This blog post was begun late Saturday night, the minutes before Sunday officially began. Because that’s when I finished Inkdeath. But if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll notice that I really don’t want to make more than one post a day. I’d much rather hold that post unpublished until I’m sure I won’t be finishing any more books that day. And so while I started this before bed, it’s almost a full day later that I’m posting it because there’s got to be Sunday’s reading included. Right? At least, that’s what the self-imposed rules of the blog tell me.
What you didn’t know is that the day I started off with The Superior Spider-Man comic book, that started in bed. Around 3:30am, when I woke up, couldn’t get back to sleep, and opted to read the single comic issue I had as something short but engaging enough to help me get back to sleep. But before I went back to bed, I grabbed my tablet and started that day’s blog post. I’d actually forgotten about that by the time the post was published, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
So, Inkdeath. The finale of Cornelia Funke’s trilogy. My friend says it’s their favorite entry, or at least the first couple thirds are. They also say the ending is…not great. Which I understand. I feel like a lot of books can fall apart at the end when authors hastily try to tie up all the loose ends and give all the heroes their happy endings. Or not, but usually so.
I will never forget the movie Stranger Than Fiction which has some elements in common with this trilogy. The story is meant to end one way, but the author decides to change it even though everyone, absolutely everyone, agrees the original ending would be better. And I’d thought of several ways the book could have a proper ending, one of them being the technique Frank Beddor used at the end of The Looking Glass Wars. And yes, I’m trying hard not to spoil things.
I think, for me, Inkdeath began going downhill when Resa decided to be a more prominent character, not just the pregnant wife who can be threatened with violence to compel the protagonist. I’m also not sure how I feel about Dustfinger after…well, after. Things definitely change a person and he feels rather hollow afterwards.
And Fenoglio is still an ass. Orpheus is an even worse one of course.
The very last bit of the conclusion though, that was well written. I don’t think it makes up for the muddle that preceded it, but credit where credit is due.
In the end, yes, these books tell a solid story that is more interesting than Inkheart made me fear. And I’ll even keep the whole trilogy, although I seriously doubt I’ll ever reread the first book unless if I can spend decades forgetting how much of a frustrating slog it was. I don’t often get that pissed off at fictional characters, so, good job Funke? I also see no purpose in looking up more of the author’s work. There’s better things to waste my time and money on. At least there is a bright side; these books are rather large for their contents, so reading them has cleared a decent amount of space in my Pile. Sure, there’s still a number of books in it, but most of them are much smaller, simply by formatting.
And now that I’ve finished this chore, there’s a reward in my future. Unless if time has betrayed my memory…
That’s right, this is an old book. The text is from 1947, the illustrations from 1957, and this particular edition is from 1987. It’s also likely the most damaged book in my library that is meant to still be read. (There’s a prayerbook over a hundred years old that is worse off, but I wouldn’t be reading that anyway.) This is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, with illustrations by Hilary Knight.
Now, I’ve known this book was in bad shape for years, even though it’s been well over two decades since I last revisited the world of the eccentric, child-loving Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The damage is a large part of why I haven’t reread the book in so long, as most of the pages like to slip away from the spine. It’s a shame, and I loved this book so much that I’ve decided I need a new copy. Well, not a new copy. There’s a more recent edition with new illustrations, but those aren’t the ones I’m accustomed to and, more importantly, I always felt Hilary Knight’s images perfectly captured MacDonald’s story.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is like a fairy godmother or Mary Poppins come to life, but without any actual magic. She’s a little old matron, a widow, who lives in an upside-down house in a small town in 1940s America. She loves children and make-believe and making chores fun. And she knows how to deal with all the bizarre behaviors a child can come up with. The book has eight stories inside. You could call them chapters, but they really are more a collection of short stories featuring Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The first, of course, introduces the character to reader and town, and the other seven are some of her famous cures for behavioral afflictions.
My personal favorite, for reasons still unknown to me, is “The Radish Cure”. In this story, a little girl suddenly refuses to bathe. Her mother calls several of the other local mothers, but all of their children love bathtime. In desperation, she turns to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Now, sometimes the strange woman has a special kit that she will lend out to the poor mothers, but this time all that’s needed is a pack of radish seeds. When the dirt on the child’s skin is about a half inch thick (isn’t that disgusting?) from not bathing, the mother is to plant the seeds on the girl. Once the radishes show three leaves, they are ready to be plucked. There’s even a dad joke in this one, once the child realizes what’s going on. It’s a simple story, but quite entertaining and memorable.
All of the stories are along those lines, but that’s no bad thing. And there’s no actual magic involved with any of them, meaning that it’s wholly possible to implement these “cures” in real life. Your success may vary, of course, because life is not a story. (OR IS IT? Thanks Inkheart.) But it’s nice that for all there’s an element of the fantastic, these stories are still so down to earth.
Now, what about the fact that they’re seventy years old? To be honest, there’s not much here that’s problematic from that perspective. Yes, they use the word “Indians” instead of “Native Americans”, but that’s one thing that I’m generally willing to overlook, especially if there’s nothing harmful meant in it. And a friend of mine pointed out that “The Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker Cure” is essentially a starvation diet, but on the other hand the kid is really doing it to themself with no encouragement needed.
There’s something wonderful about reading a book I loved as a child and realizing that it’s just as wholesome now as it was when it was first published.
The other Betty MacDonald book I have is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm. By this time Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, for reasons not elucidated in any of these five stories, has moved out of her upside-down house and onto a farm outside of town. She has a whole host more animals than before and now finds it easier to help children if they’re brought to stay with her for a while. Certainly the parents find it easier to not have their obnoxious little brats at home while they’re being helped into a more useful attitude.
Interestingly enough, the pictures in this volume are by none other than Maurice Sendak, famed author of Where the Wild Things Are. I never liked them as much as Hilary Knight’s illustrations. In fact, I never enjoyed any of the stories in this book anywhere near as much as the first one. Maybe it’s because my life was far too suburban to be able to relate to spending any amount of time on a farm. Maybe it’s because these stories are longer but have less Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in them. Or maybe they’re just not as good. And at this point I’m not just going off vague memories more than twenty years old, I’m going off the fact that it just wasn’t nearly as fun to read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm as it was Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I suppose that could simply mean that you can only use the idea so many times without it getting old or that I really shouldn’t read that many children’s stories in a single day.
Let’s just say there’s probably at least one very good reason why this book is in perfectly acceptable condition and the other isn’t.
Now, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books weren’t the only ones on this shelf of children’s books that caught my eye with nostalgia. It’s an interesting shelf, including books that my parents had as children as well as ones they bought for me. And this next book is just as silly, if not a bit stranger. It’s from the fertile mind of Louis Sachar, whom you may know far better for writing a book that’s become standard reading in gradeschools across the country as well as a movie starring a young Shia LaBeouf. But I don’t need to reread Holes because it hasn’t been two decades or more since I last touched it. No, today we’re talking about Sideways Stories from Wayside School.
I’ve always loved the premise of Wayside School. For some reason, the builder built the place on its side, so that instead of thirty classrooms in a row, the school is thirty stories with one classroom on each floor. They’re all cute, brief stories too, some shorter than others. I’ve always loved the nineteenth story. “There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth story.” It’s like the same prinicple of positive and negative space that fascinate me in my art and design. (No really, I’m being perfectly serious.)
There was a lot I’d forgotten about, such as the thirtieth story’s first teacher Mrs. Gorf, especially when contrasted with the second teacher Mrs. Jewls. And the dead rats. How could I have forgotten about the dead rats? I did remember about Maurecia’s ice cream though.
I think I may have reread this a little more recently than Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, but it’s hard to remember because it has been so very long. I did finally take the Borders sticker off the back of the book though. More stores should use those kind – the ones that peel off cleanly even decades later.
Of course to finish off the lot I did have to continue with Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. I guess it’s a little weird that I only have two each of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Wayside School books when there are more from both. And as much as I enjoy and fondly recall (certain parts of) these books, I never was interested enough to seek out more from them. Although I suspect I picked up Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger from the school book fair, having seen it and been super excited about another Wayside School book.
I should mention that while the original Sideways Stories From Wayside School was published in the eighties, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger didn’t come out until 1995. What I’ve got is a gimmicky copy from 1996 that is so typical mid-nineties I don’t know how I can stand it. Like, the word “stranger” glows in the dark. Nothing else, and it has nothing to do with any of the stories in the book, but there you have it. Also, it’s advertised right on the cover that the thing glows. Because gimmicks.
Something I’ve always liked about these books is that while they’re episodic in nature, there’s references to earlier stories and ongoing consequences in several cases. The second book is more of a complete story than the first, which was really just a set of vignettes, but it still amuses me when Sachar keeps to his own internal rules, such as goozacks and the disappearance of anything that goes to the nineteenth floor. Where Miss Zarves has been teaching for thirty years. Also there is a cow in her classroom. I kind of love Miss Zarves.
I have to admit, I am now mildly curious about whether or not Wayside School is Falling Down presents any kind of conclusion. I mean, after Mrs. Jewls goes on maternity leave, there’s a lot of substitutes for her class on the thirtieth floor. Some are worse than others, but there’s adventures in dealing with all of them. Also there was a deplorable lack of dead rats in this book, but I wonder if they specifically haunt Mrs. Jewls, not her classroom.
Regardless, it’s clear why the Wayside School books have also become standards of early chapter books. The stories are simple and easy to read, but fun and relatable, even if the circumstances are a little absurd. I know when I first read them that I knew they were complete fiction, but that didn’t stop me from loving them all the same. It was well worth revisiting these children’s books after finishing Cornelia Funke’s trilogy. Even though Inkspell and Inkdeath were better than Inkheart, none of the books made a warm glow inside the way my childhood classics do. Which made them a better reward for getting through the trilogy. Because sometimes you just have to treat yourself with something you already know you love.