Archive for Metafiction

Title of the Mix

Title of the Mix (a meta mix)This is the introductory text of this mix, which, before listing the songs (below), offers a few facts about them, such as the sad truth that the Free Design (track 3) had only one moderate hit, “Kites are Fun” (#33 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary charts, and #114 on the pop charts), or the happy fact that there are three Monty Python-affiliated songs here, one (8) from Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album (itself a “meta” title), another (20) from Monty Python Live! At City Center, and yet another (24) from the Original Broadway Cast of Spamalot. These sentences might also point out that since all “Python” tunes feature different performers, the three songs do not violate the mix-maker’s unwritten rule of never including two songs performed by the same artist. However, the rather dull nature of this observation renders it unlikely for inclusion here. Of perhaps greater interest might be the information that the Beatles’ (16) publishing company was “Northern Songs Ltd.,” and that George Harrison wrote this one. Or that, while not actually the shortest song in the universe (12), the track by that name appears on Sandra Boynton’s book-and-CD combo Rhinoceros Tap.

1) Title of the Song DA VINCI’S NOTEBOOK (2000) 4:27

2) Gotta Sing High KENNY WHITE (2010) 4:47

3) 2002 – A Hit Song THE FREE DESIGN (1969) 2:43

4) Hit Song DJ FORMAT featuring ABDOMINAL (2003) 4:45

5) Overnight Sensation RASPBERRIES (1974) 5:37

6) Top Forty MOSE ALLISON (1987) 4:23

7) A Happy Song  MICHAEL FLANDERS & DONALD SWANN (1959) 2:01

8) One of Those Songs THE KING’S SINGERS (1980) 2:20

9) The Hut-sut Song THE MERRY MACS (1941) 2:35

10) Happy Working Song AMY ADAMS (2007) 2:10

11) The Shortest Song in the Universe ADAM BRYANT & MICHAEL FORD (1996) 0:47

12) Bass Man JOHNNY CYMBAL (1963) 2:32

13) Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)? BARRY MANN (1961) 2:47

14) Number Three THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1986) 1:28

15) Only a Northern Song THE BEATLES (1969) 3:25

16) Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma MELANIE (1971) 4:03

17) The Folk Song Army TOM LEHRER (1965) 2:12

18) How to Write Ultimate Protest Songs CITIZEN FISH (1990) 2:54

19) Protest Song NEIL INNES (1975) 4:10

20) A Road Song FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE (2011) 3:04

21) Fountains of Wayne Hotline ROBBIE FULKS (2005) 5:29

22) Velvet Underground JONATHAN RICHMAN (1992) 3:29

23) The Song That Goes Like This CHRISTOPHER SIEBER, TODD ELLISON & SARA RAMIREZ (2005) 2:54

24) Atheists Don’t Have No Songs STEVE MARTIN & THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS (2011) 3:51

It’s highly unlikely that any omitted “meta” songs would be mentioned here, in this concluding paragraph, because that would deprive the listener of the fun of pointing out the mix’s inexplicable failure to include the Axis of Awesome’s “How to Write a Love Song,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Song for the Asking,” Howard Jones’ “New Song,” Elton John’s “Your Song,” the Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” or Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin’s “Sam’s Song,” to name but a few. It’s much more probable that these words would indicate that “Number Three” (15) appeared on They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants’ first album (also known as the pink album), or that “A Happy Song” (7) is one of three “Songs for Our Time” on At the Drop of a Hat.

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The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part II: Picture Books

In the 58 years since its publication, Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon has appeared in 14 languages, and inspired many artists.  This blog (which takes its name from a line in the book) presented The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part I: Comics & Cartoons… nearly three years ago.  It is at last time for Part II: Picture Books.

Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)

Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)

As Harold does, Bear goes for a walk. As Harold does, Bear carries something to write with (a pencil instead of a crayon). And, as is the case with Harold, what Bear draws becomes real.  It’s true that, graphically, this is a very different book. Browne’s jungle scenes — all in color — recalls those of Henri Rousseau. Also, where Harold both creates and solves his problems, Bear’s problems — two hunters who want to shoot him — are not imagined. Fortunately, his pencil proves more powerful than their guns. I’m tempted to say that, in the book, the power to imagine a better reality trumps the power to kill. However, Browne handles this story with such a light touch that, while it may suggest such morals, that’s not the focus.

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (1988)

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

Felix Clousseau’s art looks ordinary, but it’s not.  His painting of a duck actually quacks. However, “that was only half of it,” observes Agee’s narrator as the duck leaves the painting.  This is one of the book’s sly jokes (if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…), which include comic names of rival painters (such as Felicien CaffayOllay), several Magritte references, and the pun on the final page. No, I won’t give away the ending. Read it yourself.

Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)

Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)

In his Caldecott acceptance speech for Jumanji (1981), Chris Van Allsburg actually thanked “Harold, and his purple crayon.” He has elsewhere spoken of the book as the one he “remember[s] most clearly” from his childhood. Van Allsburg loved its theme of “the ability to create things with your imagination,” which, he says, is “a fairly elusive idea, but [the book] presents it so succinctly through these simple drawings that it registers very clearly.”

May of Van Allsburg’s books traverse (or blur) the line between imaginary and real, but Bad Day at Riverbend seems the most explicit homage to Johnson’s book. Rendered in coloring-book style, the people of Riverbend face a “greasy slime” that sticks aggressively to whatever it assaults. We readers recognize the “slime” as crayon scribbles, which (spoiler alert!) the book’s ending reveals to be true.  The townspeople are … the victims of a child with a crayon.

Thacher Hurd, Art Dog (1996)

Thacher Hurd, Art Dog (1996)

As Harold does, Art Dog creates art that changes physical realities. He also has his artistic adventures at night, beneath the moonlight. On one of the pages, he paints a somewhat goofy purple (with green spots) bird who reminds me of Harold’s drawings. Above the bird, on the wall, he has painted falling stars reminiscent of the one that Harold rides home in Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957).

Some years ago, I wrote to Thacher Hurd to ask whether he or his parents (Clement Hurd and Edith Thacher Hurd) had known Johnson or Ruth Krauss. He said that they may have, though he had no memories of them. During our very brief email correspondence, I said “I’ve often thought that Harold would get along very well with Art Dog.” He responded, “Yes, I did put in a subtle aside to Harold and the Purple Crayon in Art Dog. I love that book, and loved it as a kid.”

Régis Faller, Voyage de Polo (2002: English translation: The Adventures of Polo, 2006) and its many sequels

Régis Faller, Le voyage de Polo (2002)

Wordless (save for the occasional sound effect), Faller’s Polo books have an associative narrative logic that’s evocative of the Harold stories’ structure.  In Voyage de Polo (The Adventures of Polo), he opens the door of his island tree home, walks over to a tightrope, and then starts carefully to make his way along it — shades of Harold’s tightrope act in Harold’s Circus (1959). The tightrope suddenly becomes stairs, which Polo then climbs — reminiscent of the stairs in Harold’s Fairy Tale (1957).  Beyond those direct visual allusions (or, at least, they feel like allusions), the story’s art manages to link each panel to the next, and then to the next.  You don’t quite know where Polo is going, but he’s traveling with a purpose, and fun to accompany for the duration of his journey.  More than anything else, the chain of associations most strongly reminds me of Harold’s stories.

Delphine Durand, Bob & Cie., (2004; English translation: Bob & Co., 2006)

Durand, Bob & Cie (2004): cover

A small book that begins with “a blank page” and then waits for “the story” to get underway, Durand’s Bob & Cie. (Bob & Co.) pursues the metaphysical implications of Harold’s predicament. Except, in this story, it’s Bob’s predicament. It’s hard to summarize. By turns whimsical and profound, Durand’s absurdist metafiction is about faith, narrative, the universe, beginnings and endings. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. Someday, I’d like to write (a blog post? an essay?) about Durand’s work.  Her sensibility and sense of humor appeal to me.

Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)

The creator of the comic strip Mutts creates a story about a boy named Art who creates lots of art.  This conceit inspires many puns on the name, and, well, lots of art (and Art).  About a third of the way in, the book moves explicitly to Harold’s territory, when Art draws a house and then stands on the doorway in order to draw the roof.

from Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)

Deborah Freedman, Scribble (2007)

Deborah Freedman, Scribble (2007)

When Emma insults her younger sister Lucie’s drawing of a kitty (“It looks like a scribble”), Lucie defends herself: “It’s a special scribble-kitty!” In retaliation, she scribbles all over Emma’s drawing of the Princess Aurora. Emma storms off.  Then Scribble, Lucie, and the sisters’ real cat step into the drawings — which is the moment that the book enters Harold’s realm. It’s telling that only the younger sister crosses the boundary from real to imaginary worlds. Perhaps Freedman is suggesting that only the youngest children — Lucie, Harold — can make that leap, and fully believe it.  Freedman’s second book, Blue Chicken (2011), also plays with the boundary between art and life.  But, this time, a chicken is the artist.

Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman, The Pencil (2008)

Ahlberg and Ingman, The PencilA pencil (which appears itself to have been rendered in pencil) draws a boy, a dog, a cat, a house, a road, and a park.  As in Harold and the Purple Crayon, all things the pencil draws are real. The book departs from Johnson’s book when the pencil draws a paintbrush, who in turn colors everything the pencil draws. The decision to add color bends the narrative logic (how can a grey pencil draw color?), as does the decision to add an eraser (how can an eraser remove watercolors?). But the eraser proves a valuable antagonist. Just as the pencil draws enthusiastically, so the eraser embraces his function — threatening the world that pencil and paintbrush have created.  I wonder: what would have Harold done with an eraser?  He does cross things out (the witch in Harold’s Fairy Tale, the whole picture in A Picture for Harold’s Room), but he never erases.

Matteo Pericoli, Tommaso and the Missing Line (2008)

Pericoli, Tommaso and the Missing Line (2008)The line of the hill disappears from Tommaso’s drawing, which shows “a house on a hill, / a tall tree and some mountains. / And two people — / him and his grandma.”  So, of course, he goes off in search of it. On the right-hand page, Pericoli uses black ink for everything, except his character’s drawing and specific lines that Tommasso finds — those are all in orange. On the left-hand page, Pericoli places white text on an orange background. The orange at left makes each orange line at right “pop” out of the picture. Visually, it’s very effective.

Sure, Tommaso is also an artist, but, you ask, is there a more particular connection to Harold and the Purple Crayon?  There are several, first of which is that Tommaso does find his line — “as real as he always remembered it” — out in the world. So, as in Johnson’s book, art can become real.  Also, though Pericoli’s line is not as tight as Johnson’s, the pen-and-ink drawings on white pages evoke Johnson’s aesthetic sensibility.  Just as Harold’s purple line does, Tommaso’s orange line has as powerful a visual presence.

Any obvious (or not-so-obvious) books I’ve missed? I realize there are many other metafictional books (Scieszka and Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man, Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book, to name but two) or aesthetically comparable books (Lehman, again, Newgarden and Cash’s Bow Wow series) or books about artists (Lionni’s Frederick, McClintock’s The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle). My list may be too narrow, but its idiosyncrasies will I hope inspire discussion.  So, let the discussion begin!

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(And, yes, I do plan further parts in this series — with luck, they’ll appear more swiftly than Part II!  Indeed, the blog has been quieter for this past month because, this summer, I’ve foolishly taken on more writing than I can cope with.  I’m struggling to keep my head [nearly] above water.)

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More Metafiction for Children

Since “Metafiction for Children: A User’s Guide” went up yesterday (as the final entry on In Media Res“Children’s Culture” week), I’ve been pleased by people’s kind response to my amateur video.  Thanks, everyone!

There are far more books than I could include in the film, and there were several I had not thought of. So, I thought I’d expand the field of inquiry here with a more complete bibliography of metafictional works for young readers.

First, the titles included in the film clip:

  • Lane Smith, It’s a Book (2010)
  • Art Spiegelman, Open Me… I’m a Dog! (1997)
  • Winsor McCay, Little Nemo In Slumberland of May 2, 1909.  From The Best of Little Nemo in Slumberland (1997), edited and with an introduction by Richard Marschall, and including appreciations by Maurice Sendak, Ron Goulart, Art Spiegelman, Charles M. Schulz, Chuck Jones, and Bill Watterson.
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (Part 1, 1605; Part 2, 1615).  Not a children’s book.  Obviously.
  • Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (1999).  The two-page spread is from this book.
  • Dav Pilkey, the above title, and: The Adventures of Captain Underpants (1997), Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets (1999), Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (2000).
  • Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992)
  • Walter Dean Myers, Monster (1999)
  • David Macaulay, Black and White (1990)
  • Ann Jonas, Round Trip (1983)
  • D.W. Johnson, Palazzo Inverso (2010)
  • Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, Duck! Rabbit! (2009)
  • Charley Bowers, The Bowers Mother Goose Movie Book (1923)
  • David A. Carter, One Red Dot (2004)
  • Peter Newell, Topys & Turvys (1902)
  • David Wiesner, The Three Pigs (2001)
  • Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)

Over on In Media Res, I list the titles behind me:

  • Jon Agee’s The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (1988)
  • Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book (2004)
  • Roderick Townley’s The Great Good Thing (2001)
  • Johnson’s A Picture for Harold’s Room (1960)
  • Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile (2010)
  • Deborah Freedman’s Scribble (2007)
  • Laurie Keller’s The Scrambled States of America (1998)

And there are even a few back there that you can’t see (because my body blocks them from the shot):

  • Donald Barthelme, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine (1971)
  • Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf (1989)

More picture books:

  • Ahlberg and Ingman, The PencilAllan Ahlberg, The Bravest Bear Ever (2000)
  • Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. The Pencil (2008)
  • Janet and Allen Ahlberg, The Jolly Postman (1986)
  • Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)
  • Remy Charlip and Jerry Joyner, Thirteen (1975)
  • Nicole Claveloux, Go, Go, Go, Grabote! (1973)
  • Michael Garland, Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook (2003) and sequels
  • Mordicai GersteinA Book (2009)
  • Shirley Glaser, The Alphazeds.  Pictures by Milton Glaser (2003)
  • Emily Gravett, Wolves (2005)
  • Emily Gravett, Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears (2007)
  • Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (2008)
  • Roberto Innocenti and J. Patrick Lewis, The Last Resort (2002)
  • Tove Jansson, The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My (1952; English, 1996)
  • Crockett Johnson, the Harold series (1955-1963)
  • Barbara Kanninen, A Story with Pictures (2007)
  • Julius Lester, Ackamarackus. Illustrated by Emilie Chollat (2001)
  • Mike Lester, A Is for Salad (2000)
  • Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)
  • Richard McGuire, What’s Wrong with This Book? (1996)
  • Peter Newell, The Hole Book (1908), The Slant Book (1910), and The Rocket Book (1912)
  • Margie Palatini, Piggie Pie. Illustrated by Howard Fine (1995)
  • Terry Pratchett, Where’s My Cow? Illustrated by Melvyn Grant (2005)
  • Jon Scieszka and Steve Johnson, The Frog Prince Continued (1991)
  • Shel Silverstein, Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book (1961)
  • William Steig, Yellow & Pink (1984)
  • Jon Stone and Mike Smollin, The Monster at the End of This Book (1971)
  • Chris Van Allsburg, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984)
  • Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)
  • Mo Willems, We Are in a Book! (2010)

More chapter books:

  • Janet and Allan Ahlberg, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (1993)
  • Mary Amato, Please Write in This Book. Illustrated by Eric Brace (2006)
  • Avi, Nothing But the Truth (1991)
  • Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010)
  • Clement Freud, Grimble (1968)
  • Cornelia Funke, Inkheart (2003), Inkspell (2005), and Inkdeath (2008)
  • Linda Sue Park, Project MulberryLois Lowry, The Willoughbys (2008)
  • Geraldine McCaughrean, A Pack of Lies: Twelve Stories in One (1988)
  • E. Nesbit, The Story of the Treasure-Seekers (1899)
  • E. Nesbit, “The Town in the Library, in the Town in the Library” in Nine Unlikely Tales for Children (1901)
  • Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001)
  • Linda Sue Park, Project Mulberry (2005)
  • Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006)
  • Scott Westerfield, Extras (2009)
  • The Choose Your Own Adventure books (1979-1998)

More Comics: George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, G. B. Trudeau’s Doonesbury, Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, Berke Breathed’s Bloom County.

Some Graphic Novels:

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (the graphic novel)Lynda Barry, 100 Demons (2002)
  • Daniel Clowes, Ice Haven (2005)
  • Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1987)
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley, the Scott Pilgrim series (2004-2010)
  • Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
  • Art Spiegelman, Maus (1986 & 1991)
  • Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan (2000)
  • Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (2006)

Thanks to the child_lit community (especially Tracy Barrett, Pat Bartoshesky, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Sarah Blake Johnson, Deborah Hopkinson, Kate Wooddell), Deborah Freedman (via Twitter), and to Eric Carpenter (via In Media Res) for their suggestions.

And, of course, this list is incomplete!  Please add your own favorites in the comments section, below.

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