Itty Bitty Librarian Book Review: Stuart Little

Stuart Little is one of those books I used to recommend to parents when I worked in a bookstore.  I liked “Charlotte’s Web,” and it’s undisputedly a classic.  Robin William’s character in “Mrs. Doubtfire” reads it to baby Natalie (while this isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement it certainly attests to the classical status of this book).  And so, when baby Alice and I were choosing our book from the library last week it was between Stuart and something more modern like Funke.  Because Alice was born in New York and I liked the idea of her being able, unlike me until now, to say she’d read Stuart Little, the classic children’s novel, I opted for Stuart.

IMG_3836My question is this: How many people out there HAVE actually read it?  Having finished the book, I must say, I’m not sure I’d exactly recommend it.  It’s not a bad book, but it’s not the best I’ve read, either.  The book is episodic, which is fine.  In fact, generally I prefer episodic for young children.  They can take a snooze or have a distracted session and then still pick back up again and know the characters, but this one just seemed episodic…AND disorganized.  I don’t think that’s overly critical.  The book is creative, it’s well written, it’s interesting–but it is strange and chaotic and above all, disorganized.

I think most people are fluent on the over all plot:  Stuart Little is a mouse born to a well-to-do family of New Yorkers living in a two story apartment on (I think) the upper east side.  Despite being slightly over two inches, Stuart is afforded his own room, which holds his bed, made out of a matchbox, and he enjoys sailing.  Stuart doesn’t seem to have a formal education, but instead sets out upon rather manly, solo adventures at the tender (or ancient, it’s hard to gage for a mouse) age of 7, following meeting Margalo—a brown bird with a dash of yellow who sort of speaks in rhyme and takes solace in the Little family’s Boston Fern following some sort of accident.

IMG_3843While it might be problematic that Stuart has fallen in love (and it’s never completely confirmed he’s “in love,” but crush seems too mild) with someone outside his own species, it’s never really addressed, mostly, I assume, because Stuart, like so many men in the 1940s, keeps rather buttoned up about his personal affairs.  Mostly he watches Margalo and thinks nice thoughts about (her?) it.

And, though most of Stuarts “adventures” seem to fall in account of Margalo’s abrupt departure from the Little’s home, there are a few things that happen before.  Stuart attempts to sail “The Wasp,” on the Central Park Boat Pond, but runs into a squall and ultimately collision at sea with another ship, “The Lillian B. Womrath,” but he does make friends with the owner of “The Wasp,” a surgeon dentist whom becomes something of a mentor (and supplier of miniature vessels).  Stuart also overcomes an encounter with Snowbell, the Little family cat—or perhaps it is actually an encounter with the Little Family’s rolling blinds, but either way, Stuart escapes.

IMG_3840The aspects of the story I found troubling, or strange came later, once Margalo “flies the coup,” with Stuart in her wake.  On his way out of town Stuart visits his friend the surgeon dentist, who offers him a bright yellow car that runs on “five drops of gasoline.”  Fair enough, I say—a yellow miniature car from a man that already likes model ships—but here’s the kicker, even for 1943—the yellow car has an “invisibility switch.”  Now, this is no Harry Potter, people—we’re not ensconced in magic.  In fact, while the aspect of Stuart’s lineage is strange, it’s not presented as magical so much as just…maybe something that happens (as the book later presents the character of Harriet Ames, who is not a mouse born to regular-sized rich people, but a tiny but perfectly proportioned woman born to rich people).

So we now have mouse with a tiny car that can be invisible.  But Stuart accidentally hits the starter button while the car is invisible and wrecks it—sad, but not the weirdest part.  Astoundingly, the next morning he is still able to drive the car, which apparently the dentist has made repairs to the night before.  And Stuart doesn’t drive it invisible, instead he drives it, on main New York Streets, in full view.

There are also a lot of people that seem to sit on curbs or in ditches.  Perhaps this frequently happened in the 40s, but certainly it took us by surprise.  Stuart generally encounters people, like himself, that are affluent or at least well to do in the gutters.  Before leaving New York he meets a school superintendent who’s down in the dumps because he’s got to find a substitute for the day.  Stuart volunteers, stopping first at a doll shop to by the perfect scholarly ensemble for the occasion.  Decked out in tweeds Stuart arrives and keeps decorum in the schoolroom, despite being so small.  And, while decorum is well and good, Stuart also decides to forgo the lesson plans and typical subjects like math and science in lieu of a heated discussion about being Chairman of the World and what laws could be universal (among the solidly “good” things presented are “the smell of a baby’s neck if it’s mother keeps it tidy,”).  Once Stuart gets his fill of the discussion he splits, heading back to his tiny yellow car and leaving the city for northern skies and perhaps, if he’s lucky, Margalo.

But Stuart again, somewhat conveniently meets another man in the gutter, this time near Ames Crossing (in Connecticut, it seems).  The man suggests Stuart meet Harriet Ames, who is also small and well dressed.  Stuart doesn’t seem too interested at first, but when he sees Harriet at the post office he hides and all thoughts of Margalo temporarily fly out the window.  Instead he goes about arranging the perfect date with Miss Ames, including a tiny canoe and ice-cream spoon paddles.

But when everything goes wrong on the date—it rains, the canoe gets messed up by some area children and the spoons are destroyed (Stuart seems most distracted by a string that has been tied to the toy canoe, making it clearly appear as what it is—a toy), Stuart is unable to recover.  The cool Harriet shrugs and asks if perhaps they can go on and enjoy the date, rumpled canoe and rain, but Stuart is too worked up.  In the end Harriet goes home to dinner and Stuart resumes his quest for Margalo.

Why the intense play by play, you ask?  Well, because it’s somewhat astounding, isn’t it?  A conversation and stint as a teacher and discussion on chairman of the world, a date with a tiny woman (let alone her existence?) and a potentially invisible car—that’s a lot of plot action!  But, then it’s just…gone as Stuart leaves Ames Crossing and returns his northern quest.  However, he does meet a telephone repairman (sitting in a ditch, again, leading me to believe the world was once quieter, easier and workers allowed these “breaks”) who tells him a northern quest is never a bad choice.

And the book ends.  Just like that.  Frankly, my head was still spinning at what a jerk Stuart seemed to be during his date.  I was so shocked I even found myself checking to see if I missed some pages, but no.  So I came out of this book not really very fond of Stuart Little.  I mean, it’s neat he’s a mouse making the way in a big world, and I really admire his need for well-suited clothing to complement any occasion, but he just wasn’t a very nice guy/mouse.  He sort of has weird illusions of grandeur and come off as a poor communicator.  Hopefully Alice and I will have better luck with our next book, “The BFG.”



Itty Bitty Librarian’s First Review: Lois Lowry’s “The Willoughby’s”

I’ve been a Lois Lowry fan since I was a 3rd grader and Mrs. Sanders read us “All About Sam,” which still reigns supreme as perhaps my all time favorite book. I can still remember wishing the 10 minutes of read aloud time after recess would last forever and the feeling the cool Formica under my arms as I rested my head to close my eyes and imagine it all—The Krupnick’s living room with a stomped pile of broccoli beneath the rug, Sam’s pan-tree and later the Victorian garett that became Anastasia’s bedroom.

I went on to love “Number the Stars, The Giver,” all the Caroline and J.P. books and of course, Anastasia’s own series (please note, the inscription of “All About Sam” says “To Jamie, who’s a lot like Sam.” Perfect). I even got into lesser known titles like “Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye,” which I read in middle school (when the librarian finally told me “you should challenge yourself and not read baby books—“ which is a huge reason I grew up to become a librarian myself—and often shake my head at the terseness of people in the profession. I get that it’s often suited for people who like solitude and quiet, but the very nature of a librarian is to interact…nicely.)

Anyway, now that I have a baby of my own, and she is, of course, just that, a baby, not an age appropriate 8 year-old, but oh well, I’ve been taking her to the Silver Lake library to check out books. Last month we read “The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh,” and when we returned it and went to pick out another, I recalled Lois Lowry had a new book, “The Willoughby’s.”

Baby A and I powered through it in about a week. We read before naptimes and if she can stay awake or needs to wind down a bit, for a chapter before bed too. And, while this wasn’t my favorite Lowry book, it’s certainly cute and a fun read. Lowry uses “old fashioned” children’s books as a platform in this book a la “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and I do like the educational rundown on some timeless classics like “Little Women, Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn” and “The Secret Garden.” (The oldest Willoughby tells his sister she needs to tragically die like Beth for a “proper old fashioned ending,” and the lonely Commander Melenoff is referred to as a wealthy guardian like Archibald Carven). I’m a big believer in learning via osmosis—I want my daughter to ask questions like “who’s Beth in Little Women,” at which point we can pull down my well-worn copy from the bookshelves and give it a looksee.

However, my only criticism was the lack of intimacy within the book. My absolute favorite attribute of Lowry’s work is her warm, loving characters. The Krupnick parents are believable—they tease one another, they are amusingly, lightly sarcastic with their children and even have interesting jobs—a professor and a children’s book illustrator. Likewise, Caroline and J.P. have secret thoughts and feelings. The very formula of “The Willoughby’s” eliminates this—the book is narrated in the omniscient and none of the characters is very “viewed” by the narrator (although Jane is described as the thoughtful one who aspires to be more assertive, which was nice).

All in all in lacked the warmth I love in a Lowry book. It felt a little forced, like an editor had given her the idea to write this new, dark sort of novel and she’d obliged. Maybe warm families are a thing of the 80s, but I missed them.

Cats Reading and Cat’s Supervising.

Yoko Tanji

Art by Yoko Tanji

I’ve been working on a new children’s book.  Because I’m spending so much time at school (I’m getting my master’s in Library Science just in case somebody doesn’t know that), the information I’m taught on a daily basis is seeping in.  So, my book is turning out to be a mystery about a library with a 11 year-old girl as the heroine.  Louisa is looking for a librarian who’s gone missing from the New York Public Library…

Anyway, my friend Christine (of everythingblog) this to me yesterday and it reminded me of Louisa…and me and Kitty Viv, because we like to read together.

And while I get my story cogs going, here’s a few other fun things:

Best Tag Ever.

At dinner last night my friend Allison showed us a new/old baby dress someone had re-gifted her for her baby.  Unfortunately for this dress but fortunately for us all, Finn is a boy and probably won’t be wearing a dress (even an adorable one with a deer on the front…well, maybe just once to see what it looks like), but this is the awesome tag.  ”Cat supervised,” people.

Last but not least, sometimes Anthropologie sometimes frustrates me because of prices and/or one too many doo-dads; but I think they got swimsuits JUST right this time around.

(Borrowed from whowhatwear)

Now I’m going to enjoy the rain storm (Kitty Viv is hiding in the inner-most deep of our closet) and have some dinner.

Favorite books

In forth grade our teacher Mrs. Sullivan read The Secret Garden out loud to us the last month of school.  We had no air conditioning and after recess she would leave the ceiling lights off and tell us to put our sweaty heads down on our desktops and turn the fans on high while she read a chapter.  Although Mary wasn’t likable, I related.  She said all the wrong things and I said too many things.  In the end, the bottom line was the same: plants and animals don’t judge.  I spent the summer pretending our old dog Buddy’s vacant dog pen was a walled English garden.   Onion grass and clusters of day lilies grew around fairy rings of toadstools and our cat would lie in the sun with his white belly toward the sky.

It wasn’t a moore or Yorkshire, but I’ve always been good at playing pretend.