29 November 2007

BSB Flashback: Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing

8 June 2007

Author: Judi Barrett
Illustrator: Ron Barrett

From the same brilliantly warped minds that brought you Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, comes this cantankerous manifesto about the ridiculousness of animals wearing clothes. My favorite example is the moose getting thwarted by a pair of suspenders.

Animals wearing clothing is always a strange proposition, especially in the world of cartoons. This was at the heart of one of the most confounding questions of childhood--what is known as The Goofy and Pluto Paradox.

I'm sure you are all familiar with this: Goofy and Pluto are both dogs. Goofy, however, always wears clothes and walks and talks like a human, while Pluto is a more traditional dog who can only bark and saunters around in his birthday suit. Yet they both exist in the same world... how can this be? As a child, you are expected to suspend disbelief and take for granted that within the same world, one dog could be an autonomous being, while the other is a mouse's pet. Though I must admit that I don't ever remember Goofy and Pluto appearing in the same cartoon. The animators at Disney must have known that the idea of Goofy taking Pluto out for a walk was too much to ask, even of children.

When exploring the "Magical World of Disney," you find a common thread that begins to explain the difference between the more human animals from the less human. That common thread is clothing. Disney has built a strange mythology in which clothes act as the catylyst that unleashes the anthropomorphic potential in animals. (Apparently, instead of eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, all you have to do is buy a pair of slacks from Banana Republic.) In the Magic Kingdom, it really is the clothes that make the man. I mean, there is no way Pluto would walk around barking on all fours if they allowed him to put on a sweater vest and some Dockers.

A Few More Examples:

Chip N' Dale: In the early days, these two are a couple of mischievous chipmunks who have human characteristics, but are still very much animals. They don't talk, they just chatter in a way that seems vaguely human. They also do not wear any clothes.

It isn't until they start wearing clothes that they become Chip N' Dale: Rescue Rangers! Sporting fancy new duds, these mischievous chipmunks become fully humanoid and start their own detective agency.

And there is no way that they would dare to solve crime without clothes... like Adam & Eve after putting on that first fig leaf, they are too much too self-conscious now. Once they've put on their first article of clothing, there's no turning back. They would be ashamed to go au natural, so they will be forced to wear clothes forever. (Somewhere, the snakes that run the fashion industry are laughing and rolling around in their piles of money.)

(Note: Further evidence can be found in the dehumanizing quality of Chippendales, an organization dedicated to men taking their clothes off and turning themselves into objects. )

Donald Duck: The humanizing power of clothing can also explain the trials of the tragicomic Donald Duck. Perhaps his debilitating speech impediment and inability to control his emotions can be attributed to the fact that he only wears a sailor top and no pants (though, to be fair, he's not the first sailor to be caught without any pants on). Maybe he cannot fully master the human art of conversation until he becomes fully-clothed. (It should be noted that Mickey wears shorts but no shirt. So technically, he is not fully clothed either. But this form of half-nudity is much more conventional among humans. So there is no conflict there.)

Which brings up another question: How come Donald Duck never wore pants... but he would wear a bathing suit? What gives?! Where is the logic in that?! Rumors are that Finland, apparently fed up with Donald's antics, banned the Duck in 1977, citing indecent exposure. So... nudity is fine, but partial nudity is indecent. Apparently, Finnish laws are as confounding as the laws that govern the Magic Kingdom.

Plagiarism Disclaimer: It seems inevitable that a discussion about Donald Duck's lack of pants takes place in a Kevin Smith movie. It has to have been a side conversation in Clerks or Clerks II, but I don't know for sure. If you know of any such conversation, I'd appreciate the reference... and a copy of the DVD sent to my home.

A Quick For Your Consideration Note:

Consider the relationships of these four characters...

Does this sound vaguely familiar to you? Now check out the relationships between the characters below:

Uncanny, isn't it? Bizarro Jerry, meet Bizarro Mickey.

23 November 2007

Live from the Bottom Shelf: The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes

Many of you know Max and Pinky from their first book, Best Buds. Well, now they are taking off (literally) in their new roles as Superheroes. And given their new superheroic status, there is only one logical thing for them to do now: apply to the Justice League.

The Justice League is a legendary collection of superheroes whose mission is to serve and protect humanity. The League first formed in 1960 and like any quality organization, is always looking to recruit new talent. However, being the most exclusive collection of superhuman talent in the industry, each applicant must endure a lengthy and arduous interview process. Max and Pinky are the latest in a long line of daring-doers to present their credentials to the prestigious Justice League hiring panel (made up of the founding members of the JL). Below is a transcript of their interview.

Justice League Interview: Max and Pinky
Application Number: 1013b
Date: 23 November 2007
Location: Secret Sanctuary

Superman: First I'd like to thank you both for coming in today. As the leader of the Justice League, I would like to congratulate you. We have had a particularly strong applicant pool this year, so the fact that you've made it this far in the interview process is impressive in and of itself. So let's get started, shall we? First of all, tell us why you're interested in joining the Justice League and what skills you would bring to our organization.

Max: Why don’t I start? I’ll begin by listing our attributes. First of all, I’m a young child and have just used the word attributes.

Pinky: That’s more a creepy anomaly than an actual skill.

Max: Anomaly?

Pinky: Geez! Now I’m doing it!

Max: Anyway, here’s what we’ve got going for ourselves. Sweet capes and masks.

Pinky: Homemade, mind you.

Max: Right. Also, we can fly.

Pinky: With surprising precision.

Max: Pinky, can you think of anything else?

Pinky: Um, that’s about it.

Max: Ok, to recap. Masks, capes, and flying.

Pinky: And a freakish vocabulary for a five year old and an underdeveloped pig.

Batman: As superheroes you have a lot of strengths, but what are your weaknesses? For example, it's widely known that you, Pinky, have a soft spot for marshmallows. What steps, if any, have you taken to safeguard against an evil villian who might use your love of marshmallows against you?

Who told you I like marshmallows? Anyway, I’d like to think of my love of marshmallows as a strength rather than a weakness. Maybe even an extension of my superpowers? After all, can anyone else in this room eat a metric ton of marshmallows before breakfast? Just give my dentist a call and I think you’ll find I’ve never had so much as a sore tooth.

Max: He’s right. It’s pretty ridiculous really.

Pinky: Of course, Max does have one major weakness.

Max: Yeah, it’s my sensitivity to overhead sunlight. Let’s just say there isn’t a lot between my scalp and the direct rays of the sun. But a liberal application of sunscreen usually does the trick.

Wonderwoman: Do you work well in groups or do you prefer working individually? I ask because we had this problem early on with Batman. His vigilante nature did not translate well to team work at all. Getting him to restock the copy machine was such an ordeal.

Batman: Hey, I didn't get a Master's in Criminal Psychology to be your freakin' copy boy!

Superman: Please Bruce, this is not the time. Max, Pinky, please answer Wonderman's question.

Max: I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’ve had our problems in the past. One incident was fairly well documented in a stunning piece of reportage called The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but we’ve since worked through our differences and have struck a compromise of sorts.

Pinky: I thought we agreed not bring that up.

Max: We’ll talk about this later, Pinky.

Flash: Hollywood is currently on a tear making superhero movies. After the Ben Affleck/Daredevil debacle, I have assumed responsibility for all negotiations with Hollywood. So, if we were to work out a movie deal, who would you choose to play the roles of Max and Pinky? And who would be your first choice for director?

Pinky: I’ll take this, Max. Actually, I’ve given this quite a bit of thought. The choices are simple. I’ve already discussed it with his agent over lunch and we’ve arranged for the role of Pinky to be played by Daniel Day Lewis. It’s an obvious physical match, and as far as acting goes it will really take a thespian of his skill and experience to capture the depth and subtlety of my character.

Flash: And who would play Max?

Pinky: I was thinking Ben Kingsley for obvious—

Max: Hold on! I think we’re still discussing this. So let’s not lock ourselves in, ok? But as far as directors go, Pinky and I were thinking of co-directing and producing.

Flash: Producing?

Max: Let’s just say things on the farm have been going fairly well and we’ve got the necessary resources to put this project into motion.

Pinky: We got in on marshmallows when they were a nickel a ton.

Aquaman: What are your long term goals? Where do you see yourselves 5, 10 years from now? And also, do you have any interest in joining the company waterpolo team? We've got a big game against the Xmen next week and we could really use some fresh blood.

Max: In ten years, I suspect I’ll be trying to explain to my teenaged friends why I’m having a conversation with a sarcastic talking horse named Chuck. And the waterpolo team sounds great, but don’t bother ordering me a swim cap.

Pinky: Are inflatable swimmies allowed? I’m not a strong swimmer.

Martian Manhunter: I don't have any questions. I can read minds, so I already know all I need to know about the two of you. Wait, actually, I do have one question: Can I have one of those marshmallows you have hidden in the folds of your cape?

Pinky: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Superman: Well, those are all the questions we have for now. Are there any questions you would like to ask us?

Max: Just one. Did we get the job?

Superman: We have your information, so we’ll be in touch. Thank you for coming in.

Pinky: We didn’t get it, did we.

Batman: The man said we'd be in touch. This interview is over. Our secretary will show you out. Robin! Show these two to the door... and get me some more coffee while you're at it!

Note: The Justice League is an equal opportunity employer and will consider all applicants regardless of race, gender, or planet of origin. All are encouraged to apply... as long as you have superhuman powers, that is. Please direct any questions regarding our hiring policies to the Justice League's Diversity Coordinators: Green Lantern (g.lantern@jleague.org) and Hawkgirl (h.girl@jleague.org).

For more information on the applicants, check out the Max and Pinky website or read Maxwell Eaton III's interview with Bottom Shelf Books. And if you want to send them a good luck message while they await the results of their interview, you can send them (or anyone else) a personalized Max and Pinky eCard.

Also, check out Eaton's sketch-a-day blog where you can find pictures like this:

Man, that's awesome. I don't think I'll ever get tired of that. In fact, if I ever got a tattoo, this would be it.

19 November 2007

Children's Book That Never Was: Babar's Revenge

Babar gets the Children's Books That Never Were treatment over at Saints and Spinners.

Coming soon to a theater near you?

Saints and Spinner's Children's Books That Never Were series (click here for all of them) is one of the greatest ideas ever. Blows sliced bread out of the freakin' water. Which is a good thing, because putting bread in water (let alone freakin' water) is never a good idea--unless you're in a hot dog eating contest. Actually, entering a hot dog eating contest is also never a good idea... so yeah, I think it's safe to say that Bread + Water = Gross.

But I digress. Point is, if I had a time machine and could travel back in time to steal ideas, Children's Books That Never Were would be near the top of my list. Unfortunately, my time machine will probably never be finished because there is simply too much football to be watched. (Go Pats!) So consider yourself lucky, Alkelda!

Going once, Going twice... SOLD for a good cause!

The Robert's Snow Auction is underway! (Officially at 9am on Monday.) So you better hurry and put in your bid for an original work of art from your favorite illustrator and support a great cause while you're at it.

Now, if you're one of those people who only likes to buy art from people you know... I completely understand. Luckily for you, illustrators were all interviewed, profiled, poked, and prodded so you getting to know them is just a few clicks away! Check out links to all the interviews here.

To whet your appetite before you embark on your wild spending spree, here is a sample of some awesome snowflakes. Enjoy!

"Wisconsin Snow" by Erin Eitter Kono

"Fishmas Tree Topper" by Patrick Girouard

"Max and Boris Dancing for You!" by Barbara Garrison

16 November 2007

Book Ban

From: State Board of Education

Re: New Book Ban

Given the raging hugging epidemic that is threatening to overtake our schools (see Alabama, Illinois, and Virginia), the School Board has decided to take preemptive action to stem this tide of unsanctioned emotion.

In response to this disturbing trend, the school board has passed a Zero Tolerance Policy on Physical Contact. This policy includes, hugs, high fives, handshakes, and all other inappropriate forms of Public Display of Affection (PDAs).

In order to maintain the integrity of this new policy, the following books (see list below) are now banned from all school libraries, classrooms, and personal collections. The School Board has decided (through a unanimous vote) that these titles are no longer appropriate because they promote subversive behavior which may undermine the authority of school administrators.

This ban is effective immediately. A School Board representative will be conducting periodic site visits to ensure that these books are no longer present on school grounds. Schools that continue to carry these titles will be reprimanded immediately through a series of escalating sanctions and funding penalties.

Banned Book List

The following books are banned and are to be extricated from all school grounds immediately. This list, however, is a small sample and should not be considered complete. As a precaution, all books with the word "hug" in the title, or any books featuring any illustrations of hugging or hug-like behavior should be permanently removed or placed under lock and key in a state-approved vault until further notice.

Title: HUG
Author/Illustrator: Jez Alborough
Official Reason for Ban: Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Title: Hug Time
Author/Illustrator: Patrick McDonnell
Official Reason for Ban: No time is Hug Time when you're at school.

Title: A Hug Goes Around
Author: Laura Krauss Melmed
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
Official Reason for Ban: The contagious nature of hugs is precisely the reason for the Zero Tolerance Policy.
Note: The school board is approaching Ms. Melmed and Ms. Lewin to propose that they revise A Hug Goes Around as a cautionary tale for children that will be used in schools to discourage this inappropriate behavior.

Please distribute this list to all faculty, parents, students, and other concerned citizens. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter and cannot stress enough how vital this is to the educational and social-emotional future of our children. Together, we can rid ourselves of this shocking behavior and minimize the disturbing displays of human emotion that are currently infecting our schools.


State Board of Education

12 November 2007

Veterans Day Flashback: Slaughterhouse Five

14 April 2007

Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

In memory of the recently departed Kurt Vonnegut, here is an excerpt from Slaughterhouse-Five (abridged for the sake of out-of-context clarity) that, I think, would make a wonderfully poignant children's book.

For some context, one of the characters--Billy Pilgrim--turns on the tv and watches a movie about American bombers in World War II. However, because of his unusual circumstance (you have to read the book to understand), he sees the movie unfold backwards--starting at the end and ending at the beginning. Now, a guy watching a TV movie wouldn't necessarily make for a great kid's book... but what he saw would:

"The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again."

Paired with the right illustrator (i.e. Bryan Collier of Martin's Big Words or the Marla Frazee from New Baby Train), this would make for a beautiful and powerful picture book... and a fitting testament to Vonnegut's vehement opposition to war.


07 November 2007

Breaking News: Legendary Rodent Stages Coup

Statement released by the Mickey Mouse Club:

"Enough is enough. I'm taking back the Magic Kingdom. -M. M."

Thanks to Quantum of Wantum for breaking the story. An anonymous source within the Mickey Mouse Club claims that Mickey was consumed by jealousy over Pixar's success and timed the coup to coincide with the release of Ratatouille in order to "put that upstart rat back in his place."

We will keep you posted as events continue to unfold.

05 November 2007

I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean!

SPOILER ALERT: The Excelsior File got it right when he said, "Honestly, I feel it's a bit much to forewarn of a spoiler on a picture book, but when I picked this jolly little thing up I wasn't prepared for the twist and actually laughed. out. loud. If you would like a chance at the same ignore this review right now and go check it out for yourself."

So yeah, go read the book. You have been warned. Now, back to business.


[The following is a partial transcript from the presentation, "From the Belly of the Beast: The Metaphysical in Children's Literature". The presentation discussed Kevin Sherry's I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and was part of the 28th Annual Conference on Comparative Children's Literature hosted by the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture. Per their request, the speakers' names have been removed from the record.]

Speaker 1: It is my contention that Sherry's Giant Squid represents a modernized heroic ideal. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it opens with a giant squid proudly proclaiming that he is, in fact, big. He then proceeds on a tour of the ocean, pointing out that he is bigger than clams, those fish, these fish, that shark, etc., etc. In a sudden twist of fate, the squid is swallowed up by a blue whale. Rather than be defeated by this unforeseen turn of events, the squid bravely exclaims, "I am the biggest thing in this whale!" We should all be so strong of character. This unwavering optimism in the face of overwhelming adversity is the only heroic response to the uncertainty of the human condition. To stare death, doubt, and obsurity in the eye and proclaim, "I am!" That is the modern definition of heroism.

Speaker 2: Pardon my French, but bulls--t! This is exactly the kind of wanderlusting and daydreamy wimpering that is watering down today's intellectual landscape. The giant squid is no hero, he is the anti-hero, indicative of all that is fundamentally wrong with the human condition. The story starts out innocently enough, with the squid asserting that he is "big". Okay, fine. Unfortunately, he is not content to leave it at that. He is compelled to go through the ocean lording his size over the other beings unfortunate enough to cross his path. The squid's need to demean others in order to assert his dominance highlights one of the tragic flaws of humanity. Our species-wide insecurity gives birth to the compulsive need to establish/impose social hierarchy, often through the use of force. This is why our historical record is no more than an unending parade of war and death. It is why the pursuit of any kind of utopian ideal is ultimately an exercise in futility.

Speaker 1: I believe my esteemed colleague is suffering from, what we in the business refer to as: The "Glass is Half Empty" Syndrome. [crowd laughter] Now if--

Speaker 2: The glass is not half empty! My whole point is that there is no glass! We have created the myth of a divine "glass" that holds existence together, but the sad truth is that there is nothing there. The glass is an illusion that we have created for ourselves so that we may go on with our sad and pathetic lives. We are afraid to face the fact that, without a glass, without divine reason, we are just a sad puddle of coincidence just waiting for someone to come by and clean up the mess.

Speaker 1: Are you quite finished? If you'll allow me to continue, ladies and gentlemen, [Speaker 2]'s brand of pessimistic logic is exactly why we need a hero like the Giant Squid. Once swallowed by the whale, the Squid does not surrender. He merely takes a moment to compose himself, makes the best of the situation, and maintains his triumphant spirit. If you, [Speaker 2] were faced with that same situation, perhaps you would lay down your arms, proclaim the futility of it all, and resign yourself to float, adrift in a cess pool of your lukewarm agnosticism and solipsistic self pity... but where is the heroism in that? No, the heroic response is to scream defiantly into the echo chamber of the heavens, if for no other reason than to hear the reaffirming sound of your own voice calling back to you. Optimism may be a grand illusion, but it is our best weapon against existential futility and tragic resignation.

Speaker 2: Do you really buy this junk? This squid is not a modern day hero, he is a modern day Don Quixote, a self-delusional, albeit endearing, nincompoop whose flawed logic only leads to his own destruction. For the sake of argument, let's assume that there is some universal order, some divine logic... then we must ask ourselves, WHY was the giant squid swallowed by the whale? What message is being sent through this turn of events? Simple: It was karmic retribution for his audacity and hubris. And how does our "hero" respond to this divine slice of humble pie? It barely phases him. He appears to be incapable of learning his lesson or any lesson for that matter. He merely readjusts the terms of success in order to suit his needs. This is the kind of slippery moral relativism that undermines the most sacred treasure of our humanity: our ability to distinguish right from wrong. In fact, you know who the squid reminds me of? One George--

Speaker 1: Oh please, let's not go down that road again...

Speaker 2: ...W. Bush! Like our misguided squid, George W. Bush follows his own path of perceived greatness, his self-proclaimed largesse dragging the country, nay the world, on his imperial march into the quagmire that is this neverending misadventure in Iraq. And faced with adversity, he merely changes the rules of the game as he goes along. First, we invaded because we had to get rid of WMDs. When those were nowhere to be found, he declared Iraq to be an exercise in sowing the seeds of democracy in the Middle East. When that turned out to be a failure, he lowers his bar for success yet again, redefining success as a decrease in the number of daily car bombs. Can't you see people?! I am the walrus, George Bush is the squid!

Speaker 1: On that note, I think we're just about out of time. I'd like to thank everyone for coming and--

Speaker 2: I'm not done yet! You can try to silence me, but you can't silence the truth! What are you afraid of, [Speaker 1]? What, were you a member of Skull and Bones in college with Bush? Were you in the same secret society?

Speaker 1: I think that's quite enough. Security, can you please help [Speaker 2] to his seat?

Speaker 2: The squid is the tragic figure of our times! We must learn from his mistakes! We are not the biggest thing in the ocean! Excuse me, what are you doing? Are you arresting me? What are you arresting me for? Is everybody watching this? Hey, get your hands off me, what are you doing? We are not the biggest thing in this whale! We are--what, are you arresting me?! What did I do? Help! Help! Help! Are you kidding? You're arresting me. I am the biggest thing at this convention! What did I do? Get away from me!

Speaker 1: Folks, Folks, I think if we all just calm down, this situation [unintelligible].

Speaker 2: Help! Help! What did I do? What did I do? I didn't do anything! Hey, don't tase me, bro! I am the biggest thing in the OWWWWWW!!!! OWWWWWWWW!!!! OWWWWWWW!!!! What did I do...? What did I do...?

--end of transcript--

[For a video clip of this presentation, click here. For a complete transcript of the discussion or any other forums during the 28th Annual Conference on Comparative Children's Literature, or to send presentation proposals for next year's conference, email haroldp@acccl.org.]

Note: For the record, despite [Speaker 2]'s opinion, we at Bottom Shelf Books loved this book. In fact, we walked around the apartment shouting, "I'M THE BIGGEST THING IN THE OCEAN!" for about a month after reading it.