Friday, February 10, 2006

Detective story send-up disguised as a children's book

I just ran across a copy of Piggins by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jane Dyer, and it looking like a fun, quick read, I took a break and read it. And found it a fun, quick read. But...

This is a send-up of classic detective fiction, front to finish. Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie, etc. -- nobody gets a pass, as far as I can see. Conventions are skewered, stereotypes are trotted out for a giggle.

So, I've read a fair number of mystery stories, and I watched Upstairs, Downstairs on television. I understand what this book is poking fun at, or at least some of what this book is poking fun at. (I concede I might have missed an inside joke or two.) But I have to wonder what a kid would think of the book? There's plenty of room to read it with a great deal of drama, so I think it could be a fun read-aloud book. And there is a puzzle -- a crime -- to be solved, told in such a way that even a moderately young child stands a chance of seeing the ending coming. But I can't shake the idea that this book might be more fun for the grown-up detective fiction fan doing the reading than for the child hearing it. (Boy: Why are you laughing, Mommy? Mother: You'll understand after you read about five Sherlock Holmes books, my son, and two or three with Hercule Poirot...)

At any rate, I don't know what I expected, but what I found was a fairly cute send-up of detective fiction. For what it's worth.

My copy has a 1987 copyright. I see that the edition for sale new at Barnes & Noble has a 1992 publication date. The cover looks the same, so I'm guessing it's just a later press run.



Bookworm said...

As a Mom, I can tell you that there are lots of books that are written as spoofs of genres that kids are way too young to know. I've never figured this out, because the books are written as a joke for an audience that can't possibly get the joke. I suspect that they're marketed to children, with the hope that kids will enjoy them on their own terms.

Kathryn Judson said...

Bookworm, I hope that's the case. I wonder sometimes if it isn't, in some cases, a case of the author and publisher getting giddy on their own wit, and perhaps getting a kick out of feeling more sophisticated than the next fellow.

At a more basic level, I have to believe books like this would be a kick to write. And once you've gone to the trouble of writing it, and it seems to be a good read...

In other cases, I'm sure it's an attempt to give adults something they can stand to read to their kids without feeling dragged down to too juvenile a level (in their view). Parents who would gladly strangle Barney the dinosaur if they met him on the street or who would like to toss shoes at Mr. Rogers might need a book that's satisfying to them on an adult level, at least to tide them over until they get their sense of humor back ;-). (Parents seem to go through stages with their children, no?)

Or, maybe, sometimes it's an attempt (as misguided, or short of the mark as it is) to live up to C.S. Lewis's pronouncement to the effect that books that aren't fit to be read by adults aren't fit to be read by children. (I think it was C.S. Lewis.)

I'm not sure I'm happy with the idea of teaching children to laugh at stuff they don't understand. I guess I'm counting on parents to provide the context and any needed attitude adjustments along the way. I'd hate to have a children's book make a child feel he ought to look down on a genre he might otherwise get a lot out of down the road.