September 6, 2007

It's The Little Differences: Books Once-Blogged Now Actually Reviewed

I hope it's obvious to people when a Daddy Types post is based on hands-on personal experience and when its based on just seeing something online. As a general rule, I discourage companies from inundating DTHQ with product samples or other free stuff; I'm skeptical of the push-based reporting industry, but I also don't want the hassle of dealing with all the clutter and waste.

And while we don't buy 99% of the stuff discussed around here, I recently bought several books that I've personally gone gaga over, and you know what? Sometimes I'm not so gaga anymore.

First up, the biggie: Mary Blair's Cinderella: Figuring it'd be in bookstores, the kid and I shopped around for it last week, with no luck, but it came yesterday. Really gorgeous artwork, no surprise, but also not optimized for the story. The stepmother gets a mean closeup, but wow, there are almost no actual pictures of the other characters; they're just little figures in a giant, stunningly rendered landscape/interior. The character richness of Blair's own childrens' books and other work is really absent, though the mood is awesome.

But my real issue is with Cynthia Rylant [or as she's always referred to, "Newberry Medal honoree Cynthia Rylant"] and her story. I don't know Rylant's Newberry-winning work, but holy crap, she turned the melodrama-meter to 11 for this thing:

This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love.


She [Cinderella] lived a dark life in a dark house, with people who did not love her. Each morning when she rose up from her bed, Cinderella felt this darkness all around her.


How does a young man find his maiden? His heart leads him. He finds her in a room. He asks her to dance. And when he touches her, he knows. Cinderella and the young prince danced into a private world all their own. They did not even speak.

Damn good thing Blair didn't paint a picture of Prince Fabio ripping Cinderella's bodice off. What the hell? I'll read about fairy godmothers and transmogrifying pumpkins all day, but does Disney really expect a parent in 2007 to feed this kind of Harlequin Romance claptrap to his kid? Coming at it from the art angle, I expected Cinderella to be modernist and retro; instead, it's retrograde.

I'm still glad the book's out, and it's really beautiful, but in its telling, it's also woefully off-key in ways that make the movie version look almost progressive.

peters_abc_amft.jpgThe other book we just got was Peter's ABC Book, which Chicago artist Robert Amft made as an "artist's insurance policy" for his young family, in case he got killed in WWII. For all the ambitious-sounding discussion of Dali and diChirico, the book is really just a sweet series of colored pencil drawings of animal scenes with snapshot images of Peter collaged in. It's well-done, refreshing, and worthy, but it's not a once-lost masterpiece.

For me the big news was the Amft didn't actually ever get drafted at all, a tiny fact that never managed to make it into the marketing material for the book. Rather than hyping this as a legacy left by a father facing imminent death, I think the book is better seen as an expression of one artist dad's appreciation and observation of and care for his family. From the foreword:

For Peter's ABC Book, Amft not only took his son as his object, but as his subject. Peter had already been featured in many of his father's paintings, dating back to portraits Robert made of his wife pregnant. In some of these, Marian was nude at the piano--the nervous parents hoped that exposing their baby to music in-vitro, at close range, would contribute to making him musical. He was. Perhaps it worked.
Mozart who? We should be calling this the Amft Effect.

Originally: Whoa. Mary Blair's Disney's Cinderella??
Peter's ABC Book by Chicago artist Robert Amft


If your daughter can't read, make up a story to go with the pictures. She probably would enjoy making up her own story more.

[which is exactly what I did, editing as I went. The only trick'll be reproducing the story next time; she's got a memory like a steel trap, and if I change or leave out a part, she'll usually bust me on it. -ed.]

We have some self-altered-narrative books at our house. Our solution has been to lightly line through the parts we don't read in pencil, then write in the parts we feel necessary.

When the kids are older and have developed some discrimination, they'll be able to see what we changed, and we can discuss it then.

[I've thought of that, but didn't want to leave a paper trail. you think we're spending too much time in Washington DC? -ed.]

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