Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Wolves in the Walls

When I hear the name Neil Gaiman I think of Sandman comics, graphic novels with mature adult content that I won’t let my daughter read until she is twenty-seven (even though I started reading them when I was a teenager…mother’s prerogative). I don’t think of a child’s story. So, of course I was quite intrigued when I saw The Wolves in the Walls written by Mr. Gaiman sitting near the graphic novels in my favorite comic book shop.

I was immediately drawn to the aesthetics, but I did not purchase it. The page where the family is brandishing chair legs put me off. I didn’t want my daughter to read anything that was violent. I guess I should have kept reading.

A few months later we visited the public library and The Wolves in the Walls was displayed on a shelf that would have been eye level to an eight year old as we entered the children’s area. I was drawn to it like a dog to food. I snatched it right off the shelf and wondered if I should bother checking it out. Maybe I should wait until my three year old is a seven year old. Would it frighten my daughter like I knew it would another three year old at her daycare that worries about a giant spider with a large mouth coming to visit him at night?

I asked L (my daughter) if she wanted to get it. She took a quick look at the cover and said yes.

That night as I began to read The Wolves in the Walls to L, I prepared myself to give another talk on what is real and what is pretend, complete with the examples routine that she is so fond of. “If I say that mommy has pink eyes and blue teeth, is that real or pretend?” However, none of this was necessary. She loved the book.

The Wolves in the Walls takes the classic idea of a child knowing that something is not quite right yet no one listens to her, and twists it just right. A little girl named Lucy hears noises coming from inside the walls of her house, “…sneaking, creeping, crumpling noises,” and she knows it’s the noise of wolves hiding in there. She tries to tell the rest of her family, but to no avail. Although they don’t particularly believe her, her mother, father, and little brother all tell her (my daughter’s favorite line) “if the wolves com out of the walls, it’s all over.” Lucy questions this statement with a critical tongue each time it is alleged. The next night the noises stop, but then, suddenly, the wolves come out of the walls. The family flees from their home, only to take refuge in their garden where Lucy’s mother, father, and brother discuss other farfetched places they can live, places were there aren’t any wolves. Lucy, however, isn’t so ready to give up her home. Later that night she sneaks back into her house and through walls to her room, so she can rescue her treasured pig puppet. While in the house she witnesses the wolves doing the kinds of things you would do only in a house that did not belong to you. The next night Lucy convinces her family to go back into the house to sleep inside the same walls where the wolves had been waiting to break out. They didn’t sleep long because they were awakened by the sounds of the wolves having a party. Finally, the family gets fed up and Lucy leads them out of the walls to confront the wolves. How do the wolves react? They scream “…when the people come out of the walls, it’s all over” and dash out of the house. The family is able to get everything back to normal. But when Lucy heard “…a noise that sounded exactly like an elephant trying not to sneeze” she decides to keep it just between her and her pig puppet.

This book is a fantastic read. The words entice the reader to keep reading, even if the reader thinks the illustrations are a little creepy. Personally, I think they are great. The art is captivating for adults and children. There is so much to look at on each page that their eyes are glued to the book while being read to, which enhances what is being read. The art is a montage of what seems to be painting, pen drawing, photographs and computer graphics. The semi-abstract human characters both blend in with and stand out against their abstract back grounds. The wolves are brawn in ink or felt pin. All of the human elements (clothing, furniture) that are shown with the wolves remain in the same abstract form that they were seen in with the humans in the picture, which provide charismatic contrast. The bright, smooth texture of Lucy’s father’s tuba, the video game the wolves play on the television, and fire in the garden are quite distinct against the earth tones used throughout the rest of the book.

The person inhabiting username DuMarigny on the Common Sense Media website says that the family’s “…actions and conversations are similarly disjointed and confusing.” I have to disagree. If a child is able to read the book on their own and maybe learning about writing, they can absorb a real sense of the effectiveness of ordering within the story. They can also learn about syntax, as it is clearly triumphant in this book.

DuMarigny also states “…the action and images in the book are so distressing that there can be little understanding…to be gained from this story.” I think this reviewer is having trouble coping with a book that steps just a bit outside the norm. The book does hold some similarities with other excellent children’s literature. It gives the message that you should be yourself and stick to your beliefs when others doubt you or don’t agree. It gives the message of not giving up in the face of adversity. The book is wonderfully imaginative. But, as I have stated, with younger children you may need to be prepared for a talk on real and pretend.

The only part of this book that I am not sure works for it’s child readers takes place as Lucy is about to convince her family to retreat back to their house. After a line up of ‘what’s’ from her family Gaiman throws in another “what” from the Queen of Melanesia, who apparently stopped by to help with gardening. While I adore profound and nonsensical jabs that come out of nowhere I’m not sure a child reader would appreciate this. The only other show of the Queen is a page earlier where you see only her hands in the lower left corner cutting the grass with pruning shears, and you really have to be looking for that to see it. I must find test this book on children older than three to see if they catch the pure silliness.

On a 1 to 10 scale, I give this book, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by his long time counterpart Dave McKean, a 10. No doubt. Some reviews claim the book is for children six to eight and up, but I have seen it listed for ages four to eight. While the book seems like it may be for older children, my three year old loves it (OK, she’ll be four in less than four months). If I had to put up defining ages I would say four to ten, but with a comment on how it could inspire children even older than that. In her review, Carlie Kraft Webber wrote that “…this is most definitely a book for older readers.” I agree, somewhat. While I was willing to give a try with my daughter, knowing that I could explain the difference between truth and a story, I would not let her take it to daycare with her when she asked, for I knew that it would frighten the little boy with the giant spider in his room.

…and, oh yeah, it is fantastically creepy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


This morning as I was getting breakfast in the cafeteria at work I received …some bad news (these words can’t describe). One of my work friends (you know, one of those people you share your time with but if you were to leave the company, more than likely the friendship wouldn’t sustain) had just found out that her grandson had died. He was only three. three fucking years old. Six months younger than my daughter. He had been at my daughter’s second birthday party. At the party we kept trying to engage him but he seemed to be in his own little “J” world until I have him a little toy that twisted all over the place and had beads for noise, something simple.

At the time I received this news my friend did not know how it had happened and no one would tell her over the phone; however, she had her suspicions. Her daughter, J’s mother, is involved with a man who she allowed to hit J. They just had a baby together 6 months ago. My friend had called the authorities to report the abuse. Both children had already been taken away from the mother once and they are/were still investigating the man and J’s mother, if you can call her that. I mean she birthed him, but what beyond that? It was her responsibility to keep this child safe.

Of course I do realize that there is a possibility that my friend’s suspicions will not prove justified. That thought is the only thing keeping me from punching something.

I think I was in that denial stage at first because it took a few minutes for the news to sink in. Then I started crying. Another friend of mine was telling me that if J was being abused then he is in a better place, with God. This thought is what brought me back around when I started to slip so many times today.

But the idealist in me comes out. I’m not the person who thinks “things are bad but that’s the way the world is.” In my head, in this thought’s place is “It shouldn’t be that way. I will never accept the wrong and I will do whatever I can to change it.” This perspective battles with the comforting ideas my friend is trying to give me. J (and his baby sister) should never have been in this situation in the first place. He’s safe now.

I asked my grandmother once why we cry so when someone dies if we believe they go to a better place. The thought was provoked because I was telling her how I wish my grandfather, who had passed away eight years prior, could have met my daughter. Of course he will get to meet her, and he is probably looking at her right now. I will never forget the answer my grandmother gave. She said when someone dies we aren’t crying for them. We’re crying for the whole that is left in us when they are gone.

Right now I am feeling like the things I have been fretting over are somewhat petty. Any day that I still have my daughter is a good day.

“There was no way out except to keep going and hope there was a shining white light somewhere, with the voices of dead loved ones calling from inside it.”

- from Wounds by Jemiah Jefferson

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Enter the Rockin’ Mommy Blog.

The idea for this blog was birthed from a dilemma brought to surface in one of my attempts to persuade a friend of mine to move back to Florida. We discussed that neither of us were succeeding in finding mommy friends. We simply do not have much in common with the moms we meet, other than the fact that we have children. Some moms cannot even get past my tattoos and lip ring long enough to hear me speak on my parenting philosophies, teaching philosophies, or anything else.

This blog will be written from the perspective of a mom from the radical end of the conservative/radical spectrum. Here I can not only share and engage in conversation with other parents like me, but hopefully open the eyes of those more conservative, show them that just because a person has tattoos or piercings, or dyes his or her hair unnatural colors, does not mean that he or she is a bad parent.

The main focus of this blog will be parenting, but I will mix it up a bit. I want to give my perspectives on parenting and provide other parents with respectable resources. In addition to my wisdom (or opinions, depending on how you want to look at it), postings could include links to hard to find alternative clothing (for adults and children), introducing new music (for adults and children), tattoo artist finds, art finds, good literature, and any thing else that appeals to me or that I think might be enjoyed.

I want to encourage other parents to share their thoughts, experiences, and findings, and ask questions. I enjoy the want for networking without competition. Everyone is welcome. I want to offer friendship and a place without judgment.

I hope to bring a new perspective to the online parenting network, like I tend to do away from the computer. I have a tendency to open people’s minds if I can just get them to listen, but as I have stated, getting them to listen is the hard part. I am often told “Before I talked to you I thought you looked really mean.” Again they could not look past my appearance long enough to see what was in my heart. This blog will be a chance to show what is in my heart without the restrictions of aesthetics (except for the ones I add).

Please, interact and enjoy!