Deborah Jackson

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Freeze-frame Moment

So much of fiction is drawn from real life. The idea—a child refusing to practice the piano—suddenly emerges as a ghost story, or an overheard conversation becomes a piece of dialogue, sometimes taken totally out of context. A National Geographic story on caves becomes a thrilling and terrifying adventure deep within the earth's crust. And sometimes you have these moments, freeze-frame moments you'd like to capture for eternity, just like the still-shot of an eagle in flight.

I had one of these moments last night.

It was Meet the Teacher night at my son's school. My son had also volunteered to help out in the Scholastic Book Fair, along with a couple of his buddies.

I entered the library, with all of its colourful displays: a rainbow assortment of hardcover and paperback picture books arranged in fans on tables draped with white tablecloths, the older early chapter books, middle grade, and nonfiction books stacked side by side on upright displays. Of course there were the inevitable nonfiction titles front and centre, one about mummies, with a crumpled face on the cover, another about the supernatural, with an abstract cover that looked like someone had splattered phosphorescent paint on it, and even some with the rather bland black and white scenes from World War II. I must say I was fascinated with the holographic switch from ordinary human face to werewolf on one book, but I'm getting tired of the vampire/werewolf craze.

I did what I usually do. I began browsing the nonfiction titles first, then the picture books for my great-nieces and nephews—although it's really because I have a secret love for Scaredy Squirrel and Olivia even though I'm way past the age where I'm supposed to—and gravitating, inevitably, to the middle grade and teen books. I picked up a book called Plain Kate with this quote on the back, "Plain Kate is anything but plain. Full of poetry, magic, humor, sorrow, and joy—featuring possibly the most delightful talking cat in children's literature." Okay, everything but the sorrow piqued my interest.

Next to this book I found a Newbery Honor award-winning book about a dog and some cats. It also had a quote on the back and a blurb that intrigued me. I can't remember exactly what it was, and I won't tell you the title, because that wouldn't be fair to the author.

So I chose these two books and my daughter chose another. We headed over to the cash where my son and his two friends were tallying prices.

My son's friend looked at this particular book and said, "The dog dies."

"What?" I exclaimed. "Are you telling me the ending?" Thinking, you've just destroyed my reading experience. Why would you tell me the ending?

"No, I haven't read it," he replied.

"Then how . . .?"

"It's an award-winning book," he said. "The dog dies. Someone always dies."

I looked at the book. I looked at him. These kids are wiser than they're ever given credit for and a bit fed-up with being told what they should read.

"You do realize you've just talked me out of a sale," I said, and put the book back.

His other friend chastised him. "What kind of a salesman are you?"

He just shrugged, a shrug that probably meant, "I tell 'em like I see 'em."

Now . . . I'm not saying that a book with a good dose of reality isn't a worthy book. I'm just saying I don't want to be depressed every time I read, and I wasn't in the mood to read a depressing book. And I think he was saying that too.