Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We Are In A Book: A Review

WE ARE IN A BOOK: by Mo Willems

Willems, M. (2010).  We Are in a Book! Singapore: Hyperion Books for Children.

We Are in a Book! is about two friends, Elephant Gerald and Piggie.  Gerald is startled to find someone is watching them.  Fearing it is a monster, Gerald panics, but Piggie soon tells him that it is really a Reader.  At first, Gerald and Piggie are delighted to find a reader, even playing jokes on the reader by making the reader say "Banana", which both find uproariously funny.  However, Gerald panics again when told all books, including the one they are in, end.  Gerald has more to do, more "bananas" to have the reader say.  Piggie comes up with a solution to this terrible crisis: he and Gerald ask the reader to read them again.

I really enjoyed We Are in a Book! because it is fully self-aware.  It treats the situation excellently by having Gerald and Piggie be 'real', as if their existence is separate from the book, as if they were independent.  By acknowledging that they are being read, there is an immediate sense of communication between the Reader (that would be us) and the characters (Gerald and Piggie).There's a little bit of innocent mischief with Gerald and Piggie, who delight in 'making fun of us' by having us say "Banana".  I imagine children who are easily amused with funny-sounding words can relate to the fun Gerald and Piggie have with "banana". 

The illustrations are also brilliant.  When Gerald and Piggie 'come closer' to investigate, the reader seems them larger than when they are barely recognizing us.  We also get an idea as to what kind of being Gerald and Piggie are.  Gerald, with his glasses, is the more innocent of the pair.  He was completely unaware of who could be 'reading' them, or that books end.  He freaks out and makes a simple appeal to us.  "I just want to be read".  Willems does an extremely shrewd thing in making the text to this smaller than the normal words in the bubble (which Piggie acknowledges allow him to 'speak') and larger (as when they find "banana" so hilarious).  It gives us the reader an indication of how it is spoken, whether loudly (as when they laugh) or softer (as with Gerald's sad plea).

I can't remember where, but I think it was on NPR that I heard talk about We Are in a Book!, and how it is almost existentialist in how Gerald and Piggie recognize that 'all things end' and are fully aware that their existence does not extend to anything outside the book they are in.  When the book closes, they cease to exist. I don't know about that.  I do know that We Are in a Book! is a really delightful read.  It is simple ('banana' being the biggest word), it has a cute and fun story, and it is intelligent in that it makes the reader part of the story.

I enjoyed not just We Are in a Book! on the surface level, but also on the fact that it is self-aware.  It made me think also of another book, Winston the Book Wolf.    Both trust the reader to understand what is going on.  Winston the Book Wolf uses the traditions of the Little Red Riding Hood story (the little girl is called Rosie, but she wears a red hoodie and Winston asking to wear Grandmama's clothes to enter the library as "Granny Winston") and The Three Little Pigs are in the background.  We even get some great inside jokes parents might appreciate, like the hot dog vendor looking suspiciously like Oliver Hardy.  The ending similarly invites the reader to be a conspirator of sorts, suggesting to us that if the Story Lady at our library "wears long skirts and floppy hats", she may be a wolf in disguise.

I really found We Are in a Book! bright, clever, amusing, and I think entertaining for children.  I think they will appreciate the humor of the situation, and find Gerald and Piggie amusing and endearing. 



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Module 1: Love You Forever: A Review

LOVE YOU FOREVER: By Robert Munsch Illustrated by Sheila McGraw

Munsch, R. (1986). Love You Forever. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc.

Love You Forever is the story of a mother who sees the various stages of her son's life, from his time as a newborn to ages two, nine, a teenager (no specific age is given), and as the book describes, "a grown-up man".  Throughout his life, his mother would pick him up and rock him, "back and forth, back and forth", singing to him this refrain:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
my baby you'll be.

Eventually, the mother becomes too old to go to her son and rock him 'back and forth, back and forth', and the son goes to her and rocks her 'back and forth, back and forth', singing the song to her, substituting "Mommy" for "baby".  In the end, the man goes to his new baby daughter and does the same: rocking her "back and forth, back and forth", he now sings her the same song. 

Since Love You Forever uses a mother and son, I will use those pronouns for the descriptions. 

Love You Forever is meant to evoke powerful emotions about being a parent and/or being a child. The message is very clear: a mother's love is eternal, and no matter how old her son gets, the mother will always see him as a little boy.  It also strikes an emotional note if the reader is a child (adult or literal): we will love our mothers and be thankful and grateful for all they have done.

Since Love You Forever is a story that strikes a very strong emotional core, only the most cynical tend to focus not on the emotion of the story, but on the logic.  If we took Love You Forever literally, we would be horrified that a woman would appear to be almost obsessed with her son.  This is a relationship that comes dangerously close to entering Norma/Norman Bates territory.

It is perfectly natural, even expected, to cradle a newborn and/or a two-year-old to sleep with a lovely lullaby.  However, as the boy "grew and grew" it soon appears to take a bizarre turn.  The mother sneaks into her son's room when he's nine and rocks a teenager the same way she did when he was a newborn.  At this point, if we look at it from an adult's perspective, it would seem nutty to imagine any mother (let alone our own) cradling a fourteen to maybe sixteen year old.

And this isn't even wondering how she would have the physical strength to lift said fourteen to sixteen year old, let alone do it without waking him up.

However, once he leaves home, Love You Forever appears to go off the deep end when it has the mother drive across town, at night, with a ladder, to essentially break into her grown son's home by climbing through a second-floor window (either left conveniently open or one the mother managed to unlock) and rock a grown man repeating the same thing she did when he was a toddler. 

One thing I thought about at the end is when the roles are reversed and the son rocks his mother at the end.  Is the message of Love You Forever the idea that the child is somehow beholden to his parent once the parent is too elderly to basically baby her son?

I now many people who find Love You Forever rather creepy, and others who find it extremely moving and emotional.  My take is that we are not meant to look at it literally.  Most children's stories are meant to be more symbolic and simple.  There are two audiences for Love You Forever: the child (whom I figure would be a toddler) and the still-new parent.

A child is not going to think about the oddity of a woman probably in her fifties (if the mother is in her twenties when the son was born) going into a grown man's home in the middle of the night.  To a child, such thoughts I think would not enter their minds.  Remember, children at this stage don't question the logic of Santa Claus: how a man can fly through the world in one night and pop in and out of the house unnoticed despite his girth and flying reindeer landing on their roofs (or getting in without having a chimney).  Really small children take things at face value, and they would not find it odd that a mother would 'love their child forever'.  I think at that age, a child would want reinforcement that they will be protected and loved, two things they need to develop into functioning adults.

A new parent, in return, I think would be enthralled with the experience of having a child to love, and though they know that they will see the various stages of their child's development (even some of the negative ones, like the nine-year-old using "bad words" when Grandma comes over), the parent will truly love their child 'forever' and will in some respects always be their 'baby'.  Far be it for me to take that away from any parent.

For me, I find Love You Forever at times moving, at times shocking.  The cover does remind me of me, of all the chaos I must have given to my own mother as a child (though in my defense, I never went through any kind of rebellious stage).  It does evoke a tenderness thinking of all that my mom did for me growing up, all the sacrifices she made to provide, and the genuine love and affection I have for her.  However, looking at it with more seasoned eyes, I would find the mother's actions a bit bonkers.  Calling me in the middle of the night is one thing, but carrying a ladder to climb up the window and rock me when I'm already asleep is I think insane.

My mother loves Love You Forever, (as do many mothers I've spoken to) but I'm sure even she would concede that would be going way too far.  Then again, my argument about Love You Forever is that it is meant to be symbolic and not taken literally.  The message that Love You Forever is communicating is that a parent's love never ends regardless of how old the child gets.  If that is what one gets from it, then the book I think is a success.


Andre Gagnon, in the review for Love You Forever, felt that the story became too ridiculous as it went along.  "Love You Forever is sentimentality at its worst. This is not a children's story, but one that will appeal to adults who have experienced a feeling of loss as their children grow older. Munsch should go back to what he does best."  I can see how this is possible.  Gagnon detested Love You Forever, feeling that it was a mistake to make it a picture book.  I can see how this interpretation is possible, but I will always argue that the adult readers should see Love You Forever as allegory, not realistic. 


In terms of library use, Love You Forever may work for Baby Lapsit Storytimes, for they are targeted towards newborn and their parents.  It might also be used in a group that deals with parents with teen children gone off to college.  A library could offer a 'support group' for those entering Empty Nest Syndrome.  We could also expand it to create groups dealing with separation of parents and children.  I'm reluctant to offer suggestion to those who have lost children, but the possibility is there. 


Gagnon, A. (1987).  Love You Forever Book Review.  CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People. Vol. 15, Number 2.  Retrieved from

Born 1945

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge: A Review

Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge by Scott Walker with Marc Thiessen

Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, is running for President of the United States. 

At the very least, Governor Walker is seriously contemplating a Presidential run in 2016.  It doesn't matter really, as Hillary Clinton has already won the election by a landslide.  Yes, technically votes have yet been cast, and she still hasn't officially announced, but as a longtime MSNBC viewer, I know that Mrs. Clinton has not only won every electoral vote in the Union but I think she got the popular vote in Scotland and Ontario as well. 

That is how powerful and certain Madame Clinton will win.  It's already a fait accompli.  We might just as well not bother with an election at all.  Hillary Clinton, if Rachel Maddow and Steve Kornacki are to be believed, has already submitted her choices for her Cabinet to Congress.

Now, while there are many potential punching bags for HRC to beat up on in the general election, few people are looking at Scott Walker.  That, I figure, will change thanks to Walker's impressive election wins.  He has been won three elections in four years, his first run for Governor, his bid for reelection, and then there's that recall bid in between.   Unintimidated is his chronicle of the events around the Wisconsin recall election: what led to them, what he did right and wrong, and some ideas as to what conservatives can do to win future elections.

Officially, Scott Walker has not announced his Presidential bid, but Unintimidated is as naked a bid as can be made without making it official.  This is the book a candidate writes to extol his virtues, downplay his missteps, and put a case as to why he might make a good President.

Unintimidated has several nods to a solid Republican base, evangelical voters, which shouldn't be hard for the P.K. (Preacher's Kid).   Throughout the book, we read of Governor Walker praying over something or being appreciative of other's prayers for him and his family.  We also get solid conservative proposals for economic advancement, and Walker doesn't shrink from touting Wisconsin as a model of providing prosperity without cutting services or taxes, a remarkable accomplishment.  He puts in some observations as to why, despite his own victory in a solidly blue state like Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney failed to defeat Barack Obama.  He points out that in 2012, there were several Obama-Walker voters: people who voted for a Democrat for President and a Republican for Governor.

I can imagine this is his subtle suggestion that he has cross-over appeal.

Unintimidated discusses various aspects of the recall election.  We start with what led to it: Act 10, which would remove collective bargaining for public sector workers except for police and firemen.  We get then various schemes to derail this act and the motives behind these moves.  The stories of how the union bosses and their 'useful idiots' (not Walker's term to be fair) are surprising, sad, and angering.  Union leaders would tell him to go ahead and fire new hires (usually young and efficient people) rather than have union members pay more for their health insurance, which would still be below what private sector employees paid.  The harassment of his family, the violence of the protestors (storming the Capital building, occupying the historic foyer and causing, if memory serves correct, two to five years worth of damage in the weeks they were there.

Walker talks about how the Wisconsin state senators who fled the state rather than show up to the chamber to deny the required quorom were basically unwilling to negotiate.  When they would meet, somewhat secretly, at a McDonald's just inside the Wisconsin border from Illinois, these heroes of MSNBC were there not to ultimately come to an agreement, but to accept Walker's surrender.  Walker appears both puzzled and more upset than genuinely angry at doctors, who would provide notes to teachers who wouldn't show up for work to protest.  He points out that this would hurt the children the unions and liberals were insisting they were thinking of.

He then points out all the success that Act 10 has produced in terms of economic growth and happier lives.  Walker is even shrewd enough to point out that in areas of vulnerability, such as how Milwaukee did have to cut teachers from schools, these areas had locked-in agreements with unions in a rush to preempt Act 10.

Walker also is attempting to trump his potential opponents by fessing up to mistakes, such as when he took a call from one of the Koch Brothers (which turned out to be a prank call by a liberal) and suggest Walker's campaign sent in supporters in disguise to protests in order to disrupt or infiltrate the rallies.  No doubt the Hillary Clinton campaign would use these things against Walker, and this book puts out his explanation/mea culpa as a way to disarm them.

You can see his ambitions with the second part of the title.  No Midwest Governor writes about 'a nation's challenge' if he/she were not interested in addressing said challenges. 

Unintimidated presents the most positive case for Scott Walker as a leader, as someone who can govern in a state where his political views are the minority.  The Governor comes across as an affable, pleasant, nice guy, honest, hard-working, someone of deep faith and a strong love for his wife and two sons and who has only his people's best interests at heart.  He also comes across as tough: one who has an iron hand in a velvet glove, who is not afraid to take on powerful opponents...and most importantly, win.
Obviously, this is the case that any person with aspirations to higher office would want to present.  Whether Scott Walker runs for President in 2016 is still unknown right now (not that it matters since Hillary Clinton already has her Inaugural Address typed out and is working on whom to select as her Vice President).  At the moment, Unintimidated is a good primer to those who would like to see how Scott Walker's mind works and how he sees himself.
Don't mistake his geneal Midwest demeanor and somewhat goofy grin as signs of stupidity.  Three times his opponents have thought him an idiot, and three times he's defied the odds.  He is in many ways the perfect candidate: not a bully like Chris Christie, not a firebrand like Ted Cruz.  While he doesn't have the cache of a Rand Paul or name recognition of say a Jeb Bush, Walker has other attributes that would make him more formidable than those on the right or left may think.
His generally quiet demeanor makes him acceptable to the Establishment.  His take-down of unions makes him a Tea Party sympathizer.  His religious background will appeal to evangelicals.  He's appealed to moderates who got him three victories to Madison.  Scott Walker doesn't look radical or crazy.  That may be a good reason for him to run, and Unintimidated is the best book for anyone looking this candidate over.
Even if Hillary Clinton has this already in the bag...    

Born 1967

Grade: B+