Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An extremely weird (and beautiful) picture book


My dear friend Alexandra went to Mexico a few weeks ago, in the midst of the initial outlandish swine flu panic-mongering, no less, and she brought us back (in addition to an awesomely wicked devil's head mask made out of a horse's jaw bone), a really weird and beautiful picture book. It's in Spanish, and it's called "El aprendizaje amoroso" (what does that mean? The amorous students? The lovers of learning? What?) but it's originally a French publication, written by Laetitia Bourget and illustrated by Emmanuelle Houdart, and it's a book that we oughtn't expect to see picked up in the US any time soon. Why?

Too weird for Americans. There's stuff like this:
GASP!

Penises don't go over well in American children's books--not even juvenile penises. Did you know that In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak has been challenged (perhaps actually even banned, does anyone know?) because of this illustration:
Gadzooks! A tiny penis! Children must not learn of the existence of such things! It's so silly. No, it's beyond silly. It's absurd. But anyway.

I don't know what the text of this book says; it's in Spanish, but the art is so strange and beautiful. Look, there's peeing:

And balancing on miniature elephants:


Cool, no?

When I travel, I love to buy children's books in other languages, and if possible, in other alphabets. However, it can be a challenge to find books actually published in those countries. Often you see familiar US or UK books translated into those languages, and that's just not the same.

Awesome new items continue to be added to the Bridget Zinn auction -- including a manuscript critique by Nancy Mercado of Roaring Brook Press, and a radio show interview (for published authors) with Irene Rawlings, on her Clear Channel program. Isn't that cool? I've also gotten word that Bridget's amazing agent, Michael Stearns, formerly editorial director at HarperCollins Children's Books, is also donating a manuscript critique! These opportunities to get your manuscript before some top industry professionals are just golden. Michael's donation is not posted yet, but keep checking.

18 comments:

Kim Baker said...

Michael was my group leader at the writer's intensive in NY. He gave excellent feedback that really improved my manuscript. I thought he offered great insight with the others in the group as well.

Anyone who won a critique with him would be one lucky duck!

Shari said...

It is kind of crazy in this country with its over-sexualized media everywhere you turn, that one cannot have a frank discussion regarding anatomy with, God forbid, their children. Nothing like having a society that is ashamed of its own bodies. I'm probably not supposed to say "God" either. Beware the tiny penis! Snicker, snicker. It's late and I really shouldn't be blogging.

Katie said...

Wow! That book is hilarious and strangely wonderful and curious!

I'm off to bid on something at the auction. I lost the first item I bid on. bidded on? bud on? *chuckles

Calandria said...

"El aprendizaje amoroso" is something like "the learning of love." A review I found in Spanish says more or less: "What happens after 'happily ever after'? This story begins where most tales end... Do you want to know what happens after? How to overcome trials, differences, jealousy, spats? The answer is in this delightful story that reminds us that princes and princesses have the same troubles as regular people. This is a book about the importance of growing, the trials of daily life, and what those things bring."

I want that book!

Charlotte said...

Hmm. So far the trials of my daily life have never included head things with twiggy branches. Maybe that is still to come. And why is the boy peeing on the head thing with twiggy branches??? Distressing.

But I like the pink elephant very much!

Calandria said...

Maybe I translated that last sentence wrong. Either that or it wasn't well written in the first place. I also find the one of the boy peeing distressing and there's no way I would ever let my 8 year old son see that.

But the illustrations are compelling and beautiful in an odd way.

Anonymous said...

yes, I agree with Calandria. I don't ever want my sons to be exposed to anyone urinating, including themselves urinating. You can only imagine how difficult this is to achieve- the bladder problems, oy. Urinating is indecent.

Charlotte said...

Anonymous--It's not the peeing that's distresing. It's the scary twiggy thing, and the mystery of why his response to it is to pee on it. One dosen't want one's child to think--I don't like you so I will pee in your general direction!

I take it as an allegory of "the trials of daily life"--the twiggy thing represents, perhaps, a stack of unpaid bills (paper=trees+twiggy things), the peeing the inner strengh of the soul, and what one really wants to do with the gas bill.

Steph said...

What a great book! I really think it's beautiful.

tricia stirling said...

Laini, I thought you would be interested to know that I am a fairly regular sunday scribbler, and I just received one of your lovely ladies for my birthday from my mom! She said she thought of me when she saw it, and I said, "That's so funny, because I "know" the woman who makes these!" she thought that was rather serindipidous.

floreta said...

those are absolutely gorgeous illustrations. i'm a graphic designer so i love stuff like this :D thanks for sharing.

Abigail said...

My Euro sensibilities have more than once come into conflict with the presiding tastes of American children's book publishing. I like the weird, dark oddball stuff too. And don't see why it should be forbidden to show a bottle of champagne or a pipe in a picture book. I was talking to a former Disney art director about it and he says the reason publishers are so careful not to put anything dark or remotely offensive in pic books is that they're scared of being sued. Check out this weird and beautiful French book:
http://www.carmensegovia.net/books/sarbacane.html

Calandria said...

Anonymous, you can relax now. I was just imagining my 8 year old seeing an illustration of a little boy peeing on something (with a face, no less) and thinking, "Gosh, that looks fun!" I don't think I'm as uptight as you think I am, or, as it turns out, as you are.

Calandria said...

Anyway, what I tried to say here is that I think the book is fabulous and I would love to own it! Thanks for posting about it, Laini. It seems that every time I comment here I say something people take the wrong way. Not that it really matters.

I love your blog, Laini! ONe of my favorite reads.

Prince Balthazar said...

That book does look fantastic.

LOL. I think Anon was joking.

Erm, I think

Amber said...

LOL! That book looks awesome. ;)

BUT, I would take out the "juvenile penis" and little penis things, so perverts won't trip apon your blog. I found an odd trail on a post where I had wrote about "nakey g*rl" once. ;)

:)

Calandria said...

Prince B, you are probably right. Man, I should just shut my mouth always.

Caty said...

the love learning
I have it in French and yes, it is beautiful!