Since finishing Harry, we’ve whizzed through Annie Barrows’ latest Ivy and Bean, What’s the Big Idea?, in which the girls tackle global warming by throwing ice cubes into the sky while jumping on a trampoline. Bean’s big sister nasty Nancy points out that “The sun is stronger than a billion ice cubes. And besides, making ice cubes uses up energy. Duh.”
(By the way, lately we’ve been discussing whether or not “duh” is a good thing to say, and what it actually means, and so on. I think it means “You’re stupid,” and that it should never be used. N, who utters the word on occasion, thinks it depends on one’s tone, and that it could well mean, “Uh, I think you should have thought a little bit harder, don’t you?” I suggested we do a survey, and began to ask people, but since everyone I’ve asked agrees with me, N’s enthusiasm for the survey has dwindled. Still, if you want to chime in on “What does duh mean and should you say it?” please do!)
After our Ivy and Bean fix, we devoured the frightening Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s story about a girl who discovers in the flat next door an “other mother” and an “other father” who claim her for their own. They have black button eyes and want to give her black button eyes too. The gleaming needle and the thread sit on the counter beside the buttons, waiting to be stitched in. The other mother’s so-called love for Coraline is chilling — really the scariest thing in the book — because it is both empty and smothering. Coraline can have whatever she wants with the other mother forever. “The world will be built new for you every morning.” But she knows better, and frantically tries to escape.
“I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really.”
The first night we read this book was scary for N. She didn’t mention her fear while we read, but as I tucked her in, she asked, with the covers pulled up to her nose, “Is there really such a thing as an ‘other mother’ and an ‘other father’?” And I assured her no, there was not, and that we could close that book up and read another if she liked. “No,” she said firmly. “I want to read it right to the end and then never read it again.” And so we did. Coraline got to safety, and we escaped to the world of Mary Poppins, full of dancing red cows, talking dogs, floating uncles, and raspberry jam cakes. I promised to read the PL Travers book a few posts back, when I wrote about the movie, and now we are halfway through, and enjoying the enigmatic Mary immensely.
I found some beautiful old photographs the other day, stashed away in the closet. My husband used these images in an installation years ago, and says that some are family and some are not, but he isn’t really sure which. In the pile I came across two of mother and child with book. If these are relatives of N’s, who are they? What are they reading? Why did they choose to have their photographs taken with book in hand?
I should ask N herself. I’m sure she would have an answer. She’s always said she can sneak around in the past — that she’s spied on her grandmother back there, “but she didn’t recognize me because she was just a little girl, and I hadn’t been born yet.” It works the other way too. In this time zone, she sometimes sees people who died before she was born.
I was telling her once that it was sad Daddy’s dad died before N and I could meet him. And she said, “Oh, I’ve met him. I’ve seen Grandpa Peter’s ghost. He isn’t scary at all.”
Lately she’s been clacking away on his old typewriter, brought for our amusement by her grandma. It had been sitting unused in her study for years, and it occurred to me that N would enjoy the immediacy of putting her printed words on paper — actually seeing them printed as she typed. She first tried it out with her friend A, and together they wrote a story about a poor girl named Katara who had to make everything she owned. “She had to get newspapers from the garbage and she had no parents.” A wrote the Katara bits, and N wrote the Emma bits. “Emma was verry rich,” she typed, and A, a year-and-a-half wiser and peeking over her shoulder, said “Very just has one r.” N said “No it doesn’t, it has two.” At which point I spoke up and said that A was right, but that I could see why N would add an extra r to very, to make it more — well — verry.
I’ve been thinking a lot about spelling. My latest novel, And Me Among Them, is soon to be published in the U.S., and I’ve been busy doing a final proofread of the American editor’s changes. It’s too bad about all the lost u’s, the a that has fallen out of anaesthetic, and the o utterly gone from manoeuver. (Which reminds me that I just bought James Thurber’s The Wonderful O, and cannot wait to dip into it with N.) N’s French spelling is excellent, since she’s tested on new words once a week. But her English spelling is much more interesting! In another Emma story, this time created with friend T, she wrote:
Her mother cald her daown for breacfast time. Emma comme daown! So she went daown to the cichan.
To me it has an Old English flavour, an excess that I absolutely love, and that I should probably be correcting more than I do. But I’m sure it will sort itself out. She reads on her own more often now, and over my shoulder too, and if she sees words often enough they seem to imprint themselves on her memory.