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?
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.
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.
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 Witchupon his entry into Narnia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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-inclinedBloom Countycomic 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. Heneedsto fly.
A Wish for Wings That Workwas published after Berkeley Breathed suddenly (and heartbreakingly) discontinued theBloom Countycomic 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 withBloom County(but especially if you are). Much likeBloom 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:
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.
As a child, I watchedRudolphevery year and enjoyed it.As an adult, however, theRudolphstory 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
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.
Macy’s Parade has come and gone along with the November issue of Debatable. This month’s topic was filled with more than the usual amount of hot air as Mike Allegra, that rascally writer fellow who is loved and adored by his thousands of followers, won the round with his pitch of nominating Peter of the Snowy Day as a future Macy Day Parade balloon.
Admittedly, it is s good choice, yet I still contend the parade is all about the lightness of being and Tigger certainly fits that description.
Personally, I think Tigger and Peter would enjoy a snowy day together. Who knows? Maybe they’ll both be balloons one day.
So, congratulations, Mike. For once all your glorious and uplifting promotional ballyhooing rose up to to even greater heights.
Stay tuned for December’s Debatable edition in which Mike and I contest our choices for seasonal specials.
It’s time to wrap up another round of Debatables. This month my partner in kibitzing in kid lit, the illustrious Mike Allegra, chose to back The Cat of Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat as his choice for the top villain found in children’s literature. Umm, I didn’t win with The Cat when I nominated him for the worst picture book category.
I went with Cruella de Vil of 101Dalmatian fame.
You read our arguments and made your decision. And it’s decided:
As the timer sounded, the family of bears hailing from suburbia stood quivering in anticipation–or was that fear-upon their stand.
Meanwhile, the two contending bears (not to be confused with contentious) transformed from cuddled–not coddled–ursines, into their primal heritage and took off running into the forests, not only surviving their ordeal, but thriving.
Well, that could have been the scenario…
If you are wondering how the last round of Debatables went down, the Hunger Games question of who would survive–Team Paddington and Pooh or Team Berenstain? Let’s just say that host Mike Allegra found himself so disheartened by the results that he couldn’t bear to post the results.
Yes, of course Team P&P won!
Blogsters soundly recognized the superiority of Paddington and Winnie-the-Pooh over the Berenstains. Nice family, but it’s been way too long living the easy life in their house. Foraging for honey and living in the forests with tigers let alone Heffalumps and Woozels–I totally forgot how Pooh had to deal with those monstrosities–makes for a tough bear. And Paddington, being so plucky and managing to shake off any of the dilemmas he finds himself in, made for the perfect partner.
Well done, bears. This just goes to show how these bears are not in competition with each other, no matter what some are trying to project on the Internet.
Debatable score stands at Mike: 1 Cricket: 2
Stay tuned for the upcoming October Debatable: Scariest Villain found in a Kid’s Book.
My first Debatable argument that Gene Wilder was such a vastly superior Willy Wonka than Johnny Depp, as suggested by Mike Allegra, won so amazingly, so soundly, that I felt uber confident I would easily win the second round.
I did not.
See–even the Cat is sad he didn’t win about being such a loser.
Mike questioned my acknowledged labeling of Love You Forever against The Cat in the Hat as the worst picture book ever as a frumpled win. No, I am not a “sore” loser–just a bit of a hair splitter. After all, even Mike admitted LYF isn’t a children’s picture book in that it is more of a picture book written for mothers.
Well, I shall not sour grapes the issue (a shameless plug for my monthly DOWO post). A win is a win. Congrats, Mike.
Next month we go Round III of Debatables. We hope you will continue to bear with our quibbling. Maybe you can help us figure out what to take on next for a topic. Here are the guidelines:
Being children’s book writers, we are trying to keep topics close to books children read–picture books up to YA (Willy Wonka actor sparring was inspired by Dahl’s book)
The more improbable the better–none of the usual Narnia vs Hobbit fare. Go for the silly, the extreme, the profound. Mike especially likes a challenge.
Do you have an issue of children’s bookery you would like to see Mike and I tackle? Send in your suggestions to either Mike or me in comments.
We’ll post the top picks and see what happens from there.
Debatables Round Two: The Worst Picture Book. Ever.
New to our blogosphere is the incredible Debatables, where my co-host and debate opponent, is the amazing Mike Allegra.
Mike Allegra is the author of Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Scampers and the Scientific Method (Dawn, 2019). He also not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series (Macmillan 2018-19, pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). He was the winner of the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest and a recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. He also juggles, plays the banjo, and is known to appreciate a well-crafted fart joke.
Over 12, 000 bloggers can’t be wrong, so if you aren’t following Mike’s blog, you are missing out. If you like to laugh, snicker, and outright guffaw, you will want to check out his blog.
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).
Today’s Topic: What is the worst picture book ever?
Disclaimer: The debate you are about to read is in absolute good fun. As children’s book writers we both understand the love and labor that goes into writing a book. Please no flames, comments of impending bodily harm, or allegations of shaming the writing community. This is a practice in word hurtling, nothing more.
Mike is suggesting:
I like the idea of a critter who helps a sibling pair beat the rainy day boredom blues, but that inherent sensibility I possessed as a child followed me into adulthood. That uninvited cat who creates a multitude of mayhem scenarios makes me nervous. And that’s my gripe with Seuss’s cat: he is the Pied Piper of pandemonium.
First off, The Cat in the Hat breaks basic rules we teach our children: stranger danger (and that is one strange cat); running in the house; playing with breakables; let alone making a mess. This is all done under the guise of “let’s have fun!” Let’s add onto the list how the voice-of-reason pet fish is abused several times, and the cat stubbornly refuses to leave when asked more than once (quite firmly) to depart.
To add to the havoc the Cat releases the naughty Thing 1 and Thing 2. Are these endangered exotic imports? Have they had their shots? Are they housebroken?
The reckless approach to busting boredom leaves poor Sally and her bro in a pickle as Mom approaches the house. They are not having fun. They are stressed out to the max. The only time the children smile is when they see the back of that cat. The real clincher are the ending lines:
Should we tell her about it?
Now, what SHOULD we do?
What would YOU do
If your mother asked YOU?
This is an invitation for children to be deceitful. Shocking, I know. Such a playful question is really introducing children to be duplicitous. Just say “No” to cats in hats barging their way into households. Listen to the wisdom of goldfish.
Vote with me that The Cat in the Hat is the worst picture book for children. Ever.
The mom in Seuss’s magnum opus is negligent, but at least she doesn’t remind me of The Story of Oedipus.
Love you Forever is about a mother’s lifelong devotion to her son. She sings of this love to her sleeping child when he is a baby and a young child—which is fine—and when he’s a teenager, which is less fine. She doesn’t just sing to him, she cradles the boy in her arms. We don’t see the cradling for the teenager scene; instead the illustration delivers something creepier: a young adult sleeping while his mother, wearing an expression of eager anticipation, crawls into his room on all fours.
But once the son grows up and moves out, such behavior must draw to a close, yes? Um. No. Refusing to accept this new chapter in her life, Mom grabs a ladder, drives across town, breaks into her son’s house (through a second floor window!), and cradles the sleeping adult male in her arms.
Scenes like this might have worked if the illustrations were less representational or more playful, but Sheila McGraw’s work is realistic and earnest. This elderly woman nuzzling her grown son is not a metaphor to illustrate the love between mother and child—it’s really happening. This woman really broke into her son’s house and really rocked him in her arms without his knowledge or consent.
Love You Forever is a world free of spouses. The adult son eventually has a daughter, but we never see this baby’s mother. The son’s father is also absent from the story. Where are these people? In the world of Robert Munsch’s picture book, it doesn’t matter. These significant others would only distract from the disturbing, single minded, nearly predatory mother/son bond at the story’s core.
While Love You Forever is creepy in its depiction of motherly devotion, it’s impact hasn’t prevailed for over fifty years like Geisel/Seuss’s creation. The Cat in the Hat is dangerous, not only as being an instigator of mayhem, but the fact is this bowtied cat is an industry, an institution of corrupting influence. Sequels, clothing, toys, teaching curriculum, movies, even designated days–this ubiquitous cat has influenced generations of children to ditch household norms under the guise of learning to read. Even Geisel, admitted in a 1983 article how The Cat in the Hat is a revolt against authority. Teaching our children to read at the cost of them totally abandoning all reason and opening their households to felonious felines is much too high a price to pay. Beware of hatted grimalkins in the guise as a reading muse. The campaign of awareness shall begin: #badcat.
Yes, the Cat is an instrument of chaos, but TCINH’s hero (and audience surrogate) is the unnamed boy. This boy doesn’t invite The Cat in or encourage his “games.” Instead, he puts an end to the mayhem by capturing the Things and throwing The Cat out. These are good character traits (as is the “clean up after yourself” finale).
The Cat in the Hat, also did something very important, it buried the insipid Dick and Jane books once and for all. It showed that easy readers could be fun! And funny! And exciting!
Most importantly, TCITH was always written with kid readers in mind.
Love You Forever wasn’t written for kids. It was written for moms in order to affirm a subliminal hope that their babies can remain baby-like forever. This, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is an unhealthy conception of motherhood. Even a child knows that.
So, dear readers–what is your vote? Which brilliant argument convinced you? Let us know in the comments below.