Saturday, May 12, 2007

Summer Reading List: Boys will be

As I told my lil sister on the phone last night, it's been a bad week for men. The next elderly gentleman who comes into the library and calls me "honey," "sweetie," or "girl" is going to get it. Except not now, because I read a book that perfectly captures the y-chromosome cluelessness and kinda makes it seem endearing again.

Imagine that two years after the end of Because of Winn Dixie, Dunlap Dewberry declares his love for India Opal Buloni. That's the feeling I got from The Summer Sherman Loved Me, by Jane St. Anthony. It's not quite as gothic as Kate DiCamillo's work (if you haven't read her 2004 Newbury acceptance speech on darkness in children's lit, get your hands on a copy of the July-August 2004 Horn Book and flip to page 395.), but it has the same smoky southern charm, eccentric neighbors, and percocious first-person narrator.

But what I really love is the awkward way Sherman shows his ardor for Margaret: cruel practical jokes, filched roses, gluey kisses. But the clincher is when he names his pet baby squirrel "Little Margaret." When Margaret first witnesses the creature's circus tricks, she thinks:"The squirrel was cute, in the same creepy way that a dressed-up mouse in a book can be cute ... Was Sherman insulting me? I couldn't be sure. I didn't want to care" (69-70).

There's something about this scene that is exactly right. Boys seem puzzled about how to express their feelings, and for some reason the result of their brainstorming is often absurd and a little predatory. But we give them a break because it's such a cry for help. Or maybe because we want to be loved, even if we would like to give them a little coaching on how best to love us.

But don't tell the kids all this stuff. Just tell them about the rule-breaking midnight bike rides, near-death experiences, Jell-O snacks, and relay races. Tell them how Margaret's best friend, Grace, nick-names Sherman "the vermin," and how Margaret is forever offering her twin sisters to other parents. Tell them that reading this book is the only way they'll find out what an "eye ball cleaning party" is. (Guesses, anyone?)

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