comparison and use it here. Basically, Cornelia finds a "world" next door to the swanky apartment she shares with her pianist mother. It's an even swankier, and considerably more exotic (there are palm trees growing out of the floor), apartment occupied by an elderly writer. The woman's tales and incredible apartment have a huge effect on Cornelia's life.

While it's not exactly a novel idea for a child character to undergo a metamorphosis after meeting a wise older person, Blume's tale joins in strong form the roster of these kinds of stories. The descriptions of the apartment are vivid. The old lady's stories are engaging. The characters and images are drawn such that many can be seen particularly well with the mind's eye.

If I, an adult, had this reaction to Cornelia, I can imagine that a child reading this book would be as absorbed in it as the title character is entranced by neighboring apartment with palm trees growing out of the floor.

Blogger is frustrating!

Just a note to say that I try to maintain a sane amount of spacing between paragraphs, but Blogger is not cooperating. So I apologize for posts with miles of white space between graphs and, especially for those in which the graphs run on and on, one on the heels of another. Irritating....

Another old-fogey rant

Remember the Katie John books? And The Phantom Palomino? What about Mystery Aboard the Ocean Princess? And By Secret Railway?

I can see you shaking your head. And I'm not surprised that you don't remember. These were great kids' books; as that animated tiger used to say (the one that used to advertise cereal at just about the time I read these books), "They're g-r-r-r-eat!!!"
These examples of kids' lit have gone the way of that marketing campaign: oblivion. Not to sound like some aged teeny-bopper who's become sour and resentful in later life but there are some perfectly good books that ought to be shared with our youngsters along with today's servings of literature. Dare I say, better books, in some cases?

These are lost books that no one except former child bookworms fondly recall. I was in the bookstore today and heard a disheartening exchange between a girl of about eleven or twelve and her father.

Girl: (Shows a book to her dad.)

Father: Hmmm. (In dismissive voice) "That looks like a book your mother would have read as a child."

Father and daughter thus place said book back on the shelf and continuing searching.

The books was a Bobbsey Twins mystery.

I should have had a lovely sitcom moment at the time and done something one of the many bold, mouthy characters of television would have done. I should have pivoted to face that man, cocked my head critically and said something sassy like, "Was that meant to actually be helpful or do you just work undercover for Cecily von Ziegesar?" I didn't.

I mean, what's he trying to do? He didn't look like someone who would, because he wanted desperately to be thought hip by his pre-teen daughter, diss retro kid lit. I think he was serious. But with what motive? Is he worried that his daughter will grow up thinking she has to be prim and proper and vacuum while wearing pearl necklaces while her husband is out earning money? I just don't think she's likely to become June Cleaver just 'cause she read an old book.

I found two books from the Katie John series at the store today. Unbelievable. They were in the bargain books section where I (and Pop and the little girl with good taste) were browsing. How the store's buyers found an unused edition of Depend on Katie John copyrighted in the 1970s, I don't know. It's presence in that store is not a ray of hope as much as a reminder that these retro kids books are dying, if not already dead.

And, really, it's no wonder. It's the way of the world, isn't it? Youth tends to inherit its spoils prematurely. What fifty-year old executive isn't looking behind his back to make sure Junior doesn't take his place? Is it really any different for things as likely to be dated as books?

Still, and you knew there had to be a 'still,' there are many children today who'd enjoy these older books. Maybe it would be for their old-fashioned qualities or their wholesomeness. Maybe it would be for today's kids, as it was for me, because of the charmingly outdated terminology used. (Remember when Nancy Drew used to "don frocks" instead of putting on dresses?)

Kids aren't, after all, frozen in their own time. They aren't focus groups. They're individuals. And today's old-fashioned adults were once yesterday's old-fashioned kids often mistaken by elders as only interested in the whatever fads were contemporary to that era. Not every one of today's kids wants to read the A-List books; some are quite yearning for the Green Gables series. Some prefer the romance of Jean and Johnnie to that of Twilight. And more might, but they're not being given the opportunity to discover it because publishing executives are ramming what they see as most profitable down the small throats of children.

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