Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Luke, I Am Your Father." "But You're Not OLD ENOUGH to Be Luke's Father!"

The calendar may say Wednesday, but it's feeling more like Printz Day on the web.

Today the Horn Book devotes its "Read Roger" blog to introducing School Library Journal's new Printz blog.

So does Elizabeth Burns' "A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy" blog.

Ditto Betsy Bird's "Fuse #8" blog.

Did any of these blogs -- even the one moderated by my pal, my buddy, my co-writer Betsy -- give a plug to poor Peter's Printz Picks?

Nary a one.

But that's okay. Reading the blog they're all discussing actually gave me an idea to write about today.

And sometimes an idea is the best thing anyone can give you.

In today's SLJ Printz blog (AKA "Someday My Printz Will Come") co-moderator Sarah Couri discusses A.S. King's new novel EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS.

A couple Sundays ago, I referenced this book in my own blog, stating:

I loved the author's eccentric PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, but her new YA novel feels like a flop to me. <...> I'm astonished it's getting starred reviews and great word of mouth. What am I missing? I'll read it again if someone can present a compelling argument.

It's evident from Sarah Couri's piece that she likes this novel a lot more than I do. Obviously I am going to have to go back and re-read the book at some point and post my thoughts on Printz Picks.

But for now, I want to talk about about something else Sarah Couri mentioned in her discussion of the book:

And now we’re going to go for a side trip inside my head, because my next complaint is really all about me, me, MEEEEEE!

I really struggled with the dates in this book. Lucky’s grandfather is exactly my dad’s age. Which makes Lucky’s dad analogous to me. In fact, his dad is, according to the text, 3-4 years older than me. And while I would be biologically capable of having a teenage son, I do not. And while I have friends my own age who have children, none of them are teenagers. And while some of my friends who are 3-4 years older than me are capable of having a teenage son, they do not. And I realize that is completely anecdotal and that he wouldn’t be THAT young of a parent (he would have become a parent at 24), it’s…somewhat unusual. Worth remarking on, I guess I would say. And while I don’t believe that any teens are breaking out their calculators and doing this math, it felt off to me — off enough to me that it felt like an authorial intrusion.

I read these paragraphs with a smile and a nod of recognition.

It happens to all of us adult readers of children's books at some point, doesn't it?

You know what I'm talking about.

That dreaded moment when you realize that you are the same age -- or even older than! -- the parents of the protagonist in the book you're reading.

I first read Katherine Paterson's COME SING, JIMMY JO, when I was in my mid-twenties. In this story of a boy growing up in a country-singing family, the protagonist is eleven years old, but during the book there is some confusion about his real age...compounded by the fact that the man he believes to be his father is really his stepfather.

A few months later I happened upon an article that Katherine Paterson wrote about this novel. She revealed:

Usually I determine the date of all my central characters, not just the protagonist. This was crucial to the story in my novel Come Sing, Jimmy Jo. James was born in 1973 and his mother was born in 1959. "But that means...!" Yes, it means that Keri Su was fourteen when James was born.

The fact that Keri Su was only fourteen at the time of Jimmy Jo's birth shocked me less than finding out that she was born in 1959.


But...that meant she was even younger than me!

It was the first time I realized that a book's protagonist was so very, very young...that I was actually older than his parents.

Believe me, it would not be the last time this happened.

In fact, it now happens nearly every time I pick up a children's or young adult book. More and more, I'm reading about protagonists whose parents are in their thirties or who "grew up back in the eighties." Like Ms. Couri, I also had my own little moment when reading EVERYONE SEES THE ANTS. I was humming along, turning the pages, and comfortably inside the head of its fifteen-year-old narrator when I added up the dates and realized that (gulp) his father was born when I was in junior high school!

Despite these occasional blips, I must say that over the years I've gotten used to it.

In fact, being old actually has its advantages in reading children's books. I now have a broader, deeper perspective on life...on literature...on people. My critical skills are keener. I'm better at expressing my opinions. And (this is the sad one) I've found that people listen to adults expounding on children's books much more than they ever listen to kids.

So it's the "adult me" that chooses what book I want to read next.

And, when I close the last page of that book, it's the "adult me" who appraises the narrative and the characters and writing.

But in between those times...

...when I'm reading the book...

...and deep within the pages of the story...

I am eleven-year-old Jimmy Jo, or twelve-year-old Holling Hoodhood or Ramona Quimby, Age 8.


E.M. Rivera said...

Hi Peter! (Long time reader/subscriber, first time commenting.) I don't often bump into the age problem so you say, if the author is doing a good job, I'm whatever age the viewpoint is. But sometimes I do feel jarred when the cultural references are all wrong. I recently read Brenda Yovanoff's "The Replacement" and her "teen culture" references were all wrong. Nine Inch Nails? Quentin Tarantino? Leonard *freaking* Cohen? Do these names mean anything to most 16yos in 2011? I really liked the book, but this bugged me. (Side note: Keep up the good work! I love the blogs! And I'll comment more often!)

Peter D. Sieruta said...

To E.M. Rivera:

Thanks so much for your comments. The example you give is one good reason that authors should probably avoid topical references if they can. M.E. Kerr always tried to work around them in her books -- with one exception. When she wrote her novel NIGHT KITES, about a boy whose brother has AIDS, she figured that a cure for the disease would be found quickly, so she might as well include a lot of "contemporary" references in the book. Of course twenty five years have now passed, and there is still no cure. Thanks for your readership and I look forward to more comments!


Roger Sutton said...

Peter--I didn't see it! Will rectify.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of getting older-Happy PRE-Birthday! I just know I will forget to say Happy Birthday on your birthday and usually think of it weeks afterwards. Is there a time limit for belated Birthday wishes?
Pat H.

Jana said...

I have also noticed this a lot on TV. Many of the starts who were teens when I was growing up are now being cast as the parents of teens. When did they get old enough for that (and when did I)?