Monday, October 18, 2010

Chippy Chipmunk Parties in the Garden By Kathy Miller

As I was driving home this afternoon, I realized that the invention of the cell phone would have meant the end of Superman's secret identity. Where would Clark Kent suit up now that cell phones have ended the need for phone booths? Gas station bathrooms? Department store dressing rooms? And while I'm on the topic of well intended inventions that are well on their way to destroying the world as we have always known it, let's bring up Chippy Chipmunk Parties in the Garden.

You think I'm coming down on Chippy's story a bit too hard? You may be right. I mean, after all, it was a delightful little ditty about an adorable chipmunk that I'd like to carry around in my front pocket and feed peanuts in exchange for his love. But it did break one of those rules of fiction that I've been fed my entire life. Fiction isn't supposed to be illustrated by photographs. Okay, so it's a guideline more than a rule. Okay, so Chippy isn't the first fiction character to cross the uncrossable threshold into the world of Kodak, but...oh, who am I kidding? Look at the title!

Here's the problem with the world. By all accounts, I can't like this book. It's too adorable to be respectable. Chipmunks are innately cute. They're probably not-so-distant relatives of babies, bunnies, and teddy bears. However, luckily enough for me, I have no self-respect when it comes to my reading habits. I like the book. I like it because it's cute...and a little different. I like the idea. I can just picture where the thinking came from for this book. Someone observes a chipmunk and starts putting words in the adorable little rodent's mouth. She whips out the camera, goes a little chipmunk crazy, and next thing you know there's a book in the works.

It's not going to get her a comparison to Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck, but I don't think that's what she's after. I say, all hail Chippy! Why not? It does the job that so few other books are willing to, provide some mindlessly fun entertainment that's too adorable to hate.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I'll just come right out and say it. This is my favorite book. I think the first time I read it I was in fourth grade and my dad had an old copy of the book wedged in the back of his classroom bookshelf. I didn't understand it all at the time, but I remember loving Tock, Faintly Macabre, and the Dodecahedron. Now, many years later it is still my favorite book. I've read it quite a few times since then, and I feel like I understand it much better than I did in the past, though with every subsequent reading I feel like I appreciate something new about the book. It's such an extensive adventure that there's always some new facet to explore.

I think my favorite part has to be when Milo steps in for Chroma the Great. I am enthralled every time I read about the Colorful Symphony. The idea is so captivating. Of course, as things begin to go wrong for him I feel the anxiety and worry that Milo feels as well, and I am oh, so grateful when Chroma returns. All in all, that particular scene's power comes from the vivid description of a creation so utterly impossible and simultaneously believable. I really feel that I live as Milo when I read that. Regarding the book as a whole, I'd call it one of the greatest pieces of children's fantasy fiction ever written, and certainly the best by an American author. It's one of those books that you put down at the end saddened, not because of what you've read, but because you've only been given so brief a glimpse into that other world that you've loved so well.

Norton Juster has written other books since then, some that have earned him great recognition and acclaim, but for me the classic of his career will always be The Phantom Tollbooth. You just don't get two chances at greatness like that in one lifetime.