Lately an article came out in The Huffington Post by Lynn Shepherd, entitled “If JK Rowling Cares About writing, she should stop doing it” that alone just screams click bait to anyone who is a fellow writer, future writer, or is a fellow bookworm and/or JK Rowling fan. And though I feel I am contributing to the clickbait as well, it is only by linking this article you get some insight into what I am writing about in this article.
Already this has sparked heated discussion and talk (why wouldn’t it) particularly airing her grievance and shock that adults were reading YA novels as well, and also some backlash against Lynn Shepherd herself, who admitted she had never read any works of JK Rowling. Yet is asking her to step down. In the same breath, I don’t know nor read any of Lynn Shepherd’s works, but I am not asking this woman to do the same. I would be remiss, that this doesn’t bring up implications of jealousy as she has asked other writers to do the same. I already saw a post on tumblr stating she is adapting an elitist attitude and that she doesn’t care if people enjoy her books but for the money. So I will leave that side of the argument at that and talk about the other issue that was being raised, as this has been brought to mind other articles in which YA literature has been given a considerable backlash lately particularly in regards to them being read by adults than their intended demographics.
To which I ask….
What is wrong with adults enjoying Young Adult Literature?
First of all, let’s think back to the works of classic literature that we are aware of, but have been marketed as ‘children’s reading material” lately.
Anne of Green Gables
Alice in Wonderland
Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
The Prince and the Pauper
The Secret Garden
The Legend of King Arthur
I could go on and on, but these are mostly the more common kinds of books Parents, Educators, Librarians, etc think of when they think about books geared towards children. However, the fact is these books are also read by adults as well, because the themes are universal and timeless. Not to mention, some stories were not intentionally written exactly as children being the core readers in mind, they were written due to experience, sharing, and imagination. In fact, these is no age limit on the themes even presented in these books at all, as they both deal with issues both adolescents and juveniles equally face as well. Although there seems to be a common “Supernatural Romance” and “Dystopian” theme among most YA novels lately, if you dig deeper there are still many others that don’t go down that line and focus on other YA novel plots that are more unique and unconventional than what most are familiar with nowadays that still reflect the fears, concerns, hopes, and inner demons adults face in their day-to-day life just as much as teenagers do.
Books are not a niche market, just as anyone can be a writer, anyone can enjoy and appreciate the underlying story and theme that any book can offer despite age group or demographic. There is no set rule because a book written by a Young Adult novel can still convey the same fears, social issues, and impact a book by John Grisham, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, or Dean R Kootz can perform just as well.
In my teens, I read a few adult books because the stories were good and it dealt with issues that made me feel a bit older and mature reading about them. But now that I am adult, I also read a few Young Adult novels because they dealt with issues that still interested me and I once related to and the stories still were nicely written, not all YA stories though, but ones that stood out from the rest at that time. Regardless, there was no age-limit or restriction as far reading comprehension that was adhered to as Lynn Shepherd assumes, and there still isn’t to this day between Young Adult novels and Adult novels.
A writer cannot be stuck into one genre theme and then stop at that, because it kills them. They have an advantage that most other types of media entertainers do not. They don’t feel the heavy risk of change as badly as an actor or director or musician does. When they branch off into other different writing styles or another genre, sure they will be some that will be taken aback and alienated but at the same time they will gain newer audiences or even expand that same fans mind to something else. Especially those fans that have grown up with the Harry Potter series as tweens, and now are interested in what her writing talents take her in “The Cuckoo’s Calling” a book about politics, scandal, lies, and betrayal.
Wait, aren’t there Young Adult novels that also deal with things like scandal, politics, intrigue, distrust of one’s society, gray morality also?
Yes there are. Take in mind Divergence and The Hunger Games. Both themes from these popular YA novels also grapple with themes and concerns reflected in today’s society by many adults not just because of how it affects our children, far from it, but because of seeing it happening around their own little world which we adults can feel in our most darkest moments. Most notably trust in our government, questionable conventional means of where we belong in our society, and the oversaturation of Media and Reality TV from these two books.
Really heavy stuff that adults can gather from these “Books written only for teenagers in mind.” there should be no shame in any adult reading a young adult novel. If the story is well-written, engaging, full of relatable characters and handle their developments and arcs excellently, then it shouldn’t even matter if it’s a Young Adult novel, children’s book, or Adult novel best-seller. Sure a writer will write what is the most widely popular genre at the moment to gain their brand new book exposure to the masses, and naturally what is widely popular now is Young Adult genre but it doesn’t stop there.
So much for Young Adult novels and not being “stimulating to adult minds” eh?
Any book with a universal theme that crosses generational gaps, ages, genders, and interests and stays true to them will have a more lasting impact if we look past the “children” “adult” “young adult” label and see the story and characters instead. So adults, there is no shame in reading that Young Adult novel unless you really like the story and characters and can relate to them.
Case in point…I still enjoy reading the Redwall Books even after all these years.
If you were a child of the 80s and 90s, you probably saw a few cartoons or animated films that pushed this certain lesson down our throats. And that lesson was “Reading Is Cool”. Which is simply put, a lesson that encouraged kids to put down some form of electronic media (like a video game, movie, TV, etc) and read a book. Whatever cartoon or movie you watched as a kid, there was always that one episode that had this message as moral, whether it was effective or not is debatable.
To see examples where this lesson has been applied in movies, cartoons, and other shows there is a trope for it here sometimes played seriously, other times even parodied.
Today, we’re going to discuss and explore more into this lesson that maybe hadn’t been explored before.
Reading Is Cool Aesop
It’s hard to say where or when this lesson started, but it’s not an old one that a lot of the older generation are familiar with as it started to come about during the use of television becoming more mainstream and affordable in individual family homes.
The main idea was that it was suppose to encourage children to read more and make them intellectual, open-minded, and mentally stimulated. Something that people feared they wouldn’t achieve with video games or movies/TV Shows/cartoons. As if these mediums would be the mind-killers, and as some had been quoted as saying “Turn their mind into mush.” These lessons, can either be executed well and work in the favor of the child or when done poorly turn into a preachy, badly executed “New Media Is Bad” lesson vilifying television, video games, and movies. It depends on the talent of the writer working the Aesop and how they implement it.
As someone who is a booknerd and has grown up in a family that were also big readers as well, I do see the upside this lesson has. Reading is a good tool to expose any child to and has many benefits and qualities that can improve a child’s intellectual, mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being. Not to mention, aside from the educational benefits, if presented with a story or reading material that the person has a deep interest in, they are a good and stress reducing form of relaxation, not to mention a form of leisure activity. That being said, I’m not saying that television, video games, and movies were not permitted in the house, we still watched our favorite shows, I still played my Sega games, and we would sit together order a pizza and rent movies. Sometimes, if the movie was one of those “based on a best-selling book” we would talk about how the book and movie compared to one another. The point is that is sometimes lost on most of these Aesop’s is that there should be a healthy balance between the time you take reading and the other times when you want to watch your favorite television show. There is no need to forgo one over the other. Simply put, you can both equally read your favorite books and watch your favorite mind-numbing TV shows to your heart’s content, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is nothing wrong with it nor nothing bad will happen if you do.
Now, if you’re not familiar with how this concept is used in cartoons aimed at children it’s a pretty basic formula.
1) Child may have a lack of interest in reading to start with. May be engrossed in a tv show or video game usually.
2) Child is sick; injured, confined to a bed where he is out of reach of a video game TV (if the child already has a TV in their room this plot is null and void) in which they start to get bored. If there is no illness weather is involved.
3) Game console or Television set is broken and must be taken to a repair shop for an indeterminate number of days.
4) Child does something in which they are punished by the removal of said Television or Game Console.
That is the set up, the child complains and the parent (sometimes I feel instead of doing it as a lesson does it to shut the little brat up) gives them a book they say they will “learn to like” and eventually the child starts to read the book and sure enough they do like it and continue reading even after the allowance of said Television or Game Console has been restored.
There have been discussion on the absurdity, silliness, and even discouraging of this lesson. But to me, I don’t think the Aesop is bad, it’s a moral with good intentions and has some benefits, its only how it’s executed out determines it. I have seen good and bad examples of this for so long, I thought it would be a good a reason as any to write an article exploring this moral and discuss some of its flaws, conditions, and anything that maybe has been overlooked that should be discussed.
Certain Conditions of The Books The Child Reads Within The Aesop Cartoon
TV tropes mentioned this in their article when they said that:
“Oddly enough, the trope is usually limited to novels, and ignores the value of reading across other media, such as magazines, comic books, manga, novellas, articles and short stories.”
In fact, comic books are sometimes used as a counter-attack of books, placed under the same category as video games and movies. But offer the same amount of reading experience and benefits as a regular book does. One reason maybe because the book being more verbal than visual would make the child have to use their imagination to mentally visualize the actions happening in the story that perhaps the people writing this Aesop believe wouldn’t be experienced reading a multi-paneled comic book. But a child still reading the comic book or manga would still need to use their imagination to fill-in how these actions play out: The way their mind perceives the movements of the comic book/manga characters acting out a scene, or something that a character references in conversation, the child would still have to visual that as well.
The same applies to magazine articles (such as articles that have interviews for example) the fact of the matter is, whether you read anything your mind will automatically visualize what is not seen. It doesn’t always apply to just a picture-less book you’re reading. And the same thing will happen to a child that reads anything not just a mere chapter book. In short, most of these cartoons will usually use non-illustrated works of classic literature as the book the child will automatically read and thus have a change of heart later on.
Which brings us to another issue to explore….
Its Always Classical Literature That is Unrealistic For the Child To Expect to Get Into
There were shows that made this Aesop their running plot theme and none were more focused on that than “Wishbone” a show on PBS that introduces children to classic works of literature through the adventures of a dog and his owner as well as his owner’s friends and family. They would get into a situation that Wishbone the dog would say “This reminds me of something from this book I read/this so-and-so is like the character from this book…” and that would be the segway into the actual meat of the episode – where we get a reenactment of stories from classic literature that we know or might not know yet. The plots acted out would sometimes be condensed, shorten, or even hell bowdlerized just to appease the parental guardians and executors but they were simple enough where the child who wasn’t already familiar with that classic book at least knew the gist of the plot to determine if they wanted to know more of the story or not.
Where am I going with this?
Well, in a lot of other cartoons that do a “Reading Is Cool” Aesop, the book the child is given and learns their lesson from is always a piece of old classic literature regardless if its a genre the child is interested in or not. The child is basically handed this story going in blind, and its the story in its original format.
Take in mind that if you actually sat down and read some of these classic book in their original format as they were written in their time, its a lot of reading comprehension for the child to wrap their head around, depending on the child’s reading level, there is a good reason why publishers that deal with YA literature or modern children’s stories present Classic Literature in simplified formats and trim out the subplots and fancy dialogue; make it easier for the child to understand the story they’re reading and their characters. Think of it as a gateway that introduces the child to a beginner’s level of the book, and then when old enough can master the original work in it’s entirety as intended by the original author.
However, the kids in these cartoons seem to actually master the original book not only easily enough, but in a unrealistic amount of time, and finish the book. Have you tried to sit down and read through the Classic Literature books from front to cover, it take a long time for them to establish the plot and characters, and even then most of us probably (unless we’ve been really dedicated) have ever finished one. Now take a child with a questionable short attention span, impatient amount of energy and expect them to sit down and read a book not fitted for their reading comprehension from beginning to end, it’s impossible. In real life, the child would give up on the book, go outside, or even if they really wanted to read pick out a modern book with easier wording. But in these cartoons, it seems to portray a kind of unrealistic reaction that in retrospect wouldn’t be implausible to emulate in reality.
You Will Like It Because…ITS CLASSIC!
And that brings up another topic: Due to copyright issues, and public domain being a easy way to work around having to pay for permission for the likeness and name of today’s popular young adult novels and authors, Classic literature is always used as the last resort when using a book for the “Reading Is Cool” Aesop. Although, I mentioned before the unlikeliness of children actually getting into Classic Literature in its original format, there is nothing wrong with children being exposed to it at all. However, the way its introduced is bothering in some degrees, as bad examples of this Aesop pass the book to the kid like its a hand me down with no explanation or the child being given a choice in the matter of what piece of classic literature the child may want to read. There are however, good examples where the child finds the book for themselves and expresses a genuine curiosity to reading it and finding out they like it. But, most stories have it start where the parent forces it on the child without any thought whatsoever if the kid will really be interested in it or not.
Mom: “Here why don’t you read something intellectual…Moby Dick!”
Kid: “But mom, I’m really not into stories about Whales”
Mom: “It doesn’t matter its Classic Literature, it will give you something to do other than watch TV.” *pushes the book on the kid and walks away*
Even if this kind of introduction is used, if written well, it can still provide a good way for the child to be interested, maybe they put it aside and work on something else, but after a while, they finally get around to reading it without making it come off as forced or contrived. But sometimes it was attached to one of the examples of a horribly executed moral episode.
The reason that being is that it teaches the child the wrong way to view works of Classic Literature. As either, dull and boring, or that they should be put on a pedestal above other modern books of the same genre because of their sonority and notoriety in literature. Sure, certain works of classic literature have been inspirations for current works that we know and read today, the fact is a child should enjoy the book for the story alone, not because its a “classic”, if the story is good and they like the genre “classic” will have no meaning on how much they enjoy it.
In the “Reading Is Cool” moral episode, the focus is placed more on the child reading Classic Literature than some of the modern day books that would have been popular reads for their age level. Which it seems to ignore or downplay. I never agreed with that, as any child who really finds out they love to read will not be picky in whatever books they will come across. They will enjoy reading Harry Potter, Goosebumps, Babysitters Club, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and more the same way they would enjoy reading Little Women, The Time Machine, Robin Hood, The Secret Garden, etc in equal measure. Taking away the fact that preference should be on how “classic” it is than focus on the actual story or genre that would fascinate them.
Now we get the fun part every “Reading Is Cool” Aesop episode likes to add….
IMAGINATION….wait, where is my rainbow?
This was the meat and cheese of these moral episodes, the kid reading the book becomes completely engrossed and pretty soon their imagination turns their surroundings into this weird hallucinogenic surreal landscape where they think they are actually there physically. Playing up the stereotype of books being “tickets into another world without the use of planes etc etc”, a lot of shows portrayed this in over the top ways, having the book draw the kind into their world. However with the exception of “U.S Acres” from “Garfield and Friends” where the pig Orson (a take on the writer of “Animal Farm” Orson Welles) will imagine things in the same way but the environment and those around him will become self-aware of the familiar rural landscape changing into that a imaginative land from a certain book or novel. It became a sort of running gag at this point where they could in fact change and alter this landscape by reading and some of the things they did with this became comical.
But that is kinda where these “Reading Is Cool” lessons go so far. The way they portray imagination in these episodes become startling different than if a child was to actually read a story in real life. What is actually happening is the child is visualizing in their head what is happening, and they become focused and engrossed in the story that outside noises happening around them, are tuned out and so it feels like they are off in their own little world, but really that is same with anything we do in our every day lives that doesn’t involve reading. You get the same results working, hiking, cooking, writing, doing work online that really, we get caught up in our own little worlds too without the use of books. Its just these shows like to exploit them more and make them over the top to either pander the child or make the episode attention grabbing. Since, lets face it, most episodes that focus on a moral or PSA are freaking boring.
In reality, what the child is gaining from reading is how to visualize, and open their mind to a book from a different point in history contrary to their own that makes them more educated and opened-minded in other fields, it be in the form of classic literature or a heck even in the “Nancy Drew Mysteries” and as there are good well-intentions from the “Reading Is Cool” moral episodes, parents have to learn that what the show expects child to accomplish reading in the said cartoon episode and what a child gains from actually reading any form of literary media are two different things.
Hello there, today I will be looking at something that never really came up until now when I saw a Fantastic Four comic where something unusual happened, even for the Marvel universe, or at least as far as I can tell.
While looking at this and reading this article (#3 Where Ben Grimm is drawn back to life by “God”) made me think about myself as a writer once when I would create original short stories in High School to even now working on three children’s stories for a publisher.
In the Fantastic Four comic book, Ben Grimm died and was sent to Heaven, however, Reed Richards took a machine and went there to find Ben and bring him back, semantics aside, they are sent before “God” and the team go through a doorway – only to appear on the other side inside a studio with “God” looking like Jack Kirby, why Jack Kirby you asked?
Well, he was the man known for co-creating the Fantastic Four, he draws Ben back to life, scaley orange crust and all and well, it happened. Possibly one of the only times a superhero character was brought back to life by Divine Intervention and not by science or alien technology, which I imagine probably was weird and confusing for some readers.
Which brings me to mind something I’ve thought about when writing stories.
Are writers gods in a way?
In a way yes, in my theory (note this is a theory; a opinion, I’m not saying this is the Heresay, or way it must be) but from my own experiences writing, I can safely feel that in a way at one point or another, a writer has played “God” at some point in their literary career. By that I mean, they played “God” as in being a God of creation. In writing, you create a fictional world, characters, how these characters behave; their past, families, how they interact with loved ones and strangers. Like some gods, you judge the characters based on the actions they make, yet at the same time you present these same choices before them in the term of “plot” and “storyline” giving them a purpose and you and you alone decide what the outcome will be. In a way that is how some people perceive God depending on your belief system: He has a purpose for those he created, he controls the outcomes of things and uses them for certain situations.
When a person writes a original story, its the same way, the story is in your hands, you’re deciding the outcome of it and how it will effect all the characters minor and major. A good writer gives their characters trials and tribulations/challenges to overcome, even though the characters do not acknowledge or care about the existence of who wrote them. That is also another parallel as well, when writing your characters spend their whole time in the story with their own problems, their own path, their own life; they choose not to notice you. Reflecting the way that happens in real life with people who choose not to admit to the existence of a higher power, but still go along their own way on the journey of life without any help or hindrance at all and still making it out okay and normally.
Now notice I’m only bringing up original work and not say fanfiction, the fact is fanfiction, although there are ways in which pre-existing stories can be explored in writing, are only that-stories based on pre-existing work, you are only building on top on another world already created. Whereas with original stories you are fully creating a whole new existence that will be read and viewed. Neither one is better than the other, and speaking as someone on both sides of the spectrum I can’t say which is the right choice as both balance each other out and one cannot survive without the other.
When writing for the first time a comic book, a novel, a children’s story, etc keep in mind you are a technically a god that creates a world and its inhabitants for the sake of your readers, so always take special care to take your time and prepare, just like how the Judeo-Christian God took seven days to create each and every little thing on this earth, take your time and carefully plan out what and how you want your story to go to make it something people will want to spend their time and money to read. Only you can decide what is best for your characters and what you want them to do with their fate. For these may be characters that your readers could relate to and care about, and who knows may one day becomes important literary figures in the near future.
At the same time, I should note that it doesn’t mean you should developed a total “god complex” in the negative way. Be humble and don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion on a character, a story development, or a situation in the plot that seems to be going nowhere. Observe your surroundings and think about your own experiences that could be helpful to the story. But remember that even though you created this world in fiction, others may have a different viewpoint or interpretation for it. Listen and understand but never dictate if its the right or wrong choice. For like theological studies, everyone has their theories and they all make for a well-rounded concept.
Creating a world of fiction, and characters that go through “life” in a purpose or design under the guise of “storyline/plot” is all part of being a writer in any field. Which is why I thought the concept of making “God” in the Fantastic Four comic book look like Jack Kirby, make a little bit of sense to me.
You probably saw my tweet about this, but its something that I started thinking about. In our society, a lot of concern has started with the way many of our schools and the children that attend them are heading in a negative direction. When we don’t have School Administrators that abuse their powers and persecute children trying to deal with their own problems with their peers, bullying, corruption, and school violence against other students rear their ugly heads.
It made me look back on the Fear Street books written by R. L. Stein.
I’m not bashing on him or his work, I love the Fear Street stories and got a good scare out of them as a young teenager. In fact, I still kept many of my old Fear Street books to this day. But I can’t help but look back on this and ponder to myself….
Most of the stories usually were written for young adults in mind (tweens and teenagers) so a lot of the characters were teens that readers could relate to, and identify with. Though, I have to admit, in my personal opinion, some characters were hit and misses, appearing more as archetypes then actual three-dimensional characters. But what drew some of us fans in was the stories about these teens discovering weird creepy situations they wanted to explore, and take initiative in solving the problems surrounding these haunting or slasher scenarios. Which is great and as a kid I got into that, I would have rather face a horror scenario head-on and save the day then cower in fear or let the grown-ups handle it while I screamed helplessly.
And naturally, since teenagers have more of their life experiences in High School, there were a lot of stories that took place in high school and dealt with the teen slasher genre/cliches. A possessed teacher or cheerleader going on a vicious bloodbath, a crazy psychotic student, or a “unnatural evil force” that picked off both teachers and students one by one.
Looking back I thought…How many lawsuits has this one school gone through?
And I looked back even more at the books in the series and realized how many of them were more fit into the teenage slasher genre and how few there were on paranormal activities that occurred. And comparatively there were probably more teen slasher stories than paranormal horror stories. The “Evil Cheerleader” saga being an approximate close example of a combination of the two.
And “The Homecoming Queen Is Dead” played up as a vengeful ghost story until it revealed to have a psychotic killer as the antagonist of the story.
So, all this, and how our media jumps on any news regarding school violence it comes across, made me think how this particular High School in Fear Street is still standing with all the money it loses with its court trials?
Parents, families, and loved ones of both Teachers and Students that end up dead in these stories would probably be in the right to look into legal action and there would be more police investigations other than “Some lone cop visits and speaks to the close friends and you never see him being followed up on.” Also as I said before on twitter, imagine the major news networks fighting over a story where all the “supernatural/slasher” killings happen in this one school which many contribute to “A Curse Brought on by an evil family.” It would be reported 24/7 until even the news networks got sick of it. With certain schools you’ve heard about in real life, some legal action against the Administration usually its brought on by an alleged incident that depending on the situation, can either be proven with evidence or dismissed unfortunately. But here in the case of murder these allegations cannot be swept under the rug so easily, particularly since in some of these stories, the horror is that the main character comes upon the murdered victim in some grisly way. If you’re lucky you get a prototypical “You’re Next” written in the corpse’s blood.
(But that is just if you’re special ;) )
That aside, finding your loved one be it a student or a teacher murdered by some psychotic killer in broad daylight, isn’t something that is set aside. So naturally if the news doesn’t get there first, you’re most certainly going to have a huge law team on the scene drafting up some legal course of action, particularly if the murders both slasher and paranormal happened on school grounds. With the length of the book series, it makes me wonder how parents are even sending their kids there. Unless the parents know and doing this as punishment for mouthing back at them or not cleaning their room. Nah, that is not likely….
But still… >.> <.< >.> <.< >.>
Also, take in mind, for the book series called “Evil Cheerleaders” (as it says on the cover) involves young, pretty, popular cheerleaders. CHEERLEADERS possessed and murdered left and right at this school, some of which by what outsiders could foresee as “mysterious circumstances”. Say what you will about it, the laws of “Missing White Woman Syndrome” will not allow it to be contained to only this small city and its mere local newscast.
Now I always found this whole thing interesting and a good story concept to consider when deconstructing the tropes of these Young Adult horror stories series. Having these stories faced with actual outside influence that would take notice of this factually and as realistically as most situations regarding murder and young teens would outside the school or town which it takes place. How would actual law enforcement deal with this instead of having just the characters allude to just one cop that is sent to their house to “have a talk with them” and then that is it. Legal investigations into the teenage character’s death if it was found on school grounds.
Now in the name of simplicity and the reading comprehension the author was writing for, we probably won’t get anything as complex as that, and we can’t ask him anymore than what he has already given us over the years. But for future writers inspired to write their own teen horror story series in the name of a writing challenge and breaking out from some of its cliche writing tropes, its a interesting thing to look into and discuss when looking back on these stories other than through nostalgic goggles.
Since watching Nostalgia Critic’s review of “Bridge to Terabithia” link to video is below, feel free to watch at your discretion…
I feel its right to give credit where credit is due as to what prompted me to write this article topic in the first place.
Since watching it, the premise of the movie (the less we say about its shitty attempt to make itself a stupid “Narnia” movie rip-off in the trailers the better-I still haven’t forgiven the movie for that!) and the source material from which it was based off of, got me back into thinking about the book and many other young adult novels like it. That were described as emotionally, deep, gritty and realistic stories about a young child that learned the lessons of life, death, and love in probably a week then most kids learn for a whole lifetime in reality.
But I’m not going to discuss the review from the movie-adapted by a book standpoint or the movie itself. That is left for movie reviewers to decide. No, instead we will focus on the booknerd’s POV on the literary side of the book itself, and a subject which you maybe heard called “Death By Newbury Award Medal” genre.
Death By Newbury Award Medal
These stories have at the very least a predictable and sometimes generalization that has become a strategic writing formula into itself: The atypical average, blank-slate adolescent boy probably living in a small town/suburbanite area, who is socially awkward but loyal to his family and really a kindhearted person but lacks the courage or self-confidence to maintain his convictions or to really survive the Gray morality of real-life beyond his small town conservative bubble.
One thing I noticed especially in the beginning, was how alot of these settings took place in small-town rural “hick” areas, where it seems like the typical things that would normally happen in a small-town the same as any modern city, are suddenly ditched or swept away because, “Hey it’s a small-town, we’re simple we can get away with stuff like that.” like lack of parental supervising, law enforcement, or that as I brought up in the book “Shiloh”, medical professionals are forced to do extra jobs in fields untrained in other areas, putting both them, and the other at risk in uncertain treatments. Whereas if it’s a rural farm area, you know they would have at least one Veterinarian present for farm animals. As a young girl who did live in a small town, it was silly to see how our communities were portrayed in these books, and compare them to how some of our own small town communities were like in actuality. At one point, I wondered if any of them had been to a modern day small-town or did they just cheat and watch “The Andy Griffith Show” to get inspiration.
They meet a pet-usually a dog, or a quirky best friend, that opens this “quiet shy introverted boy” to all that life has to offer, in a Hallmark-Made-for-TV like journey into self-discovery. Most books have branched out to young girls as well, but the “Boy and his dog” cliche could always be found in these types of stories always wrapped around each other.
And everything is fine until something bad happens and the sudden loss of the dog archetype or the best friend, makes the boy (or girl, in the more modern day versions came to be) come face to face with the concept of death and his character development stems from his maturity into manhood by dealing with this overwhelming loss and pain in all categories both Psychologically, Emotionally, Physically, Spiritually, and Mentally.
Now in real life, these things especially for a child at a young age do not just suddenly obtain all these things in realizations and handle them well with a bittersweet happy ending all at once. And above all so quickly, that is usually the instance of the writer shortening up the story because of time. In real life, some of these instances can still have a long lingering impact on the child, either scarring them for life or reflect in ways not always represented in the books’ endings.
Its common for children’s stories to use animals as a means of the child developing a connection and life-long friendship that helps shape them. Animals have been known to have a deeper connection to humans and been useful in therapeutic cases with those suffering from social anxiety, depression, and other such issues. Children gravitate towards animals because of their ability to be non-commutative in the verbal sense of human beings. They can’t talk back, so children will talk and engage with them, with only the animal to listen and not in a bad mishandling attempt to talk back, judge, or offer unsolicited advice to the child.
And most often, the death of a pet is the first experience a child has in dealing with issues of life after death and their own mortality. Which is why I can understand writers using this writing formula, but when its been overused constantly, it turns into the children’s literary version of the comic book world’s “Women in Refrigerators.” Having the pet/best friend die, so the male boy character enters into emotional manhood and maturity in the form of character development.
“Bridge to Tarabithia” “Shiloh” and “Where The Red Fern Grows” offered good examples of how these stories can be well-written and impacting on a child’s life affirming lesson, offering relatable characters, a realistic environment any child has gone probably walked through, and last but not least a real situation in which a child must face and learn to grow up in albeit harshly and quickly. Which is why these stories are unforgettable classics and should be respected as such when adapting them into movies.
Nowadays, it can go very well, or end badly depending on how you write it. It seems as if most stories will play on that the more traumatic the death of a loved one/pet/friend happens to a child, and how “magically” they grow into adulthood-the closet you are to winning that Newbury Medal Award.
However, there is one book I had read which to me seem to fit all the cliches, but didn’t bring any substance to them or made it life-affirming.
And that story I felt was “StoneFox” written by John Reynalds Gardiner.
First of all, the name of the dog is not named StoneFox, it is in fact Searchlight. So some book covers for this story may in fact be misleading. The name refers to a character in the book named StoneFox who is the Native American character of the story.
And though it was heavily acclaimed and popular enough to make a television movie staring Buddy Ebsen and Joey Cramer, the book in my honest opinion really didn’t effect me that strongly as the target child demographic of an animal-lover and adolescent.
Now to clarify: I don’t feel this books sucks or its the worst children’s story ever, I’ve heard of far worse ones out there, but I feel like you won’t get much out of it but heartbreak and nothing to show for it in a character-reflection. At least, a character inflection not in the boy-hero of the story.
The stories characters revolve around Little Willy, his dog Searchlight, his grandfather (who has no particular name), Mr. Clifford Synder, and Stone Fox. The other characters are minor such as Mr. Foster, Doc Smith, Lester, and Dusty the Drunk that are there to help move the exposition of the story alone.
The reading comprehension is around 4th to 5th grade level for a child with simplified non-overly graphic and descriptive prose. So, I will be more on the characters and plot since there really doesn’t seem to be an over-arching noticeable theme at the moment with the exception of a boy’s loyalty to his grandfather, which is basic and not explored too deeply.
The story’s setting is in an undisclosed location out in the American Old West, and opens with Little Willy and his dog Searchlight entering the house and finding their grandfather laying sick in bed. Now at first Little Willy doesn’t notice it as he has known grandfather to be a practical jokester and was always teasing him, even leaving the town doctor Doc Smith to believe Little Willy over the own patient, but it changes his mind when he sees that the grandfather has not really played as well as he used to do and runs some tests on him. The diagnosis; it’s not flu, cholera, scarlet fever, measles. Nope….Its that “He has lost the will to live.”
Very depressing the first few pages isn’t it?
Also, losing the “will to live” is a psychological condition of depression which can in turn effect the health of someone if they break down enough to not be as mobile or energetic as they probably once were, but you can’t help but wonder if “The Will To Live” was not another term for something else altogether in which the writer censored for something way less pleasant.
Though, losing the ‘will to live’ doesn’t really make sense from a physically medical standpoint and can’t be strictly diagnoses, which makes sense that they changed it from that to having a stroke in the movie adaption.
Naturally, the boy takes the news hard as they have no other immediate family members within the area the child could live with in the event of the grandfather’s passing, and grandfather would either end up dead or in a hospital leaving the child to be taken to an orphanage perhaps. Also, we don’t get any clear explanation or reason as why the grandfather is ‘Losing The Will To Live” and is bedridden in a sickly way. So its up to Little Willy in Chapter 2, to tend the farm and work the plow while his father is in bed, with no horse they use Searchlight as a replacement to plow the crops.
It’s not until Chapter 3, we start to get some characterization of who Little Willy was, sort of, we know first off he loves his grandfather and he is ready to help him with the farm in whatever capacity he can. He is always asking the teacher, Miss Williams questions and has a close friendship with his dog. Basically he is your typical, normal every-other kid meant to be a cookie-cutter cut out of every other child character that the child can see themselves as or easily imagine is them in a self-insert way. We get he loves his grandfather, and his pet dog, not to mention as inquisitive as any other student in his class, but that is all we get so far. That he has a strong loyal tie to his grandfather. Which is nothing to be discouraged, and makes him a likable character, but it’s not surprising as the book being written as a short story in simple prose Little Willy doesn’t have that much leeway to grow throughout the rest of the story as the other children in other “Newbury Award” books get.
Now, as I said before, we don’t find out why for some reason Grandma “Lost The Will To Live” or what caused it, but in the story, we get some idea later on in Chapter 4.
That night, he gets a terrifying visit from a Clifford Synder, chain-smoking tax collector who actually sneaks into the sick old man’s house and threatens the grandfather at gunpoint how much he owes in back taxes…
Now given the setting and the time period, maybe we were meant to take this act under Suspension of Disbelief, but I don’t think what this guy does can be considered legal under any court of law.
If this story took place today in the 21st century, he would be fired and put on trial, especially if a minor was in the mix. Not even a tax insurance agency, would go as low as to have one of their own collectors use physical force or a weapon within presence of a CHILD and get away with it, and if grandpa wasn’t the only guy who had this happen to him, imagine the class action lawsuit. However, The Grandfather and Little Willy are not so lucky to live in the 21st century, and Little Willy learns from Mr. Synder that he owns the state of Wyoming $500 dollars in back taxes. Something, that the father had been hiding from Little Willy all this time with no solution.
So from a literary analysis standpoint, we can safely assume that the grandfather really was suffering from anxiety and depression at the thought of not being able to pay enough to keep his farm that it worn him down into sickness. The book never says it, but reading back on it now, you get that sense that is what the idea was in mind. This cannot be easy on Little Willy, as he is both gripping with the conflict of losing both his grandfather, the farm, and financial issues at so young an age.
And with that, the child-reader is drawn into the main protagonist’s sympathies.
Chapter 5, is where the plot starts to move along. Little Willy takes a part-time job at a general store owned by Lester, who I guess since they live in such a small one-horse town, can probably be acquainted on first name terms with him, so the surname isn’t really all that important. Doc Smith, does show a smart side, in questioning the logic in why the grandfather would not keep paying the taxes liked he should’ve and putting them off only to have it end up in this situation and be neglectful of it. It’s a good issue to bring up despite how we may feel about the sickly grandfather, if his crops were in a good season, then whatever he sold he would have used to pay the state taxes, but for some odd unexplained reason doesn’t and as much as I would hate to say it, rightfully would have to pay them back, even if the means the tax collector used was not in the right. The grandfather living longer should have known the consequences in not paying his taxes as he should have.
However, a child reading this story, who has no knowledge of complex financial matters that affect their world at this point in their life, doesn’t see it like that, that is what their parents would see reading this story. The child sees pity upon the grandpa and the grandson, that they would lose their farm and the grandfather would die. Drawing the child into what will happen next without any regard as to the circumstances wrought that had lead this to it in the first place.
Even when the topic of selling the farm comes up, the grandfather makes no discussion about it, even though it would be enough to pay off the state. But on the other hand they wouldn’t have a place to live. Though, in most situations, the house would have been repossessed anyway.
While working his fingers to the bone, Little Willy sees a poster for a dog-racing contest, and the winner will win…A NEW CAR!
No, just kidding, they win $500 dollars coincidently enough.
Chapter 6, Little Willy signs up for the adult prize-winning money race, although, technically he would have had to have a guardian’s signature or permission to actually do this since it could be considered a liability issue if anything was to happen to the child during the race. And then we get the typical part of any “Winning The Contest to Raise Money to save The Orphanage/Clubhouse/Farm whatever” – The nay-sayers.
Which come to think of it, are pretty tame and not that intimidating to make the scene an obstacle to be overcome for the character, Little Willy uses his college money he saved up to enter to win which the bank teller tells him is a mistake, and even The Mayor who’s overseeing this race and probably has for years, no doubt knows how dangerous it can be and how much a hazardous risk it could be, maybe even witnessing a few accidents himself. So he probably would know what he is talking about saying that for his own safety, Willy should probably stick to the children’s dog-sled race. But Willy GASPS defies him because he is the hero of the story and will save the farm-that if not for the grandfather, would have not been in this position in the first place.
Now six chapters in, we FINALLY get to the title character, StoneFox, a Shoshone Native American, who is the strong, silent, intimidating looking archetype character, all of which Little Willy gets his backstory about from Dusty The Town Drunk. About how he never talked to white men for stealing his people’s land (Black men we’re not sure yet as it never is brought up) and that the reason why everyone thinks Willy is foolish for participating in the race hoping to win is that in every race that Stone Fox has been in, he has never lost. To the point that almost no one ever tries to anymore. His secret, really fast samoyed dogs.
Care to elaborate….No, just really fast Samoyed dogs?
All right then…
Once Little Willy learns about the rival Stone Fox, we cut to a scene in chapter seven which is short but sets up the relationship between the two characters, Little Willy and StoneFox, here he is walking at night going to pick up medicine for his grandfather though he really doesn’t want to thinking the store would be closed anyway, until he comes upon a deserted barn with a kennel full of Samoyed dogs which he carefully pets.
StoneFox however, is not amused and accusing Little Willy of trespassing upon his property, he socks the boy in the eye. A bit of a disportioncate response, for a child who snuck into your property to just pet some cute sled doggies. But after being punched, Willy stands back up and tells StoneFox that he will indeed compete with him in the race.
For the reader, this sets up a tense yet very G-rated rivalry and competitive situation between these two characters, now we merely can only call them rivals as Stone Fox is not really the bad guy of the story. We have Clifford Synder for that, but we do see two sides to this confrontation, a child willing to beat him to win the money to save his grandfather’s farm and a man whose land was unfairly stolen from him and his tribe that he could use the money for to win it back.
You’re not sure who to root for at this point. And even if you did, you would find that situation is split down the middle. We can say its easy to root for Little Willy and let him win over Stone Fox if he was the antagonist, but Stone Fox is not, he is not a villain, nor can we categorize him as even a sympathetic villain either. His background explains why he is a gruff, misanthropic, anti-social man and even if the child-reader doesn’t understand it at first, they soon grow up to understand it later when they read up on American History and think back on this story. He was unjustly wronged and as a result, developed trust issues with other people, much like with Judd Trevors in Shiloh but only instead of taking it out in the form of Animal Cruelty, Stone Fox instead shuts down and became a solemn anti-social angry person with an obsessive drive to win and still remain angry at those around him. And we do at least understand him for it, the question is though, is how will this turn out between Little Willy and Stone Fox at the end of the story.
Next chapter is the big race, and we see that Little Willy gets a black and blue swollen shut eye for his troubles from last night, but lies about StoneFox hitting him, as he does realize that it was wrong that he snuck into StoneFox’s barn without permission and that forwards a step in their relationship. Its never really that explored or touched upon, but I think from this there is a slight mutual respect starting to form.
AAAAANNND THEY’RE OFF!
Here we get more into a descriptive look at the dog race, and what I think works here is that we see another way StoneFox races other than having very fast dogs. He plans his routes and the race methodically, conserving not only his energy, but his dogs as well and using the environment to his advantage much like Willy does. He actually doesn’t just race but he races like it’s a strategy. None of the other characters say it, but its shown to us and that I think works out well. And it compares to how Willy is racing as he is going extremely fast and pushing both himself and Searchlight to the limit. However, for all his overexerted speed, Willy has an advantage over the other racers and that is his small size and light weight going over the shortcut that was the frozen lake.
Past the other racers, Stone Fox and Little Willy are now going neck and neck racing each about to reach the finish line….
Wait for it…
OH MY GOD NOOOOOOOOOO!
No warning, nothing to lead up to it. BOOM! The dog keels inches towards the finish line. And Willy is freaking out as he rightfully does. Everyone in the race is shocked, as are the readers at this point I imagine. And this is the part in the story as heartwarming as it is. Made me wonder. What happened?
Death By Newbury Stories will sometimes throw in a twist like this out of nowhere and unexpected, sometimes to illustrate to children how death can occur unexpectedly and without warning. But whereas in Bridge to Tarebithia, the death was unexpected because it was a death by accident, something that was not planned or no one expected would happen. We didn’t think that Leslie would swing on the rope in the rain and drown in the river, we were only told this when Jesse was informed by his parents the news. Which is a good perspective on how in real life some of us come across news of a loved one’s death when they meet a fatal accidental death.
But here, we knew that Searchlight was an adult dog and had been around the family for a long time, but the focus was all on grandpa being sickly and weak, so we all expected that it was going to be grandpa that would kick the bucket. Not the dog. And throughout the whole story, the dog was described as older but extremely healthy.
An interesting plot twist to be sure, but a very harsh one as there was no reason for the dog to kill over, other than provide a big climax in the story give us a fake-out that Little Willy will not win the prize money.
Stone Fox sees the dead dog and promptly takes out his rifle and fires it in the air, creating a line in the snow and threatening that if anyone stops him by crossing over this line, he will shoot them on sight.
Well, it’s the Old West, I guess that was okay to say that in a crowd back then.
And, in a rather dark, bittersweet, heartwarming scene. Stone Fox picks up Searchlight and carries him across the finish line, conceding the race to Willy. Thus he wins the money and saves the farm.
Now, to the other racers, it was indeed a pretty unfair way to win, and it takes their hard earn training and work flushing it down the drain. Though, lets be honest here, we all know that no one is going to question Stone Fox, above all Stone Fox with a big freaking rifle on hand. But on the other hand, you come off as a douche bag depriving a kid of the award money when he is using it to save his farm and his grandfather. Which you honestly can’t blame the kid for, as he is doing it out of the goodness of his heart. So, in that regard as hurt as the racers have in their right mind to be, the sensible thing was probably to back down just this once.
Now this the part of the “Death By Newbury Award” trope where the child of the pet gains a huge character development, but we don’t see that in Little Willy, instead its in Stone Fox, who opens up to the white boy that he punched a while ago, and sacrifices his win to the child. Concluding their rivalry to an amicable alliance.
Review and Afterthought
As much as I hate the dog’s death coming out of left field this harshly, I have to say I do like how they had Stone Fox reach out to Little Willy at the end. Instead of taking the cheesy saccharine route, and having him just HAND over his winnings to Little Willy, smiling and learning a lesson or some such nonsense-they did it in now that I look back upon it, a pretty badass way to do it.
They had the character of Stone Fox, have a slight character development in the story, while still maintaining, his gruff, apathetic, no-nonsense approach at life. And that is okay, it shows him performing a unexpected act of kindness for Willy, without making him have to give up that behavior he was defined for in the beginning of the story, and that they did it in a subtle way that fits his overall character personality. Showing that he can still be misanthropic and anti-social but have a heart and compassion for someone as well no matter who they are. It teaches children that you don’t have to make a huge deal or boasting your good deeds in this big extremely happy way in order for them to make a difference, sometimes a good deed that is done subtly, and behind the shadows with a quiet voice can mean just as more. Its a shame that we don’t get any “mature into manhood” character development from Little Willy, but since his character was already established to be a goody two-shoes responsible boy caring for his grandfather’s farm while was sick, it would seem ridiculous and redundant in the first place. And I feel that for the execution at the time it worked much better on Stone Fox than on Little Willy. And having someone develop a good character development from the death of a dog is better than having a dog needlessly die and no one has a character development at the end.
However, as much as I enjoyed Stone Fox’s character development, I found myself disappointed overall in this book, as the death of the dog is harsh and unnecessary, the decisions of the grandfather are questionable, and the child-reader won’t get alot of literary substance from this story as nothing much is really described that well first off and or doesn’t add more to the story. I know reading it I didn’t really myself, but if your kid is interested in Old West stories and you find the “Kid Hero saves the Important Landmark/Building/Home” plot appealing your child might like it, just be sure to warn them about the dog death at the end.
Hi everyone, long time no see. With the iBook, Kindle, and other forms of media that have enabled us to read our favorite books. There is one section that has fallen by the waste side lately, and that was the children’s picture book with read along cassette tape and the “Press and Read-along” book. Have they become obsolete, or have they evolved into an another updated form of media reading while still retaining the same charm they had over many years ago?
Lets discuss and find out shall we?
Today, we take a look at…
The Storybook and Tape
Different from an audiobook, the Talking Storybook, basically was a standard Children’s Picture Book that would come with a cassette tape. On it, a man or woman (mostly a woman from the ones I have received) would read the story complete with background music, sound effects, and a signal that would tell the kid to read the page in the form of a chiming bell-like sound. The ones based around Disney movies would say it was Tinkle bell, but once you saw that other non-Disney books had the same bell signal you picked on it wasn’t really.
The books were specially packaged in a plastic bag or case, as to not damage the tape. You put the tape in and the person read the story as you read along in the book. Here we have a Sesame Street brand version involving a story of Big Bird
This was mostly a generic form of reading entering the media age, long before the use of Kindles or iBooks but along the same path as an audiobook. So companies that focused on Children’s Entertainment took a lot of advantage of these.
Knowing Disney, it was no stranger to taking advantage of any marketing tactic to further its promotional movies and so you may remember some of them coming in these story and tapes with the pink borders. Down below.
Mine personally was a “Bambi” story I had gotten one time for Easter, back then whenever a movie came out, the summary of the movie would be simplified into a Children’s Picture Book form and then a person would still read the story, but instead of saying the lines the characters would say, quotes from the movie that fit the scene would be added. For example, was one my brother used to have that was a “Star Wars” Return of the Jedi Storybook and Tape. With the signal being R2-D2’s cute little beeping sounds to let you know when to turn the page. Actual lines and dialogues would be heard by the actors playing them. They sometimes mentioned it a bit in the corner of the book as a further gimmick to you interested in buying it. But it worked. Not to mention the movie’s soundtrack would take the place of generic whimsical children’s music that would be played over any other storybook and tape.
Very very early versions of these would have vinyl records instead of tapes.
Now the use of these storybook and tapes was they provided an easier way for the child-reader to read along with the story at hand. Most commonly in the form as a mode of time-killing entertainment upon very long road trips and family vacations, when reading in the car over bumpy roads proved to be quite distracting and difficult. Also, it helped guide the child to read along with the book if they’re occasional reading comprehension and speed were not quite there, allowing the child to get into the practice of reading left to right but still able to read the story and understand what is going on as they follow along.
For that reason it was quite beneficial to young children as well as those whose parents traveled a lot on the occasional road trip, also, for older children with good reading comprehension and literacy, you could live with or without either the book or the tape, as you could just read the book as is without the tape, or if you lost the book, the tape itself would provide just as a good basis for a kid’s first time audio book.
Since cassette tapes are not as readily used today as they were twenty years ago, not many are seen or marketed in mainstream stores as you would think. Most of them sell on ebay for a good price but as far as any newer versions out there you would be hard pressed to find. As Kindle and iBooks have taken over that market for children’s stories, but there have been forms in what is called a “Speak and Read” book, brought out mostly as holiday and special occasions where a person will speak into the recording microphone attached within the book and read the story as they go, provided a convenient way for a long-distance relative or parent to be a surrogate bedtime reader for the child, as they read along hearing the person’s voice as if they were right reading them the story in person. Mostly marketed for grandparents when buying gifts their toddler-infant grandchild.
The Press and Read Along Book
These books are a more earlier version of the recording books mentioned at the end of the first segment above, more computerized and just more buttons to press to fill in the actions of the story. How it works is that you follow the story along and in place of an action, word, person, or thing will be a symbol that matches the button on side. When you come upon that picture you press the symbol and it makes noise.
Well, sort of, one of the things that even the books have mentioned themselves in their own “meta” way is because of the recording sometimes what sounds like the object may sound disjointed or altered.
Most issues you can into these kind of books were if used constantly you had to replace the batteries. They were as useful in re-readability as long as the child is within that reading level and once they evolve beyond that and go to more challenging, complex reading comprehension that was pretty much it.
Nowadays, the concept of the book is the same, just the style and size layout is different. More colorful, shapely buttons, and even sound clearer sharper sound as technology has improved.
You will find these in most bookstores or places where they carry children’s books. And they make good gifts for children at a very early stage in reading.
The Chocolate Touch and Chocolate Fever-A Book Review
I love chocolate, in fact I am one of the best-holicsholics you could be around. A chocoholic-which is a term of endearment to describe someone who loves chocolate, and is not picky about the kind of dessert recipes it offers. Though you have to remember, it’s not a very healthy or nutritional kind of food to ingest, it is not as bad as saying getting loaded off Captain Morgan one night and drunk dialing an old ex of yours. But we make do with what life gives us.
But, instead of dealing with drunk dials to friends and exes at 3 in the morning, chocoholics usually deal with getting diabetes. Now, today we are looking at two stories that seem to be so similar you would think they were written by the same author. Or the plots switched back and forth. And these books I am talking about are as follows: “The Chocolate Touch” by Patrick Skene Catling and “Chocolate Fever” by Robert Kimmel Smith.
It’s interesting to note how the two main characters both are young average boys that are only defined by their love of chocolate and candy. Both boys who are named John Midas and Henry Green, the main characters in both of their respective stories. In fact, when I looked back on remembering these books, I got both story lines mixed up, thinking that “The Chocolate Touch” had “Chocolate Fever”‘s plot and vice versa. Lets look at both books and untangle the differences, shall we?
The Chocolate Touch
The general plot line here, is essentially the modernized (or as modernized as 1950s-1970s can give us) child-friendly retelling of the legend of King Midas. Hence, the main character’s last name. Which interestingly enough, is never really brought up even as a throw away joke. The boy has an almost unhealthy obsession with candy, not only eating it over other kind of food but not sharing it with any of his other friends. This book goes hand in hand as not only a lesson about healthy eating, but about selfishness. Right away, you pick up on the moral of the story immediately, although it still happens to be revealed in the back of the book like most moral stories tend to do. The boy’s desire is not lost on the parents, which in a way that differentiates the two stories, the parents are more aggressive in trying to halt their son’s consumption of sweets whereas the other parents seem to take a lackadaisical approach from what it looks like. John’s family become concern when at the dinner table that morning, they discover small dots (which are not explained other than a possibly sign of malnutrition) which prompts them to take him to see the doctor. Dr. Cranium.
So wait, are they going by Comic book logic that the name you are born with automatically determines your career?
The parent attempts to make John Midas eat healthier foods and less chocolate are well-intentioned, by don’t do much good through no fault of their own we learn, as like with any kid, John finds a way to work around their rules. Which bites him back in the butt when he has to swallow down some nasty-tasting vitamin tonic. Hah, that will show him!
The story continues when John finds a coin with a picture of fat kid on one side and the initials J.M on the other. The boy hangs on to it and comes across a candy shop which looks as if it was one of those “It just opened across the street” kind of deals. Adding to an air of mystery and little bit of suspense to entice the impressionable young child-reader. Even more stranger is when the store owner automatically know about John and that the candy he wants to buy is the “exact same currency” as the coin that the boy is holding-making all the pieces fall into place like some big conveniently laced conspiracy to get John Midas to learn a lesson. Though I couldn’t help thinking as I read this how awkward it would have been if another kid entered the store and while standing there with his cash on hand to make a purchase, he sees John Midas and the store owners transaction and gets a tad ticked off that he realizes his cash is no good there. Good as a Aesop McGuffin perhaps, but probably not a good idea in the local business sense. Anyway, the kid buys a box of chocolates from the man with the coin (and no receipt) and goes home to nom on them.
Now if you know the story of King Midas, this is the part where our main character starts to develop the infamous touch that starts to turn his world upside down. At first he enjoys everything he touches turning to chocolate and devouring it (including fluoride flavored chocolate when he tries brushing his teeth) but then it starts causing more trouble for him later on in the chapters. Each detailing the trouble he gets in with his friends, at home, at school, and finally with his own family. As the final straw is when he tries to console his grieving mother and she turns into a chocolate statue kissing her on the cheek. Realizing all this happened the moment he found the coin and brought the chocolate boxes.
John runs to the store where he finds him to confront the old man. Who explains to him he was doing this to teach John Midas a lesson, one which understandably he takes it upon himself to basically tell John flat-out to his face, seeing how John is too busy freaking out to even think straight. The storekeeper tells John Midas, that his greed and selfishness for candy was what made him find the coin in the first place as it only can be seen by those are greedy. And the store and the coin, in all it’s magical whimsy, was nothing more than karmic punishment made to teach John Midas a lesson. As well as any other kid that has some problem that can be solved with a magic coin and some old man acting as the curator of Divine Judgement apparently.
Of course, John runs home to find his mother and everything he touched turned back to normal and as everything was before he had his chocolate touch. We are not told what the reaction was of those who personal property John Midas may have previously ruined by turning them into chocolate. But I think we know that when John gets older and gets invited to a party that serves chocolate, I imagine he is going to have one heck of a confectionery PTSD.
This story details Henry Green, who has the same situation as John Midas, but other candy is not involved at this point. He is huge chocoholic as well, but his family seem to be….Strangely easy-going in this department.
In the story, they make no qualm, or concern about Henry Green’s chocolate habit. Not even a gagging sound when in the book it is implied that he goes as far as to put chocolate sauce on his mashed potatoes instead of gravy. His sister calls him a “chocolate freak” and his parents fill the cabinets with every kind of brand and flavored chocolate imaginable. Comparatively to “The Chocolate Touch” this kid’s behavior feels a tad encouraged, whereas the parents were going out of their way to angle their son’s candy addiction. The main plot point/conflict of the story, is that the “little brown spots” that show up on Henry Green are used in the story more effectively than John Midas’s condition, in which the spots are a motivation to take him to the doctor and start his chocolate journey of self-discovery, but are never brought up again in the rest of the chapters. Probably written off as a condition of malnutrition.
In school, Henry Green, notices these strange brown spots on him and the teacher worried it might be something serious takes him to the nurses office thinking they are either measles, scarlet fever, or the chicken pox. As these spots increase the teacher and school nurse immediately take the boy to the hospital. Which makes one beg the question of did anyone think to call the parents and tell them where they were taking their kid?
Yeah, this becomes worrisome later on in the chapters as we will see later.
The spots become more of a focal point. As instead of being tormented by alienating his friends and family with a sweet-tooth ability, Henry Green hits a sense of low self-esteem and damaged dignity as the brown spots cover his body and he emit’s a chocolate-scented body order which some of the minor characters comment about, only in the form of someone asking if they’re drinking chocolate milk or having a snack.
Also the spots make a loud “popping” sound for some reason, which to the book’s credit, actually doesn’t play it straight and in fact, points out that spots popping like a cork screw (that is how the school nurse describes the noise btw) as extremely unusual to the point that it’s unnerving. The condition is a new discovery in the medical community and gains the attention of the press, calling it a highly dangerous and mysterious disease which shatters Henry Green’s happy little world and thinks of himself as a weirdo and freak, unable to take it anymore, he runs away from the hospital and wanders around the city (seriously, did anyone think about calling the parents?) until he comes across a large cargo truck and hides in the backseat. He is found by Mack, a truck driver who luckily for Henry Green is the not the creepy “driving out all alone at night does things to a man’s psyche while picking up underage hitchhiker on the side” type and shares a sandwich with him, more concerned out of the kindness of his heart to take the boy back home to his parents (who are probably tearing the city apart looking for their kid!) then being weirded out about the child’s appearance or concern if the spots are contagious at all. Henry, grateful for Mack’s generosity agrees to let the truck driver take him home.
UNTIL MUGGERS JUMP OUT OF THE BUSHES! OH NOES!
Yeah, two robbers hold Mack and Henry Green hostage playing to take whatever is in the back of the truck to sell for money. Thinking its expensive furs when really its full of candy bars. Coincidence, I think not.
The robbers don’t let them go nor do they ditch their idea and take them back to their hideout. Their plans are thwarted, when people’s dogs (lured by the smell of Henry’s chocolate body order) surround the place barking so loudly outside, one of the robbers opens the door and the dogs ambush them, this distraction causes Mack to break free of his ropes and tackle then tie up the robbers. The dogs lead their owners into the hideout thus having the robbers turned in by the police. There is a scene in which may cause a lot of real-life dog owners today to probably shake their heads and think to themselves, “yeah that is a bad idea” and that is the dogs running up and licking the boy’s face; mind you, smelling of chocolate, but has a skin condition which for all we know, might secrete something akin to chocolate if the spots emit a cocoa odor from his pores. So having those little doggies licking the boy’s face would almost be a death sentence ready to happen. Granted, this was written and published probably beFore they discovered the affect chocolate has on a dog’s system. But still it is one of those moments even in a kid’s book that does make you shake your head and chuckle.
Someone does the smart thing and finally contacts Henry’s parents who are relieved to find him safe and sound, before Mack drops Henry off though, they stop by his distributor and unloads the candy to a candy store owner (described in a more corporate office than the “Mom and Pa shop” from the other story) who he introduces Henry to as Alfred “Sugar” King. Who ends up being the guy that cures Henry, but gives him his lesson as well.
Note: The two stories mirror each other, as both “chocolate conflicts” are only solved by the victim learning a lesson and having it revealed to them. Chocolate Fever, I feel, did a more subtle job of Henry figuring it out himself with a little gentle encouragement from Mr. King. Compared to the lesson being learned at the end in The Chocolate Touch.
Henry, in this story, learns that it’s okay to love things and enjoy them daily. As that is what life is but not to make the best out of the goodness it offers, but too much becomes overwhelming and sometimes we must be sparingly with what we indulge in the most otherwise we become spoiled and hedonistic. Instead of being straight out told this, Mr. Alfred King gives Henry the old “And that young man was me” story, revealing a box of…
So wait, then this chocolate disease is real in this story’s verse? It was evident that Henry was not the only victim, and chocolate is a largely consumable substance. If there is indication that this disease may very well exist, why is Mr. King keeping the cure for himself?
And does it work vice-versa?
If you had a Vanilla Fever, would chocolate pills be a counteract cure to stave it off?
Just one of the many questions that goes through an inquisitive child’s imagination that will not be solved. Or at least, solved in the book however, as the story wraps up with a happy ending: Henry returns home cured of his karmic chocolate disease, and he learns a lesson. Perhaps, as the parents still off him chocolate, though he turns to cinnamon instead. Another vicious cycle continues?
We will never know
Review and Afterthoughts
Both books as you will obviously notice, rely on the use of chocolate to convey their messages across to children to teach them about the values of selflessness and the downsize to overindulgence in anything that takes the place of real life people and activities. Mostly because chocolate is a widely popular type of treat that is introduced early on to most anyone as a child, and depending on circumstances health-wise, still carry on to adulthood, as they have a lot of versatile resources we have come to love about them. We use them in recipes, as a token of love to others, and as stress-relief.
Children learn about good social skills involving sharing, as well as give-and-take when they have candy on hand. In fact, the first things we tell our kids when they have bags of candy other than “Don’t eat it before supper or you’ll spoil your appetite” is not to eat all of it at once, else you get a stomach ache and to share with their friends and siblings. So naturally, having a book with these morals be about chocolate is understandable and makes sense. But, you still can’t help but feel the similarities outweigh the differences in the story. It wouldn’t be surprising that someone would get the two mixed up by accident.
Both main characters, the boys, really are nothing interesting. Kids can relate to them as being normal kids much like themselves who have a bit of a sweet tooth. But they would be perhaps interested in the situation they are put through, and how they come out of it. Chocolate Fever is more simplified as it is written for younger kids in mind, but is more subtle and realistic in how the child learns its lesson, while for older kids, The Chocolate Touch does come off as having the lesson a bit more contrived and bashes the reader on the head. But still, it gets the job done and the kid at the end of The Chocolate Touch does feel as if he has grown up a little and really had the lesson effect him. Where as subtle as it is with Chocolate Fever, and it does feel refreshing and enlightening to have Henry figure it out himself, you cant help but wonder if maybe the lesson for him will truly stick better to John Midas than it did with Henry Green.
And now if you excuse me, all this talk of chocolate is making me hungry.