|SO BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL||
Monsters under the bed. Monsters in the closet. When you were a small child did you close your closet door before bedtime in case there was a monster dwelling there? Do you still feel uncomfortable dangling an arm or leg over the side of the bed when you sleep in remembrance of a time when you kept all limbs safely in bed just in case a monster was hiding out under it? The idea of monsters in closets and under beds has reached mythical proportions and is therefore expressed as themes in books for kids.There is JUNIE B. JONES HAS A MONSTER UNDER HER BED by Barbara Park.There is THERE'S A NIGHTMARE IN MY CLOSET by Mercer Mayer. There is poetry such as "Under the Bed" by Penny Trzynka and "The Monster in My Closet" by Phil Bolsta. In kids books the monsters turn out to be figments of their imaginations or real monsters who are either friendly or afraid of the kids.
But then there are takeoffs on the theme for older kids and adults, often tongue-in-cheek renditions or quirky horror films for those who are still kids at heart and afraid of the dark. Such is the 1983 film MONSTER IN THE CLOSET. A monster terrifies the people of San Francisco eluding detection by moving from closet to closet throughout the city and leaving his closet hideouts to kill. BOOGEYMAN, 2007 horror film, begins with a boy in bed. His father enters the room; the boy says, "He's in the closet." The father looks under the bed, and behind the window shutters to show the boy that there is no one hiding in the room. He opens the door to the closet after knocking on the door. The closet appears to be empty. The father turns to the boy and says, "Nope. Nobody here." A second later he is pulled into the closet by an unseen presence, and the door slams shut. The door opens several times as the father struggles to leave the closet, but each time he is dragged back into it. Finally the door slams shut one last time, and the father is never seen again. The staging of the scene is masterful and can keep many fearful kids up late at night with their lights on if they are allowed to view it. I think it's best to keep the monsters friendly.
Beatrix Potter is known worldwide for her stories about Peter Rabbit, a young rabbit who lives in the country with his mother and his three sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-Tail. They wear clothes upon occasion; and, although the rabbits live in a rabbit hole under a fir tree, their home has human amenities such as a kitchen and furniture. Beatrix Potter was taught at home by governesses, but she and her brother, Bertram, enjoyed having many small animals such as rabbits, birds, and mice in the schoolroom as pets. Potter loved to draw these small animals. In 1893 she wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit with illustrations to send as a letter to the sick 5-year-old son of a former governess with the hope of cheering him up.
In the story Peter's mother instructs her bunny children to “go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden. Your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.” Peter's three sisters run down the lane to pick blackberries while Peter,”who was very naughty, ran straight to Mr. McGregor's garden and squeezed under the gate.” Of course, Mr. McGregor finds the bunny gorging on his vegetables and tries to catch him. Peter manages to elude the angry Mr. McGregor and run home; but, sick from eating too many lettuces, beans, and radishes, Peter is sent straight to bed with a spoon of chamomile tea.
In 1902 Potter decided to publish “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” as a small book. Over the next 28 years she published 22 more little books in which anthropomorphic animals were the main characters. It is interesting that in books about animals that behave like people by speaking languages, wearing clothes, and living in human-like communities, there are usually other animals that do not act like humans. These animals are regarded simply as food by the animals that display human qualities. They do not wear clothes or speak languages, or live in human-like communities. However, those animals in the tale that are anthropomophized still often look upon other anthropomophized animals as potential dinner if they would normally be their prey in reality. Sometimes the fox in the chicken coop is Mr. Fox, a friendly neighbor that Miss Hen has invited over for tea. More often he is portrayed as a Dapper Dan more interested in having the unsuspecting Miss Hen for a tasty snack rather than dating her.
Even the youngest child likes a story with a little excitement before falling asleep. Mo Willem's series of "pigeon" books offers humor and a bit of drama with each book. The pigeon is drawn as a simple cartoon with plenty of personality although no clothes. The theme of each book is similar. The pigeon wants to do something it knows in its heart it should not do. Whether driving a bus, staying up late, or refusing to share its hot dog with a duckling, the pigeon thinks of multiple excuses for avoiding the inevitable. In DON'T LET THE PIGEON STAY UP LATE it asks nicely, pleads, rationalizes, and finally shouts in frustration like a young child having a tantrum: "I'm not tired!" It suggests counting stars, promises early bed tomorrow night, pleads that pigeons don't need much sleep, or that it is midday in China, all to no avail. It is as though the reader in the person of the child is the one who is charged with making sure that the pigeon goes to bed early. The child seems to interact with the pigeon in ordering it to go to bed. The protests continue, but the pigeon starts to yawn until, after trying to stifle a tremendous yawn taking up two pages, the pigeon clutches his stuffed animal bunny and soon falls asleep. As the book closes, it is hoped and expected that the child is ready to follow the pigeon's example and also go to sleep early.
Kids love stories about objects that act like people. A best-selling picture book by Sherri Rinker is titled GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE. The big trucks one finds on a construction site stop work at night and go to sleep. As the sun sets each big machine says goodnight in rhyme. This includes a cement mixer, a crane, a bulldozer, and a dump truck. To quote from the book: "These big, big trucks, so tough and loud, They work so hard, so rough, and proud. Tomorrow is another day, Another chance to work and play." The crane truck even "tucks himself in nice and tight (sigh!), Then cuddles up and says goodnight." It might seem ludicrous for these huge machines to act as though they are tucked in bed or cuddling up to perhaps a stuffed animal, but it is apparently not ludicrous to small children.
In 1955 Crockett Johnson published his children's book titled HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, the story of a four-year-old who creates his own world with a purple crayon. He starts by drawing the Moon so he can take a walk in the moonlight. The book ends when Harold draws his house and his bed so he can climb into it and go to sleep. In another book in the series Harold draws a castle, then goes inside to ask the king of the castle why there is nothing growing in the castle garden. This is Harold's version of a fairy tale and is not surprisingly titled HAROLD'S FAIRY TALE published in 1956. The Harold series is another version of the Bank Street school of writing children's books without a moral, simply using a child's imagination to determine his perception of his world.
What I particulary enjoy about Harold's here and now is that he always makes sure that he draws the Moon and takes it along with him on his adventures.
Lucy Sprague created the Bank Street Experimental School in New York City to experiment with her theories of the proper way to educate young children. A teacher at the Bank Street School, Margaret Wise Brown, began to write children's books using Sprague's techniques to express the "here and now" for children. As a result she wrote the still very popular children's picture book GOODNIGHT MOON first published in 1947. A young bunny says goodnight to the familiar objects he sees in his room when he goes to bed. "Goodnight room, goodnight moon, Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon...." The popularity of the simple story book grew from some 1500 copies in 1953 to over 4 million copies by 1990 and became one of the top 100 children's picture books of all time. Margaret Wise Brown continued to write numerous books and poems for children. A number of her unpublished poems recently discovered in an old trunk owned by her sister were published in March.
Lucy Sprague grew up in a family where children were to be seen but not heard. Her strict upbringing gave her the idea that children should be allowed more freedom and that childhood play was the basis for learning and becoming "whole children" who could contribute to building a "progressive, humanistic society." As part of her mission to change the way children were taught, she wrote a book for young children titled HERE AND NOW. It was a book with many stories in it, some inspired by children. The stories were based on what Sprague considered familiar subjects such as boats, trains, dogs, cats, hens, and horses. In most cases the stories did not have much of a plot but lots of sounds and movement and sometimes a short song. "To the child," she wrote, "the familiar is interesting....It is only the blind eye of the adult that finds the familiar uninteresting. The atempt to amuse children by presenting them with the strange, the bizarre, the unreal, is the unhappy result of the adult blindness." Sprague did not seem to care much for fairy tales. "The fairy story," she said, "the circus, novelty hunting, delight the sophisticated adult; they excite and confuse the child." She further alleged that "for brutal tales like Red Riding-Hood or for sentimental ones like Cinderella I find no place in my child's world," but she denied that she was against fairy stories and explained that she was "merely pleading not to have them accepted en masse on the ground that they 'have survived the ages' and 'cultivate the imagination.' " She followed up with a declaration that "It is only the jaded adult mind, afraid to trust to the children's own fresh spring of imagination, tht feels for children the need of the stimulus of magic." There are many who would disagree.
Children's picture books can peak the interest of children to learn about the world around them. It is my hope that my book SO BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL will inspire at least a few children to look up at the moon at night and the Sun in the morning and appreciate the beauty of the two heavenly bodies that are so marvelous at making the spinning Earth our home.