Monday, April 12, 2010

Haven Kimmel's books for children

If I ever get to meet Haven Kimmel, I already know what I will ask her.  "How do you manage to tell such sad stories with humor and beauty?  Huh?  HUH?!"  I'll try not to grab her by the shoulders and shake really hard.  Seriously, it is amazing to me and maybe if I shake her hard enough something will pop out of her brain and I can steal it and write my own beautiful book.  It would be worth the restraining order she'd inevitably put on me.  Caren and I are huge fans of Haven Kimmel's books, which is evidenced here, here, here, here, and here.  I'm starting to think I should just write a blog post that says, "Read a new Haven Kimmel book, you should read it too" and leave it at that.  But no, I will wax long and enthusiastically on every new book she writes.  Get used to it.

I discovered recently that Kimmel had written two books for younger readers, so of course I had to read them.  The first is a picture book called Orville: A Dog Story and was actually written in 2003, so it's been out for a while.  It tells the story of Orville, a dog who's had a sad life of being mistreated and shuffled from one owner to another.  He ends up with a farmer and his wife, who clean him up and use him as a watchdog, but don't really love him.  It doesn't help that he's ugly, huge, wild and barks constantly.  The poor thing barks because he's so miserable.  See what I mean?  Sad story.  Well, Orville sees a woman move in next door and he falls in love.  He breaks his chain, gets into Sally's house and watches over her while she sleeps.  She wakes up shocked to find a huge ugly dog in her living room and calls the fire department.  Orville is dragged back home by the farmer only to break free again and go back to Sally's house.  This happens several times before a firefighter makes the observation that maybe the dog loves her.  The only thing that could have made this book perfect is better illustrations.  I didn't care for the watercolors that left out so much detail and looked sloppily done.  Other than that, it was a beautiful book.  It's a tale of heart-rending loneliness, of neglect and loss.  But it's also a tale of love and joy.  Geared towards children, it's not too sad but just enough for me to have a good talk with my kids about that poor sad dog and why he was now happy.

The second book was Kaline Klattermaster's Treehouse and was written a few years ago.  It's a juvenile fiction book, so about 150 pages and great for a 2nd or 3rd grader to read.  It would also make an excellent read-aloud book, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Kaline Klattermaster is an odd little seven-year-old boy who doesn't understand why he can't play his imaginary bugle at school, dig holes in his yard and then cover them up with grass for someone to fall into, explore his strange neighbor's basement, or figure out where his father has disappeared to.  His father always made sure to set the timer for his bath, brushing his teeth and other activities that need regulation.  Things with his father are always very orderly, giving the reader the distinct impression that this guy has a serious case of obsessive compulsive disorder.  Kaline's mother is not nearly as orderly, driving on the grass and making Kaline eat a chicken leg for breakfast after forgetting to wake him up in time for school.  Nothing like his father.  In defense of the bullies at school and his no longer orderly household, Kaline imagines up two big brothers, who also happen to be in the third grade, and an enormous treehouse to play in.  It keeps him safe and helps him cope with the fact that he doesn't know where his father has gone.

Doesn't that sound like a sad story?  Then let me tell you that I laughed out loud over and over and over again reading this book.  I laughed until I thought I would get a stitch in my side.  Kaline has the best imagination I have ever read about.  My oldest daughter and I read it and quoted it to each other and laughed over it and talked about it and read it again.  I could own this book.  When my daughter had her birthday, she'd convinced herself I was giving her a copy of Kaline Klattermaster and was sorely disappointed that she got Nancy Drew instead. This book was a treasure and despite the fact that it's dealing with separated parents, a little boy lost and confused, and nasty school bullies, you can't help feeling lighter after reading it. 

How does she do it?  How can Haven Kimmel take such sad circumstances and make you laugh out loud over them?  Like in A Girl Named Zippy, she doesn't mope or generate pity for less than ideal circumstances, and in some cases really horrible situations, but instead finds reasons to laugh.  Not all her books are like that.  Oh my goodness, Iodine was not funny in the least, nor some of her other books, but when she aims to create humor, she does it splendidly.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I can't wait to read these! Nobody beats Haven Kimmel done well, and these sound like real jems. A little more Zippy and a little less Iodine is my idea of a good time!