Sunday, April 10, 2022

Crazy in Poughkeepsie and 13 Things Strong Kids Do

Pinkwater, Daniel. Crazy in Poughkeepsie
April 12th 2022 (or 5/10/22?)  Tachyon Publications

After a brief stint in summer camp, Mick returns home to find that his older brother, Maurice (that's MAW- riss) has returned from his trip to India with Guru Lumpo Smythe-Finkel and his dog, Kali, who will be sharing Mick's room. Maurice has quickly tired of spiritual guidance, and pawns his guru off on his younger brother, and the two are soon off having adventures. They spend time wandering around the town, begging for food, play video games, and soon run into Mick's friend from camp, Vern Chuckoff, and his new friend, Molly, the main character in Adventures of a Dwergish Girl (Neddie & Friends #4)(2020). The two are "crazy" and " make noise at night in residential neighborhoods, drink wine at night and.. [are] getting into stealing porch furniture." Vern has been spray painting slogans on the many abandoned factories around Poughkeepsie, and getting stale doughnuts from Dunk'n Dunk. Before long, the Guru gives Mick a flute, and suggests he learn to play it, since the group gets tangled up with a ghost from one of the factories who likes the flute. Since the ghost is of a giant whale names Luna, this sounds like a good idea. They also try to encourage people to save the planet by changing the messages in fortune cookies, look for a blue circus wagon in which they later travel around to places like Romany Bill's Resort, Campground, Hobo Jungle and Junkyard before settling Luna into her destination and getting on with their lives. 

I'm not sure if Pinkwater books are really plot dependent; the point seems to be silly event after silly event, interspersed with odd characters and ridiculous anecdotes. You could say that books like The Hoboken Chicken Emergency (1977) or The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death (1982) were the Wimpy Kid books of a previous generation in this regard, although Pinkwater stays true to his stream-of-consciousness, wacky style. Mick's interactions with Guru Lumpo Smythe-Finkel, Vern Chuckoff, and the Dwergish Molly (whose background is not well explained, but merely hinted at) are the primary focus of this unusual adventure. 

Pinkwater, at 80, remains steadfast in his style, and even manages to give a vintage flair to most of the book. The car of choice is 1958 Buick Limited Convertible handed down from a grandfather, there's a Gobble Gobble Country Kitchen, and a shout out to circuses, which I suspect Pinkwater wanted to feature more prominently in the book, but instead acknowledges that these are more of a relic of the past. 

Aaron Renier does a great job at capturing the feel of Pinkwater's (and later his wife Jill's) illustrations; sort of like a twelve year old was given a Flair pen and a pile of Mad magazines, and told to illustrate the book while sitting on a plaid couch in a basement rec room with incense burning. There is a lot of humorous detail in the pictures, and a retro feel to the clothing and settings that goes along quite well with Pinkwater's writing. 

The new millennium has brought a lot of changes in middle grade literature, with more books tending to harken back to the 1950s in their level of didactism about all manner of issues, and fewer books exhibiting a good sense of humor and lightheartedness. Pinkwater is the pastmaster of the goofy, and stays true to form with his newest adventure.

Pinkwater books were one of the first things I weeded when I started in my library in 2002; they didn't circulate well, were in bad condition (which means they circulated well at some point), and seemed very outdated. He definitely speaks to a particular audience, but since I don't have any of them in my student base, I will probably pass on purchasing this, especially since there are some updated conventions that are ignored, like the use of "crazy" in the title. 

Morin, Amy. 13 Things Strong Kids Do.
6 April 2022, HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Putting a kid-friendly, more positive spin on her 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, Morin offers young readers a constructive work book to change their outlook on life. Covering important coping skills like "They Adapt to Change", "They Know When to Say No", and "They Persist", the chapters on each are set up in similar ways. Starting with an anecdote about a fictional child as an example, the principal being covered is then examined. Readers are encouraged to "Check Yourself" and reflect on their personal reactions to similar situations. There is a "Closer Look" at other experiences children might have. There is a space to write a reflection, "Proof Positive" going back to the fictional example, and a question about the character's growth using the suggestions that the book has offered. There are also exercises, traps to avoid, and quick tips to help process the emotions of given situations. There are engaging line illustrations to illustrate the stories and add interest.

Young readers who might be struggling with coping mechanisms will be able to see themselves in these stories, but also be able to distance themselves from their own emotions while learning to understand how their reactions can help form their experiences. This generally has a positive tone, and since the author is a psychologist, I will assume that the latest research is reflected in these strategies. This would be a useful book for parents to read as well, since much of the introductory chapter seemed directly at odds with the way I was taught to process emotion! Things do change, and sometimes it is hard for those of us who are older to keep up with current trends.

This is a paper over board binding, so the price point should be slightly lower than a dust jacketed hardcover and would be a good book for a young readers who struggles with emotions, organization, or event processing to have as a personal copy. Reading this at one sitting is not the most effective way to digest the information, and clearly none of the recommended work gets done consuming the book in this fashion. This is best used a chapter or a section at a time, so that appropriate thought and reflection can be given to each component.

I'm sure there are many children's self-help books out there, especially since children are all a bit fragile after the pandemic. Sadly, I don't know any titles to recommend. My mother would have scoffed at this one, since her approach to life , which she drilled into me, is completely dismantled in the first chapter as "trying to look tough". This is a great book to have if you, like me, think it best to pretend you don't have any feelings and try hard to look like you are doing well to other people. Of course, that wouldn't be enough for my mother; she would also admonish you to stand up straight and get your hands out of your pockets.

More on Ms. Morin can be found on her website:

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