Food, Children’s Books, and Does Anyone Have Any Yellow Cake?

I'm trying to remember how I got here. Part of it was—sob!—no doubt due to the news that Mary Berry is following suit with Mel and Sue and The Great British Bake-Off is no more.

And then I was thinking about Adopted Jane, in which a 12-year-old orphan is asked to visit two different families over one summer, and then has to choose which one to stay with. And (it could have been just me) but a large part of the experience seemed to revolve around the different foods at each home. With the lonely widow, she had a yellow cake mixed up in a bowl! And a floating island! With the farm-friendly family, she had biscuits and fried chicken!

And then theres the sausages Lucy has with Mr. Tumnus, as part of the very lovely tea. Or the hamper full of food that the beavers pack. Or, dear god, the Turkish delight!

I guess it's not just children's books, I mean Hemingway and his onion sandwiches are very compelling. But I feel like there is a particular and special connection children's books have with food, and I am not sure why that is. It's not just the candy, right—not all Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Surely adults love food just as much. And yet…. For some reason right now it is making me both hungry and wistful.

Do you have a favorite children's book meal? I keep thinking of the box of chocolates in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the one that's tied up with the wide lavender ribbon. And if I could only taste that yellow cake, I feel sure I would know why Jane chose her.

Half-Baked Ideas: The Narrative World—or, Why We Get Mad

I've been thinking some about the idea of the unresolved ending in fiction, though I must say that Chestnut is mostly over it. A smart commenter suggested that series, particularly fantasy series, force you to pause in the middle of the narrative, and it's something to adapt to.

And I think this is an excellent point, but I also wanted to note that in the case of the Jo Walton book, the unresolved ending was an intentional question to the reader: which of these do you think happened? Never to be resolved explicitly by the author, in that book or any other.

Which made it clear to me why it bothered me so: Because both Chestnut and I believe that the narrative world in any given book is real.

Perhaps it's not in this "plane," and it's true that we can never enter it except through the magical conduit of a book. But—I have to face facts. I believe everything I read. In some part of me, I feel that all these fictional worlds exist, and I get tastes of them through books: Narnia exists, Wonderland exists, all of it exists, but you can only get these quick book-length glimpses. And when an author says "You decide," it seems to claim (or acknowledge, depending on your belief system) that these worlds aren't real, that what is said to happen is just based on the author's whim, not on actual fictional events in the other world.

I realize that this is maybe a little crazy? But it feels to me, in my heart of hearts (should such a place as that really exist), true.

Half-Baked Theories: Your True Age

Speaking of age, I have been blogging so long that I don't really know what I've posted at this point, and a search only turns up so much. My fear is that I have posted this theory before, as it is one that is central to my half-baked view of the world. If I have, let's just hope I have acquired NEW and USEFUL insight into the human condition (ahem).

OK, so I have this theory that every person has one age that most, well, typifies that person. I don't mean the age at which you "peaked" (with any luck, our lives are not that linear). I mean, some essential part of you was always meant to be, say, 9 or 17, or 43, or 60. It might be something of a maturity thing, but then again it might not. I apologize for the vagueness of all this, but I just mean: it's the age that echoes for you.

I'll start. For me, I believe, it's 10. Something about 10-year-olds strikes such a resounding chord in me that I feel it must have to do with my being essentially 10 inside. And when I write, or at least when I write well, I feel that I am in some way connecting with that true core of myself, and channeling that strange moment when I made sense to myself, the most sense to myself I might ever make.

OK: how crazy do I sound? And what is your true age?

Half-Baked Ideas: On Trying Too Hard, Lemony Snicket, and How Things Work

Chestnut was reading a book called (I believe) The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw. I asked her how it was and she said, "Pretty good. You know, it does that funny Lemony Snicket thing where it talks to the readers, but it's trying a little too hard."

Of course I knew what she meant (or thought I did, without reading it), in one painful wince of recognition. Why is it so difficult to walk that funny, irreverent line? Why do we always identify the failure to do it successfully as "trying too hard?" I mean, I'm fairly certain that Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler tries really, really hard to make his books good and his narrative voice work. And yet, and yet…we don't ever really say, "Not funny enough" or "Doesn't really work" when something tries to be funny in that way and fails, but rather "Trying too hard." It feels so damning, and also such a bad lesson on some level. As if a more removed, less active "cool" approach can ever really help you. I don't think it can, especially when you're writing.

Except that her judgment does resonate with me, and what I want to know is: Why? Is it just that trying (and failing) to be funny means the seams show when they aren't supposed to? Hence there is an awareness of the effort, when there shouldn't be?

Is it the author's neediness?

Is it simply a too-heightened awareness of the way in which the author is playing to the audience? There is a certain disdain in Snicket that plays well (partly because it's false I think, and there is no disdain for the readers), but also because the reader doesn't feel that pressure on the part of the author's need to be liked, or to be funny, or to win the reader over.

Is that it? WHAT IS IT?

This is driving me a little crazy. Perhaps I am trying too hard.

The Man with the Money

I was thinking about GUM, or Great Uncle Matthew, who swoops in at the end of Ballet Shoes with his huge amount of money and his freethinking ideas. 

And then I was thinking of The Diamond in the Window, and how the prince comes in at the end with his…huge amount of money and his freethinking ideas.

And The Wolves of Willoughby Chase? Check. Her parents return, with the free-flowing cash to rescue them all from poverty and restore order and happiness. Check also: freethinking ideas.

It's funny—I hadn't quite seen it as a whole before. I mean, I know it happens in grown-up movies: no matter how bad things seem, the guy in charge will somehow come in and show you that there is order in the universe, and somehow that's a good thing. And I don't know that I would exactly equate it with the prince rescuing trope, exactly, because these princes are—. Well, they're grown men, come to save the day, actually, now that I think about it.

Help, this is starting to freak me out. There are other ways that books end, aren't there? Books where the heroines have a brush with abject poverty and adventure? The books I loved beyond reason as a child? They aren't all Great Uncle Matthew—are they?

I mean, I know money brings with it at least the hope for freedom from care. And so often children's books, especially those with plucky female heroines, turn on money, or the absence of it. I mean, in The Wizard of Oz she doesn't end up magically rich at the end (thank heaven).

Is this a more modern phenomenon? Have any of you noticed it? What's it all about?