November 13, 2006

War, History and Books We Hate

A late Armistice Day to you (One doesn't wish one a "happy" armistice, does one? Since the "war to end all wars" has now been labeled WWI, that's an unbearable bit of irony, I should think...). I hope you read one of Wilfred Owens' poems, and at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month gave brief thanks that no one was shooting at you, and braved a wish that soon no one would be shooting anyone at all.

This week seems a bit short on book news for young adults, but I want to point out an insightful adult book that someday may inform how history is taught in classrooms. What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It, by Trish Wood is a collection of interviews of current and returned soldiers that is shattering and painful to read. Our paper carried only an excerpt this weekend, but it was enough to know that this is going to be an important piece of posterity.

No matter how quickly adult books seem to be able to pounce on breaking news and make it into a bestseller, children's lit moves at a much slower pace. I'd like to think that's because young adult writers have the sensitivity to know that multiple points of view and mixed emotions mean that books for young readers have to be carefully crafted, unlike adult books which seem to land heavily on one side or another of a question without taking sensitivities into context, but that may be overly optimistic. For whatever reason, I have found very few books on the current situation of war, and those that I have found have been reviewed so poorly that I have hesitated to mention them. Colleen (corrected 11/19 from Colette - sorry Colleen, brain fog!) over at Bookslut (in Training) has done a whole bunch of reviews on this topic this month, so do check them out! And I'd like to share the two young adult books I am looking forward to reading as well. One is an early reader book called The Librarian of Basra, and another graphic novel called Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq.

Published in December of 2004 and January of 2005, these books single out the heroism of one woman, a librarian from the city of Basra named Alia Muhammad Baker who singlehanded moved 30,000 books from the Basra library, six days before the liberation of her city in Iraq burned the library to the ground. Speaking of a single person's heroism sidesteps prickly political issues and allows young readers a feel-good story they can get into. In this small way, the deprivations of war are apparent -- people trying to save people will inadvertently burn down libraries and destroy homes and lives in the process: that is war. However, these books also allow a glimpse inside the stereotypes of perhaps what readers see on the news, and allows them to see that people everywhere are somewhat the same, and that there are people everywhere who will do almost anything to save a good book.

This month has simply exploded into busy-ness. I think the NaNoWriMo thing is going to have to take a back seat to the Cybils, that fantabulous award whose reading list is happily growing longer and longer (And if you haven't nominated anything yet -- move quickly! November 20th approaches at a remarkable clip!). My quick-write novel is also taking a back seat to the Thanksgiving Pageant into which I somehow got embroiled (no turkey costumes, thankfully, but we've got presidents! Costume ideas for Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter, anyone?), unexpected in-law visits (oh, dark day!!!!!) my last edit and then holiday travel plans to the aquarium with the Little Sibs (I love that so many things are open Thanksgiving Day!).

I'm still popping into cyberspace between book reviews, and I've been reading some great blog posts. I have especially snickered at Fuse #8's contentious little discussion on "classic books" that we've all hated -- books like The Giving Tree and Love You Forever and other weirdly guilt-producing favorites of people who like to say which book is "classic." I am SO glad other people think that mother/son duo had some serious psychological hang-ups... It's true that many people hate Little Women and loathe Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Wizard of Oz, Pollyanna, and many of the Anne books past the original Green Gables, but I'm actually embarrassed to name my own truly most un-favorite picture book... but I'm going to take this opportunity to do so anyway: it's Tiki Tiki Tembo.

Okay, stop with the hissing!

Even as a child, I not only wondered what the heck was wrong with the mother for very obviously loving ONE son more than the other, I was annoyed that she'd given them such dumb names!

Look, stop throwing things, okay? I know people look back on this one with nostalgia, and a whole lot of people can recite it whole. But I find this to be less a children's book, and more a long joke with a racist punch line. Yeah, I know - sour grapes to me. Kids love to say that long, silly name, and I don't blame them. But there are simply better chant-along books. I'm just sayin.

November is really here -- complete with schizophrenic weather patterns of balmy blue sunny days followed by steel gray damp and cold. I'm starting my thankfuls already, and just now, I'm thankful for fleece blankets, good lighting, and more Cybils books to read.



a. fortis said...

Great post today! On the theme of war, I'm looking forward to reading Cybils graphic novel nominee Pride of Baghdad, inspired by a true story about a pride of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during an American bombing raid. I have it on hold at the library, and it's there, but just not ready for checkout quite yet...

My NaNo novel keeps taking a backseat to other things, too--tonight I gave a bookbinding demo and lecture on artists' books in Rob's evening class on Alternative Drawing Methods, so I spent pretty much all day yesterday preparing my notes and handout. Argh!

I have very vivid memories of Tiki Tiki Tembo--I remember it was one of the books in the waiting area of a Chinese restaurant we used to go to when I was really little. I don't remember being all that excited about the chant-along aspect...I do remember, over the years, trying to describe this book to people and them being convinced I was referring to Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Jen Robinson said...

No worries! More Cybils books are definitely coming your way. Some of the publishers are waiting until after the 20th now, to simplify things.

I remember the cover of Tiki Tiki Tembo, and I think that I liked it, and I think that there being something about a well, but that's absolutely all I remember about it.

I do remember having trouble with Pollyanna and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

TadMack said...

The Pride of Baghdad sounds really exciting -- in a scary, "Okay, there are lions roaming," way.

The story of Tiki Tiki Tembo is indeed about a well. As in, a Chinese child has fallen down a well, and his name is SO LONG that he pretty much drowns by the time his brother explains to his mother that he has fallen: "Tikki Tikki Tem-bo No Sa-rimbo Hari Kari Bush-kie Perry Pem Do Hai Kai Pom Pom Nik-ki No Meeno Dom Bar-ako has fallen down the well!"

And in the end of the book, it says afterwards all Chinese people named their kids single syllable names like Chen.


Colleen said...

Thanks for mentioning my Bookslut column Tad. I also want to recommend From Baghdad, With Love as an excellent book on the Iraq War that both teens and adults would enjoy. (I reviewed it separately last month at Bookslut.) On the surface it is about a marine trying to get an abandoned puppy out of Iraq and back home to the states, but it's also about the impact of the war on the soldiers and marines - and how saving a puppy becomes, at least, saving something.

Very gripping and well written - there was way more to this book then a dog story.

TadMack said...

Thanks, COLLEEN, and yes, I do know your name! Sorry about that.