{book} lulu and the brontosaurus

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Do you know an early reader who is a spoiled? A reader, who, like Lulu, is a pain? Not “a pain in the elbow” or “a pain the knee,” but “a pain–a very big pain–in the butt” (3)? Maybe said person isn’t a reader but would be willing to sit down and enjoy a nice story by Judith Viorst and illustrations by Lane Smith? Of course you do not know any such small person. Good thing Lulu and the Brontosaurus isn’t only for them.

Lulu always gets what she wants. Even if it takes screeching till the lightbulbs burst, throwing herself on the floor, kicking her heels, and waving her arms in the air. Until now. For when she asks her parents to give her a brontosaurus for her birthday, they say–for maybe the first time ever–“No!”

So Lulu takes matters into her own hands and finds her self the perfect brontosaurus for a pet. Or is he? I’m not telling. –publisher’s comments.

What I had to appreciate about Lulu is that when she doesn’t get her way, “she takes matters into her own hands.” I can’t help but like independent minds, even when they reside in awful-behaving little children.

Lulu doesn’t have a hissy because she is helpless or incapable. And maybe that is why she truthfully seems so monstrous. It isn’t that she is demanding what she needs and is being denied it. Nor is it that she is asking the impossible and the parents are the only ones with access. (Yes, the brontosaurus is indeed possible in this story.) As she learns by the end of the book (regardless of which ending you choose), there are other means of finding what it is you want–because it isn’t the wanting that is bad, it is the way in which you ask for it. If one really wants something, perhaps they should consider more acceptable ways to go about it. Being polite, and offering gifts in trade (bribery) may be good options. Lulu would teach diplomacy.

Lulu also speaks to entitlement. Is what Lulu wants a bad thing? She wants a brontosaurus for a pet. Yes, impractical, but bad? “A pet is a very good thing” (52). Even the brontosaurus agrees. Of course, there is some miscommunication (of yet another form). Who gets to decide who the pet (read subordinate) is here? Why should the brontosaurus be the pet, why not Lulu as the pet? Which is a funny idea, especially in light of what we’ve seen Lulu do this far into the story: She defied her parents, squeezed a snake very hard, hit a tiger on the head with her suitcase, and stomped on a bear’s foot making him limp away. She would disrespect her parents, leave home, sing loudly and disturb the animals resting while she goes “tromping” through the forest, how would this giant mythic beast make Lulu into a pet? When it seems impossible that Lulu will be able to change, the impossible happens. She learns to empathize. She learns to regret her actions. And the epiphanies do not come easy nor out of character.

Judith Viorst (of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) is a poet and she implements her craft in Lulu. Lulu has her catchy songs, and the text has a nice read-aloud quality. Viorst also plays to another of her strengths, defiance. The story is hardly predictable, and while imparting a few wise messages, she would share it for the child’s sake, not the parents’. Really, the only heroic figure is the brontosaurus, who is noticeably more childlike and Lulu-like, than elderly and sage.

The narrator admits to taking liberties with the story and inserts funny parantheticals along the way. And pretty much immediately, the narrator reflects an irreverence, defying institutional dictates–like paleontologists’ (right) decision to rename the brontosaurus as apatosaurus. If you don’t mind the narrator’s willfulness then proceed and experience it some more–the blame is on the reader, they were given an out. The narrator, though unspecified, is hardly typical in the way one ending after another is discarded in favor of something a bit more suitable. As the narrator would engage the reader in the story-telling process, the multiple endings are hardly surprising, nor is the narrator’s encouragement for them to pick the one they like. There is something co-conspiratorial about the whole book.

Lane Smith (illustrator ofThe Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales) translates the sassy Lulu into an irrepressible figure who, even when small still dominates the page. She never looks helpless for long–because, well, she isn’t. He really complements the text. I dig his use of stripes, circles, and sharp angles. And the pencil on pastel paper creates a nice texture to the black/white images. The divider pages (as seen above) are a nice green that bridges mad-house walls and nature’s forests. The juxtaposition/sequences of classical elements with the non-traditional is wondermous.

Viorst, Lane, and Lulu play with what is expected and the unsuspecting. I would encourage anyone to play along.

———————————————–

recommendations: early-young readers and non-readers. Lulu is usually found in Juvenile Fiction, where parents of pre-schoolers should be browsing anyway. For people who like their independent-minded children to remain so and yet still have manners and empathy. For story-tellers and lovers of the ridiculous and smart.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith

Atheneum (Simon&Schuster), 2010; hardcover,  115 pages. [I own this one.]

{images: all are illustrated by Lane Smith: (top) p 24-25 via “Lane Smith’s Art” blog; (middle) p 46-47, 30-31 via Simon & Schuster; (bottom) the cover}

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