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Vol. 11, No. 1; January 2003
"Giggerty-geggerty, I can't wait!": long-awaited reprints
The World of Henry Orient by Nora Johnson. 1958; Green Mansion Press, 2002 (0-9714612-0-1) $12.95
I don't think "young adult" books were a recognized genre when The World of Henry Orient was first published, but it makes sense that this novel about two thirteen year old girls has been reissued in that category. I do wish, though, that it had been given a less childish looking cover, because it is quite a sophisticated story, worthy of a broad range of readers.
Narrated by 13-year-old Marian and set at an unspecified time in New York City, this is the story of her magical yet troubled friendship with a musically gifted girl named Val. When Marian first meets Val, she only knows of her as "the one who goes home early every day," an odd fact that (like the divorce of Marian's parents) has kept her from ever quite fitting in with the rest of their classmates. It turns out that the reason Val leaves early every day is to see a psychiatrist: a shocking occurrence in their social circles. But Marian soon discovers that "neurotic" Val has a way of making life intense and interesting; as just one example of the power of her personality, at one point she decides that Marian's mother's name should be Wimpole and from then on no one, including Marian, ever calls her anything else.
The most exciting thing Val ever does it to fall hopelessly in love with Henry Orient, a concert pianist who despite being neither very great nor very attractive, somehow grabs her imagination. The two girls begin a serious program of research (and what might today be called stalking) to find out everything there is to know about Henry. In hindsight, Marian realizes that Val's devotion to Henry represents all that is most special about her friend: her love of the world of music, her vivid imagination, and her capacity to appreciate unconventional people. But there are other forces pushing at Val, powerful forces that want her to become a "normal" girl and to leave behind the world of Henry Orient, the world of childhood, and the world of Marian and her family.
In some ways The World of Henry Orient is specifically an
indictment of the ugly and dangerous ideas of a particular time; we
see that in Marian's reflection about Val, "I shared her fate; it was
my world as well as hers, we would grow up into it at the same time,
and it was shocking to see how it was already treating another of my
generation." But despite some very dated elements (such as the girls'
use of "Oriental" code terms for Henry like "Fu Manchu, Cherry Blossom
or junk",) the story remains vivid, resonant and powerfully poignant.
Marian's fearful, almost superstitious view of psychiatry certainly
seems archaic now, but the calm assertion of Val's psychiatrist that
it's far more important that Val be with a mother and father than with
the people who actually love her still rings painfully plausible
today. Wimpole's advice to Val, that "you'll have to grow up before
you can find your kind of people, the kind who appreciate you for what
you are... It's a question of finding your niche, and until then,
being patient" has lost none of its value. And Marian's view of Val
as "up against a world that apparently could not accommodate her" is
as heartbreaking now as it was 45 years ago.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, 1995 (1-56402-320-6) $15.95; 2002 (0-7636-1930-2) $12.99
Christmas is the perfect time for Scrooge stories, and this original
tale about a bitter, lonely woodcarver who learns how to care about
people again is a poignant, beautifully told variant of the theme.
Jonathan Toomey is always called Mr. Gloomy by the village children,
for he seldom smiles and never laughs, drowned in the pain of having
lost his family. But when he carves a very special set of Christmas
figurines for newcomers to his village, the widow McDowell and her son
Thomas, Jonathan finds his heart warming in their gentle company.
Then he must carve the final figures, Mary and Jesus, but he can't
seem to do it--until he takes the picture of his wife and baby from
out of its hidden drawer and uses it as a model: "The baby's arms
were reaching up, touching the woman's face. The woman was looking
down at the baby, smiling." Once again able to remember his family
with joy, Jonathan happily goes to the Christmas service with his new
friends, and no one ever calls him Mr. Gloomy again. Wojciechowski's
rhythmic but comfortably lifelike and homey narrative makes even this
very long picture book a pleasure to listen to, as well as to read,
and Lynch's rich, carefully detailed paintings sympathetically capture
the many complex moods and emotions of the text.
Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Barbara Firth. Candlewick, 2002 (0-7636-1929-9) $15.99
The tenth anniversary edition of this gentle bedtime story comes with
a gold-embossed jacket and a frameable print of the book's cover.
Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Weirdos written and illustrated by Ed Emberley. Little, Brown, 2002 (0-316-23546-6) $15.95; (0-316-23314-5) $7.95 pb
Showing how to draw such Halloween favorites as bats, skulls and
Frankenstein, this picture book combines two books previously
published twenty years ago, now in full color.
Now (or Again) in Paperback
Author: a True Story written and illustrated by Helen Lester. Houghton Mifflin, 1997; 2002 (0-618-26010-2) $4.95 pb
The cover illustration of this book, showing the author tossing page
after page of notes out of the shower as she washes, sets the mood for
this fresh and joyful picture-book autobiography. Lester writes a
short, engaging story about growing from a three-year-old, scribbling
hundreds of useful lists for her mother, who never once said "No thank
you, dear, I have enough," into a published author, "the first author
I had ever met." Even after overcoming a learning disability, writing
stories was sometimes very HARD as a child, and continues to sometimes
be very HARD as an adult--yet Lester's love for her craft could not be
more clear. Sprightly, unsophisticated pen & ink and watercolor
drawings enhance the humor of the story; although Lester writes
disparagingly of her skill as an illustrator--"my pig" is a simple
creature made mostly of circles, while "my illustrator's pig"
nonchalantly balances a refrigerator on one trotter while riding a
bicycle with the other--it's easy to be fond of her self-portrait of
herself as a rosy-cheeked, smiling, enthusiastic toddler who grows
into a rosy-cheeked, smiling, enthusiastic adult.
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