Friday, September 15, 2006

Two More Old Picture Books

I read two more older picture books yesterday. Though they were selected randomly, they both have connections to behavior.

Spinky Sulks (1988) by William Steig is a very intriguing book about a child who is seriously ticked off. We're never a hundred percent sure what it is his "stupid family" has done to set him off, but nothing they can do for a couple of days will bring him around.

Now, I assume that child readers identify with the child main character and recognize themselves in this boy who just can't get over whatever is bothering him. But as I read the book, I identified with all the family members because I've dealt with sulky adults who just couldn't be satisfied once they were in a snit. I found myself getting upset about how controlling and manipulative little Spinky was.

A very deep book.

The basic story behind The Two Bullies (1997) by Junko Morimoto comes from a Japanese folktale (according to the Internet). The self-proclaimed strongest man in Japan decides he will challenge the strongest man in China. In preparation, he visits the temple of Hachiman, a god of war and patron of warriors. (Though the book doesn't offer this information. It isn't necessary for the story. I have to look up things like that because I'm obsessive.)

He meets a priest at the temple who is actually Hachiman, and Hachiman gives him a gift, a file. Sidebar: gods in disguise and gifts received before going on a journey are both traditional elements of myth or folktales. The kids don't need to know this kind of thing, but I eat it up.

So our Japanese strongman goes off to meet his Chinese counterpart, but becomes so intimidated by what he learns about him that he heads off for home. The Chinese strongman learns he's been there and tries to catch him by thowing an anchor with a chain out to his boat and pulling him back. Ah, but our Japanese strong man has received a gift from a god and...

What I find so interesting about this book is that it's called The Two Bullies and yet the characters don't exhibit the kinds of behavior American readers traditionally associate with bullies. They don't attack the weak, they don't torment others, they're merely interested in testing themselves against other strongmen.

Another deep book.


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