Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Debatables”

Debatable: Caldecott Conundrum


This month Mike and I take debating which illustrators are deserving of the Caldecott and have yet to receive it.

I selected Barbara McClintock and Mike selected Michael Frith.

I sent Mike way more illustrations than he provided to highlight Ms. McClintock’s work. So of course I am going to feature them here.

You can hop over to Mike’s post to cast your vote. And keep in mind this vote is for a single book not a body of work (or a particular topic of interest—like ahem *kaff* Muppets *kaff*).

Barbara Mcclintock spotlighted Sophie Germain’s passion for mathematics with flair and finesse. Her illustrations show why she should receive a Caldecott. Right? Isn’t it obvious?

Hope to see your vote over at Mike’s place.

Debatables: LoL


Well, the odds were not in my favor this round.

But then, I knew that funny little kid in the round glasses would no doubt trounce the strong, courageous Katniss, at least in favorable voting. Get him in the Cornucopia? No competition.

I knew Mike had the win when he called Harry Potter. No matter.

I suited up and walked out on the field because I believe in Katniss. Oh sure, she got annoying sometimes with her “which guy?” conundrums, yet, she has pluck and she has been an influence in areas of significance beyond book parties and reading interest.

So-Mike, a win hands down. See you next month at your place.

Here’s a little fun to cap off our debate between Harry Potter and Hunger Games.

Debatables: July—YA best (series-ly)


This month’s Debatable gets serious about YA. Mike and I are taking on the great debate of which YA series is the most influential YA in terms of overall impact.

Yep, we are throwing down the quodlibet gauntlet and arguing whether the Harry Potter series bests the Hunger Games series. We are going for overall influence, not just books, but movies, social impact, topic genre–everything, everything. We are going big on this one.

As a reminder, here are the ground rules:

Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Mike, that increasingly prolific writer of children’s books and always popular blogmeister, is my Debatable partner. He has chosen the Harry Potter series:

I am nominating the Hunger Games trilogy:

Image result for hunger games trilogy

As the month’s host, I defer to Mike to lead out the argument:

Mike’s opener:
Whether you love Harry Potter or are indifferent to Harry Potter, you gotta admit that Harry Potter changed everything we once thought we knew about kid lit. Before that little wizard showed up, young adult and middle grade fiction novels were relegated to the bookstore ghetto, to live and die as a dog-eared paperbacks. 

There have been many pre-Harry YA books of great distinction, of course, The Giver, The Outsiders, and about a jillion others that are far superior to anything J.K. Rowling could’ve ever conjured in her Hogwarty mind. But those novels lack a certain magical something that Harry had in spades: Crossover Appeal. 

Harry Potter did to literature what Star Wars did to movies, it found an audience with pretty much everyone. And, man, was that audience rabid. Remember the midnight release parties with lines stretching for blocks? Remember how revealing a spoiler was considered a Crime Against Humanity? Publishers sure do, and they have been attempting to recapture that ol’ HP magic, literally and figuratively, ever since. 

Once upon a time, the kid lit center of gravity was in picture books. Harry Potter (and its decade-long listing on the New York Times bestseller list) changed that business model. The big money is now is YA and that’s where publisher resources have gone—and will continue to go—for the foreseeable future. 

No, I’m not saying that Twilight or Hunger Games or Miss Peregrine wouldn’t have been published if HP didn’t exist. I’m saying that Twilight and Hunger Games are Miss Peregrine enjoy the popularity they have because HP exists. Without that incredibly influential wizard, they would be unfairly slumming with the latter-day Nancy Drews, ignored and overlooked by the masses.

 

Cricket’s remarks:
Granted, Harry and his school chums initiated a noticeable interest among middle/YA readers; however, Suzanne Collins made a lasting impact with her Hunger Games trilogy that is still evident today, going well beyond readership.

First off, Katniss is a relatable hero. Flawed, no superpowers, yet passionate in her beliefs, placing others before her needs, transfers into the real world.  Several articles on how Katniss is inspirational in her purposeful focus are found on the internet. Hunger Games can be found at the core of curriculums revolving around dystopia and totalitarian governments, sharing time with Antigone and I Am Malala. Wizardry may be entertaining, but standing up for one’s beliefs is riveting, inspiring, and powerful in its ability to influence.

Other aspects of influence include the three-fingered salute from Hunger Games, a gesture that’s become a global symbol of resistance. There is also a  resurgence in archery evidenced by Nerf’s crossbow. Hunger Games ushered in other dystopian-themed books/films such as Divergent and Maze Runner. Tricks are for kids; bad government is reality, and Hunger Games has influenced others to take on the reality of tyranny. Saving friends from foes with magical spells doesn’t work in the real world. Courageously standing up for convictions makes a difference.  

Katniss has firmly established that a female hero doesn’t have to be seductive or come from another planet to get things done. Hunger Games also has gender and age appeal–AARP members raved about the series. Even Time noted Katniss Everdeen as an influential character

Admittedly, Harry Potter filled some kind of needed hole in middle/YA  reading needs, yet a boy wizard can’t compare to the lasting influence of a young woman who started out wanting to save her sister and ended up freeing society from injustice.

Mike’s Rebuttal
First things first: Katniss didn’t use a crossbow. Second, the Nerf crossbow was first released in 1995, a full 12 years before the first Hunger Games book came out.

Now to the meat of your argument: Yes, Katniss is a strong, flawed, relatable, femal hero fighting valiantly against a totalitarian government—but she certainly isn’t the defining voice of today’s “Resistance,” as you suggest. (That would be Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale). And influential dystopian-age books for YA existed long before Katniss ever showed up (again, I reference 1993’s The Giver). 

Don’t get me wrong, The Hunger Games is a great, exciting read. In fact, I enjoyed THG trilogy more that Harry Potter. 

But this Debatables topic is about which book is more influential. In that particular Harry versus Hunger competition, Katniss wouldn’t even make it to the cornucopia.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Thanks, Mike for acknowledging how Hunger Games is a better read-points for my argument of HG’s influence.  I am not interested in reading Harry Potter.

Why?

Magic is so unrealistic in solving problems compared to tenacity and fortitude in righting wrongs (you did notice the photo?). And while there have been a few unique female heroes such as Ripley and Sarah O’Connor, they were adults and Katniss is a teen. A brave young woman willing to sacrifice for family, friends, and the greater good is more admirable than a bespectacled kid wizard with a scar.

So–maybe HP influenced kids to read more than they used to–can Harry make the claim he has influenced politics or human rights concerns? Katniss and the Hunger Games series is an influence that  continues to resonate long after HP’s last spell has dithered away.

Alrighty, readers–time to weight in with votes and comments. Which series is more influential in your opinion: Harry Potter or Hunger Games?

Debatables: Sparking a Conversation About Arcs


My indomitable sparring compatriot, Mike Allegra, tossed down an interesting Debatable challenge for this month: which picture book character has arc?

Arc:

A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story. [Thanks Wikipedia]

Arc, not Orc–that’s Tolkien

Image: Molang Kim

Although maybe an Orc could have an arc? Aren’t Orcs rather focused on their prime directive of generating mayhem?

Doesn’t matter. We are focusing on picture book characters for this round.

Mike selected Ferdinand

and I suggested Harold.

(both images from Wikipedia)

This round is a straight up editorial. You aren’t expected to vote–although you most certainly can. You aren’t even expected to come with your own arcless character–although you most certainly can chime in a contribution.

Trot over to Mike’s post, read over our thoughts on our selected choices, and leave your comments.

Just sparking a arc-conversation this month. See you over at Allegra’s place. Maybe he’s serving up waffles…

Debatables: March–What’s So Funny?


Time for another round of Debatables, where Mike Allegra, my partner in literary pettifog, and I take on meritable topics such as “Who is the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Grade Fiction” and make quite a fuss. Sometimes Mike wins, and sometimes I do. Like last month. Just saying.

This month we take on the serious topic of “The Funniest Picture Book.” Now, I could be at a disadvantage because Mike is truly a funny guy. His family stories are a hoot. I shall strive for another win. Like last month. (oh dear, I promised Mike I wouldn’t crow).

Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

For my Funniest Picture Book entry I nominate:

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Yes, this book is so funny it’s been a play at the Kennedy Center, a TV special, AND a Disney movie.

 

Mike suggests:

Image result for stinky cheese man

Okay, fine–it won an award

Cricket’s Turn:
Some days just start out wrong, and keep getting worse. Having a bad day, especially from a kid’s point of view, is what Judith Viorst’s classic picture book is all about. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is just that–a really bad day in the life of six year old Alexander.

This is one of those books that is a perfect blend of text and illustrations. Viorst succinctly states with comic vaudevillian timing the woes of Alexander’s day. Ray Cruz’s illustrations deliciously capture Alexander’s expressions. Like this one:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations

Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, he trips on his skateboard, and drops his sweater in the sink. And that’s just the start of his day. He’s smushed in the car pool, his friends snub him, he leaves out 16 in counting, and there’s no dessert in his lunch. And the day just gets worse. There is also the running gag of moving to Australia.

 

Alexander’s no good day is relatable. This is a book anyone from 6 to 96 can enjoy. The story is funny. The illustrations are funny. Alexander’s bad day is a good funny, because all bad days come to an end. Viorst knows this and doesn’t sugarcoat the terrible, horrible of the Alexander’s bad day. They just happen. And when they are done we can laugh about it.This is a book that parents and children can read and laugh about together. Bad days happen. They just do. It’s cathartic to laugh about them. A book, a play, a TV special, a movie–people can’t get enough of this story.

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrationsMike’s choice of The Stinky Cheese Man is commendable, yet its satirical humor leans towards mean. The gentle humor of Viorst and Cruz is family friendly and it’s made for kids. TSCM? Do kids, little kids, the ones picture books are supposed to be for, really get that crazy, hyperbolic humor? Hmm, to each their own kind of funny. Alexander is cute. The cheese man is, well, stinky. What’s so funny about a stinky cheese man?

Mike’s Argument:
“Gentle humor” and “funniest” aren’t synonyms. Not even close.

Is Alexander And The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day a good book? Yes. It is an excellent book. It may even be a better book than The Stinky Cheese Man.

But hardly anyone could say it’s funnier. And this debate is all about the funny.

AATTHNGVBD generates warm, nostalgic smiles. But Stinky Cheese gets laughs. When my son was little, I read him both Alexander and Stinky. He liked them both, but only laughed at Stinky. Heck, the book still makes him laugh. It still makes me laugh, too.

In this compendium of “fairly stupid tales,” an ugly duckling grows up to be really ugly. A “frog prince” is is fraud, one who just likes smooching (and cares little about the slime he leaves behind on princess’ lips). The titular Stinky Cheese Man, like The Gingerbread Man, runs away to avoid being eaten; but nobody is chasing Stinky Cheese because, well, he stinks something nasty.

Lane Smith’s illustrations greatly contribute to the book’s comic tone. His ugly duck, for example, is not just a dippy, drooling disaster; he is a happy, dippy drooling disaster. He’s ugly. He knows it. And he’s cool with it. What could’ve been a cruel story in the hands of a lesser illustrator, is hilarious, for Smith’s duck seems incapable of hurt feelings.

Image result for stinky cheese man ugly duckling

And let’s not forget the character that ties all these ridiculous tales together. Jack the Narrator accidentally drops the table of contents on Chicken Little’s head. He spoils the ending of “Little Red Riding Shorts.” And, in a great running gag, he tangles with a very belligerent giant.  

Nope, no “gentle humor” here. The Stinky Cheese Man is brash, wildly original, and comic gold.

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Some people like obvious humor that’s a bit loud:

Image result for stinky cheese man cow

This cow is flabbergasted that a stinky bit of cheese is remotely funny

Others enjoy the subtle comedy of a facial expression or comment can evoke:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations dad office

It comes down to what’s funny to an individual. In a world that dwells on harsh and mean, I much prefer the gentle humor of a boy coping with a bad day where delightful illustrations accompany witty commentary. It’s relatable, enjoyable, and resonates with good vibes long after I’ve read it. I smile just thinking about Alexander. He lightens my bad days. I choose him over slimy frogs and the stink of rude, cheesy banal jokes.

Mike’s Rebuttal:
You’re right, Cricket, one’s interpretation of “funniest book” will always be subjective. But you’re not making an argument for The Funniest Book; you’re making an argument for The Most Relatable, Resonant, Warm, Fuzzy, Good Vibe-ist Book.

C’mon, you! Yes, I’m looking at you, Cricket—with your smart aleck ways, plethora of puns, and encyclopedic knowledge of weird cow jokes. Let’s get real.

You might love AATTHNGVBD—and you should love it—but you know which book generates more honest-to-goodness laughs. Stinky Cheese pulls out all the stops. One page is upside down. Another page contains a Surgeon General’s Warning. Another page is blank because the diva-ish main characters walked out of the story in a huff. Stinky Cheese is a layered, visual and verbal feast of funniness.

The book blazed a new trail in no-hugging-no-learning meta fiction. And readers laughed. So did critics. So did the Caldecot judges. So did I. And—admit it—so did you.

 

Well, there you have it. You, our most marvelous readers, now have the opportunity to add in your own commentary about which of the two books is the funniest. And while we appreciate your suggestions, we really, really want you to stick with what you see here: either Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day  or The Stinky Cheese Man.

Thanks for stopping in and thanks even more for your comments and votes.

Debatable Recap: Reeping a Win


February ‘s Debatable topic of “Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Reader Literature” sparked a lively discussion. It appears mice are quite nice in many an opinion. We won’t mention the one dissenting view about mice (which wasn’t very nice at all).

I choose Reepicheep from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Image result for reepicheep

While Mike nominated Amos from Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me.

Image result for ben and me

After a spirited voting spree, Reepicheep won by a whisker–yes, by one vote. Reep, that mighty warrior mouse valiantly strode forward and claimed his victory.

To be fair, Ben is a great little mouse. In fact, a vote for Ben or a vote for Reepicheep, along with the suggestions for Stuart Little, Bianca, Wilcox and Griswold, Despereaux, Runaway Ralph as considerations, just goes to show that mice are nice. That is, I admit I’m not keen on finding them unexpectedly in my kitchen pantry, but mice truly are winsome little creatures.

Someday I will regale my stories about Hunca Munca and Spot, two truly wondrous mousekins as once valued as pets.

BtW: a hearty congrats to my Debatable chum, Mike, who has just published his own mouse book: Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist.

Stay tuned for the next Debatable…

Debatables Recap: An Ominous Outcome


The January Debatable proved a lively round of arguing. Mike Allegra appointed Jilanne Hoffmann as his proxy while he trotted off to a fellowship for work on his newest creative endeavor. Niggling wonderment if the fellowship is just a guise not to lose another round of Debatables traisped across my pathway of reason for not participating. I mean, I teach, grade essays, and contribute to my blog on a weekly basis… Y’know–just wondering.

This month’s topic of contention for readers to decide: Which scene is more ominous–Edward from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe meeting the White Witch in the winter woods of Narnia or Scrooge meeting up with the ghost of Marley one dark night in A Christmas Carol?

Image result for white witch and edmund

How could anyone not see the ominous aspect of this scene? That is one creepy lady. Beware, Edmund! Beware!

Jilanne proved to be a formidable debate partner. Even with sound logic and a solid grasp of what ominous really means from readers such CharlesBakerHarris , Chelsea Owens, and Courtney Wright, Edmund could not nudge past the last minute flurry of voting for Scrooge’s encounter with Marley. Even Mr. Allegra went the way of ghost protocol. [Really, Mike?]

Jilanne wins the January round, and she added her own style of quippery to the verbal sparring.

Image result for marley's ghost

I know–doesn’t impress me as ominous, either.

If you missed out, you can backtrack and read our exchange here. You can even still vote–as long as it’s for Edmund, and as long as you know it’s only to make me feel better.

See you next month for a new round of Debatables.

Debatables: Ominous Winter Scene


The usual monthly Debatable format shall be slightly different this month. Mike Allegra, that talented, and becoming increasingly prolific writer, is off on a month-long fellowship diligently working on his book. This means he does not have the time, nor can he spare the creative pundit, to dabble in quibbling and debating. In his stead, he has asked Jilanne Hoffman, a capable author in her own right, to quibble and debate upon a chosen topic. He likened it to her being a tribute. I promise no life-threatening survivalist tactics will be forthcoming. Instead, I offer a warm welcome for Jilanne. Please feel free to trot over and check out her blog. I suggest signing up her updates and such while you are there. She has a fascinating bio:
Jilanne Hoffmann has been a zoo train engineer and a “real” engineer, but switched to freelance writing 20+ years ago and now enjoys writing stories for kids and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, has read at Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. One of her stories is included in a forthcoming anthology (Feb 2019), “She’s Got This: Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On.” She is currently at work on a new adult novel and many, many picture books.


Today’s Topic: What is the most ominous winter scene from a juvie book?

I have selected the passage from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund meets the White Witch upon his entry into Narnia.

Image result for edmund meets the white witch
That’s right, Edmund–think twice about talking to that lady in the sledge.

Jilanne has decided upon the scene where Scrooge meets up with Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The same guidelines apply: we each have 300ish words to state our case, and then another 150 to counter argue.

Let the quibbling begin!

First off, a definition of ominous is needed:

om·i·nous/ˈämənəs/adjective:giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen; threatening; inauspicious.

Cricket:

For those not familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, the first book introduces readers to the Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Lucy finds her way into the enchanted land of Narnia, yet her siblings disbelieve her.

In chapters three and four Edmund follows Lucy into a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, and unexpectedly enters Narnia, where it is winter. His paradigm has definitely shifted. A stranger in a strange land, he decides “he did not much like this place.” Tension builds. He can’t find Lucy, he is freezing cold, and wonders how to get home. Desolation increases–that feeling of”something bad or unpleasant is going to happen” is about to happen.

In the distance a sound of bells. They come nearer. What can be approaching? A threat forms. Suddenly a sledge drawn by reindeer driven by a bearded dwarf appears. This is not promising. What’s really startling is the formidable woman seated in the sledge, who holds a wand and wears a crown. Her severe manner startles Edmund into stuttering out his name. She demands information from him. The interview’s only bright spot is the Turkish Delight she provides. But wait! Readers are informed that the candy is tainted with her evilness, creating a craving for more, to the point of Edmund promises to turn over his brother and sisters to this imposing woman to satisfy his craving.

Minutes later, Lucy and Edmund reunite and Edmund discovers he’s been fraternizing with a witch, the dreaded White Witch. Edmund is sick with his realization (not to mention the overindulgence of Turkish Delight).

This scene is truly frightening: a lost child, cold, made more miserable upon understanding how badly he’s messed up. Lewis knows how to capture the fears of childhood, and creates an absolute memorable ominous scene.

Jilanne:

I nominate Jacob Marley’s chilling scene from A Christmas Carol. It has always terrified me. Scrooge feels a “strange, inexplicable dread” as bells clamor in his gloomy house and then stop, followed by “a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar….the cellar door flew open with a booming sound…the noise much louder on the floors below, then coming up the stairs, then coming straight towards his door.” I cowered behind my mother as she read, my head under the covers, hoping this ghost would take only her and let me live.

Jacob Marley, a “bristling” specter drapedwith the miserly chains of cash boxes, ledgers, and purses he forged in life,has “death-cold eyes” and a handkerchief wound round his head like a bandage.Although he sits still, his “hair and skirts and tassels were still agitated asby the hot vapor from an oven.” When Scrooge doubts his vision, Marley removesthe bandage, releasing his lower jaw onto his breast. Aghhhh! Dives below theblankets yet again, and stays there.

Marley hears “sounds of lamentations and regret, wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory” outside the window. He joins in “the mournful dirge” before floating “out upon the bleak, dark night.” Scrooge peers out the window and sees “phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.” Each wore chains like Marley’s ghost. This scene could turn anyone but Voldemort into a philanthropist.

Ah, even in Mike’s absence, quibbling is still a part of the format. So—

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Quibble point #1: Yes, ghosts are scary. Yet, does winter really play into this scene? Ghosts can appear any time of the year. Marley’s ghost is not even associated with Christmas specifically; he’s just the forerunner of other visitors. And is Scrooge actually intimidated? He is doubtful and doesn’t become a philanthropist at that point. A scary scene, but not really ominous.

Quibble point #2: Did Dickens write this for children? Wasn’t he actually trying to soften the hard hearts of adults?

Main point: The cold, foreboding setting of the perennial winter forest creates an unpropitious mood. Add in that austere White Witch and her toxic Turkish Delight, and a menacing winter scene designed just for children is created. Lewis imbues an impactful lesson: taking treats from wicked witches can lead to all sorts a serious trouble beyond tummy aches–becoming a traitor is indeed ominous.

Jilanne’s Rebuttal:

Winter plays a HUGE role. Scrooge’s rooms are bitterly cold and dark, like his heart, a stark contrast to generosity and warmth. PLUS Scrooge does fall to his knees, asking for mercy when Marley raises “a frightful cry.”

 

Ditch authorial intent. It’s like asking Maurice Sendak if he really wrote for children. By the time kids reach the age of reason (seven), they know this story and its meaning: be generous and compassionate toward those less fortunate.

 

My quibble for you:

Edmund’s not scared. He’s cold and in a strange place, but he spies a bearded dwarf (Santa!), a sleigh, and reindeer. Fun! The queen’s just a brittle genealogist seeking to identify Edmund’s siblings. Plus the promise of a title! Who doesn’t want to be a prince and eat sweets, bellyache notwithstanding? Marley’s ominous promise, OTOH, led me to save my quarters for charity before I was five years old!    

 

And there we have it–two scenes that should elicit feelings of something threatening or bad about to happen.

Readers: as a child reader, which is more ominous to you?

Let the voting begin–and, of course, comments are always encouraged.

Debateables Recap: Rudolph Grounded


Each month, Mike Allegra and I take on debating mostly meritable topics concerning children’s literature. We each state our initial argument in about 250 words and then add on a 150ish counter argument. You then, dear readers, vote accordingly and add in commentary. Mike and I look forward to the votes, and truly relish your comments.

Our December Debatable focused on Christmas specials based on books. I offered the perennial classic: Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, based on the song, which is based on the Montgomery Ward coloring book. The book lasted longer than the store, sadly.

Image result for rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Mike, suggested his usual underdog, a relative newcomer to the seasonal menu: A Wish for Wings That Work based on the title by adult/children’s writer Berkeley Breathed, known for his Bloom County comics.

Image result for a wish for wings that work

This month proved, well, ummm, different. Lots of likes and visits. Few commitments. Mike edged the voting outcome by one vote–two, if you go by what Mike says. Anyway, quibbling aside, Mike is the winner. The score is now *gasp* EVEN! We are now 3-3.

Stay tuned for January’s Debatable. A winter theme? Open to suggestions. Leave your comments and certainly your suggestions for new Debatable topics.

Until then…

Blue skies, and happy reading…

Debatables: ‘Tis the Season


Yes, ’tis the season. It used to come right after Thanksgiving, as in the Friday after, but now XMas Retail–totally different than Christmas (a post for maybe Mitch Teemley to muse upon?) is upon us. And with it comes all the holiday hoopla: decorations, music, food, commercials, events, and specials.

Mike Allegra and I are taking on Christmas specials based on children’s books in this month’s issue of Debatables. Last month we discussed which children’s lit character deserves to be a Macy’s Day Parade balloon. Mike won that round. See all the glorious discussion and scrabbling here.

If you are not familiar with Debatables–Welcome!
If you are–Welcome back!

Each month, Mike Allegra and I take on debating mostly meritable topics concerning children’s literature. We each state our initial argument in about 250 words and then add on a 150ish counter argument. You then, dear readers, vote accordingly and add in commentary. Mike and I look forward to the votes, and truly relish your comments. Mike says the score is now 3-2. I lead. This could be an important session.

I am offering the perennial classic: Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, based on the song, which is based on the Montgomery Ward coloring book. You probably didn’t know that, did you?

Image result for rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Mike, that gregarious children’s author who is rocking the publishing world with ninja cows and princes of regard, is suggesting a relative newcomer to the seasonal menu: A Wish for Wings That Work based on the title by adult/children’s writer Berkeley Breathed, known for his Bloom County comics.

Image result for a wish for wings that work

Mike’s Opening Argument:

Few creatures, (even in Christmas specials) match the inimitable, innocent, guileless sweetness of Opus the Penguin. His personality stands in stark contrast to his id-inclined Bloom County comic strip cohorts. This big-shnozzled little fella always puts others’ needs before his own. 
So it seems only fair that as Christmas approaches Opus should take a little time to consider his own wants. And Opus wants to fly. He needs to fly. 
A Wish for Wings That Work was published after Berkeley Breathed suddenly (and heartbreakingly) discontinued the Bloom County comic strip. It’s arrival was like a breath of fresh air. Opus was back! And he was in a wonderful story, pursuing a passionate goal—a goal he achieves just by being his old penguin-y self.  
The cartoon (presented here in full) remains true to the book while expanding upon it, drawing in old favorite Bill the Cat as well as introducing new characters from Breathed’s then-recently christened Sunday-only strip, Outland. It’s a cartoon that works on just about every level, even if you aren’t familiar with Bloom County (but especially if you are). Much like Bloom County, the special mixes the sweet and the salty, kid humor with adult humor. And it rewards people who pay attention; some of the best jokes linger unobtrusively in the background. 
And, best of all, there’s that ending! It gives me happy chills every time I see it. Do yourself a favor. Watch the cartoon; you’ll see what I mean.  Click on the link below for Opus in action:
Cricket’s Argument:

We might think of it just being the ubiquitous song that everyone at every age knows, but Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer is pretty special, as in seasonal special. This song came out in 1949 based on the coloring book story created for Montgomery Wards. Although the Rankin special deviated tremendously from the original story it’s become a classic in it’s own right:

  • Burl Ives sings some snappy tunes
  • Memorable characters like Hermey the wannabe dentist
  • The Island of Misfit Toys
  • How about the Abominable Snow Monster?
  • And of course the famous Rankin/Bass stop motion animation
It’s a crowd pleaser about how non-conformists are contributors to society, and are, in fact, heroes in their own right. Click on the link below for cute clip:

From a kid’s coloring book to a traditional song to a classic cartoon—Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer is the one special that is so special it’s the special of all specials. All the others are simply paying tribute to an original. It’s been part of tradition since 1964, and keeps on ticking despite current fine-tooth scrutiny for issues. Rudolph and his friends provide a generational bonding, and the bonus is everyone can sing along.

Mike’s Rebuttal:
As a child, I watched Rudolph every year and enjoyed it. As an adult, however, the Rudolph story bothers me. Poor Rudolph is cruelly shunned by his peers—and is only accepted back into the fray once his glowing nose proves useful. 
That’s a Christmas story that could’ve been written by Ayn Rand.
A Wish For Wings That Work, on the other hand, is a story driven by a strong-willed (and strongly motivated!) character who lives in Bloom County, a wonderful Land of Misfit Everything—including tater tot-brained cats, rhino-pigs, cross-dressing cockroaches, and a toy store owned by General Norman Schwarzkopf. Opus may be teased, but he’s never shunned. After all, Opus and all of his eccentricities are a great fit for this unapologetically odd and accepting place. Rudolph may take place in Santa’s backyard, but Bloom County better exemplifies the generous, supportive spirit of the
season.
Cricket’s Final Say:
Rudolph overcomes adversity with the bonus of acceptance, providing a story arc of beginning, middle, and a rousing resolution. Opus? He is harshly teased by some really odd ducks, who eventually come around to helping him out with his flight fantasy. Yet, there is no real resolution. The last we see of Opus he’s enjoying mock-flying. How long is that going to last? And Bill—Mike, did you forget how cruelly Opus treated the cat he rescued? He never even apologized for his scathing remarks. Rudolph is upbeat while Bloom County is quirky.
 
Rudolph or Opus? Which special is special to you? Cast your vote, and add your comments. Thanks for stopping by and watch out for fruitcake. That’s one tradition we could do without.

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