Book Review: James and the Giant Peach

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Because September had a “Banned Books Week,” as part of my “research,” I had my husband check a bunch of formerly challenged/banned children’s books out of the library.

I’d tried reading A Wrinkle in Time years ago, which I couldn’t get into (I preferred Peppermints in the Parlor, though I’m not sure that’s a relevant comparison) and The Giver (an interesting plot with not-so-interesting characters); for some reason, I had my husband return all the books except for James and the Giant Peach. It sat on my nightstand for weeks, and when I was too lazy (i.e. tired) to get up and get the other book I was reading, I opened it and was instantly captivated.         

I’m the first to admit that I generally prefer children’s poetry (i.e. fun and creative) over adult poetry (which often comes across as emo and pretentious), so I was pretty sure this book would stand the test of time.

It did and was even better than I remembered.      

I liked the illustrations—it helped cartoonize the creepy-crawly characters, which made them seem less gross.     

Though James Henry Trotter was likeable, he wasn’t super well-developed. It was what happened to him that made him a sympathetic character, rather than how he handled what happened to him.

That said, the creepy-crawlies all had their own little personalities that set them apart, though I did find that the male creepy-crawlies had stronger and more memorable personalities than the female ones; however, two of the three female creepy-crawlies did contribute much more to “the mission” than the male creepy-crawlies, so even though they didn’t have the gab, they had the gumption.  

Even though the verses were cute, I would’ve preferred them to be in dialogue form. For some reason, when I see poetry in a novel, it’s like an interruption to the story.

The only thing that was weird (and not in a good way) was the ladybug marrying the Head of the New York Fire Department. Humans and animals should never marry, and that goes for creepy-crawlies and humans, as well. Ladybug should’ve married one of the other creepy-crawlies, but then, what were her choices—an obnoxious-as-hell centipede, a blind earthworm who never shut up about his disability (even though earthworms are supposed to be blind), and a grasshopper that would’ve made her a widow any day.

Despite the bizarre coupling of the man and the ladybug, James and the Giant Peach was an incredible adventure (and perhaps a premonition of Monsanto’s crimes against food).

The Processes of Seed and Clay

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In the process of moving and going through old boxes, I found a medal I’d won my eighth grade year for “Excellence in English,” and I thought, Just when was it I knew I wanted to be a writer?

Paper had always been such a part of my life.  Before I was old enough to draw, I spent hours cutting it up.  (I believe snowflakes were my favorite creation.)  Once, while my dad was asleep, I cut up every paper in the house, causing him to throw my red Roger Rabbit scissors against the Butano heater in our Spanish apartment, breaking them.

As my brain developed, I began to illustrate the stories in my imagination, my fascination centering around the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (especially the Hanging Gardens of Babylon).  Then, my third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, had us keep journals.  I always wrote about my summers in Poplar Bluff; I was never interested in keeping a diary (I preferred to write creative nonfiction without the gushy stuff.)  I didn’t like writing about my feelings, save through the medium of poetry, so that no one could read this or that and say for sure, “That’s Sarah.”

Through poetry, I could reveal everything in plain sight.

I don’t know when it is that we know what we want to be–whether it’ll be in athletics, academics, or the arts.  I only remember my parents’ encouragement, never their pressuring me to be interested in any one thing (though my dad would only help me with history homework because it interested in him; if it was math or science, I was on my own).  Mom and Dad simply exposed me to what they could afford to; lucky for them, I was always drawn to books, such as the Berenstain Bears, Encyclopedia Brown, The Baby-Sitters Club series, and any books by Roald Dahl, as well as all the Newbery Medal award winners.  Books were my way out of poverty (literally and figuratively).  For years, I fancied myself as Francie Nolan from the movie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; I could write lies that weren’t lies because they were stories.

I am so grateful that my parents just let me be (I call it the Libertarian approach), which is why most of my daughter’s playtime is unstructured.  I see how she ignores the television (thank God) unless there’s music, during which she is immediately transfixed.  Maybe that’s why I enjoy singing to her so much (though it does get a bit daunting trying to come up with a different melody for every nursery rhyme).

When she starts kindergarten, I’ll enroll her in piano lessons (as music works every part of the brain).  My husband prefers classic instrumental, though I always balk a bit at that, because I’m a writer, so of course, lyrics matter (though I wanted only “Canon” played at my wedding).  I see lyrics as telling a story, the melody, making you feel that story.  With classical music, there is no story–you just feel. 

Poetry, for me, is the flip side of instrumentals.

Everyone should have something–something that encourages mindfulness, something that draws them outside themselves.  My craft does that for me; I will lose myself in it, yet I will find more of myself I hadn’t known was there.

Because I know how much fuller my life is with writing, I want my daughter to have an outlet (so far, it’s ripping up paper).  Children come to us a blank slate, and it’s our job, as parents, to shape them as if they were clay–to mold them into good human beings–but they’re also seeds that need to be watered with nurture so they can reveal what they are meant to become.

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