The other night, I was reading this book to the kids before bed, which seems like a simple thing. Just sit down, relax, and listen to a picture book, right? Wrong.
Liam: “I think it’s unsettling how her nose and her chin are practically the same length.”
Alison: “Yes, they’re both unusually long and pointy, aren’t they?”
Liam: “Her fingernails are also really long and pointy.”
Alison: “That’s true. Speaking of which, I need to clip Arlo’s nails because they’re getting scarily long.”
Summerly [cackling uproariously]: “GET IT?!?! Speaking of “WITCH”?!?!”
It took us all probably a full three minutes to recompose ourselves after that, but the giggles didn’t fully go away until we got to the page where the ghost “boasted” about his size and strength. Summerly said she didn’t like that he was being boastful. We discussed that it was true that the ghost was bigger and stronger than the witch, so it all depended on how he pointed out those facts: did he offer to lend a hand with the pumpkin in a helpful way, citing the likelihood that he could wrest the gourd from its vine by virtue of his physical capabilities? Or did his tone indicate a superiority complex, as suggested by the word “boast”? Since this book features rhyming, I suggested that he was being helpful, and the author used the word “boast” because it rhymes with “ghost” (“Look, guys! Isn’t it cool how words that are spelled so differently can still rhyme?”). However, when we encountered the next character, a vampire, he repeated the line the ghost used about being larger and mightier, again described as boasting. Since “vampire” and “boast” certainly do NOT rhyme, we decided that we wanted to change the motivation of these characters to make them helpful rather than self-aggrandizing. I read the line using the word “said” in place of “boasted”, but Summerly pointed out that at school they’re trying to use alternatives to “said” in their writing. So, for each of the characters we encountered until the end of the book, all who came to boast about their largesse and musculature, we substituted a different word each time. In our version, the ghost mentioned, the vampire exclaimed, and the mummy remarked. Then we discussed that the mummy identified as female, but we only knew this based on the use of feminine pronouns in the book to refer to her because, well, mummies are kind of inscrutable when it comes to identifying gender. Maybe the author chose to make the mummy a “she” because “mummy” also means “mommy”, one child said. Summerly also noticed that the word “and” appears on most of the pages of the book, to which Arlo added that “and” is one of his sight words. Then he sang the “sight words” song from school. We went on to discuss the author’s decision to rely heavily on repetition as well as rhyme, and why she may have chosen to incorporate so many words that, when spoken, sound like their meanings, prompting Summerly to ask if she could bring the book to school to show her teacher the examples of onomatopoeia.
You guys, we hadn’t even gotten to the part of the book where the bat comes on the scene yet. And we’d already completely eviscerated the book The Hallo-Weiner that night, practically cover-to-cover. (It features bullying, martyrdom, dysfunctional mother/child interactions, characters feeling shame about their fears, body image issues, borderline racism, and the protagonist ultimately being showered by the bullies, who never recognize the error of their ways, with candy and friendship, but not because they accept him for who he is; they’re only tolerant of him because he saved them from what they thought was a terrible spook. Don’t believe the positive reviews on amazon.com; author Dav Pilkey really screwed the pooch on that one.)
You know what’s exhausting? Bedtime stories!