Blog #3

I realized this was sitting in my drafts and I never posted it!!

I chose Lemony Snicket’s “The Bad Beginning,” his first of 13 books in the Series of Unfortunate Events. He is a master of morbid humor through sarcasm and irony. McGillis talks plenty about the use of bigness to convey characters in a “fearsome,” exaggerated, and sort of gross way (pg. 261). Villainous Count Olaf is described in this manner, as “very tall and very thin, dressed in a gray suit that had many dark stains on it. His face was unshaven, and rather than two eyebrows, like most human beings have, he had just one long one (pg. 22).” The whole description, but the unibrow in particular, is humorous insomuch as it’s incredibly obvious who we are supposed to hate from the very beginning of the text.  Similarly, Olaf’s henchpeople are described in “grotesque” ways (pg. 267). The hook-handed man is a personal favorite — how does he do anything with two hooks for hands??

Throughout the book, Snicket isn’t didactic so much as comically instructive. He literally defines words for young readers, but then will use this method with a sly humor. For example, he doesn’t actually define the word “adversary,” he simply writes “…adversary, a word which here means Count Olaf.”

The “sheer nonsense (pg. 265)” McGillis describes is present throughout the text, from Count Olaf thinking himself a magnificent actor, to Mr. Poe’s ridiculous cough (and name…Edgar Poe!) to the use of alliteration (the children are at Briny Beach when they hear of the terrible fire that destroyed their home, Count Olaf puts on the play A Marvelous Marriage to legally marry Violet so that he can get her fortune).

McGillis describes the “freakish” nature of children’s literature and how it lends itself to humor. This is evident in the descriptions of the three orphans themselves, especially Sunny, who is an infant but has razor sharp teeth that she uses to bite through things like tree trunks! She also babbles but is completely conscious of what is going on around her, and her babbling is understood by her siblings, who regularly translate for her.

Snicket’s work embodies a lot of what McGillis describes, in a way that leaves readers feeling uneasy about the fact that they’re laughing at the terrible plight of three young orphans. Whether they are reading about “a greedy and repulsive villain” or “cold porridge for breakfast,” young readers are sure to be entertained, even if they’re not sure what’s so amusing about the shenanigans three kids get into trying to stay alive.

 

Blog – Blending and Cultural Narratives

  1. Trites states that adolescence is a blend of man concepts, hat include, at a minimum, the following: biological concepts of puberty; social constructions of adolescence; religious and social rites of passage… economic factors that define the adolescent’s ability to work or not educational constructs of adolescent learning styles… and psychological concepts of cognitive capacity. How do these constructs apply to someone like Lila who doesn’t have the same social constructs as other children her age? Would she have the same rites of passage as other children, as she grows into adolescence?
  2. “[b]uilding the blend requires composition, completion, and elaborations” (Turner 2002:11). In other words, blending in literature occurs because of the author’s composition of the text, the adolescent reader’s cognitive act of reading, and that reader’s imaginative process of elaborating the blend into a new meaning. ” (56-57)  Thinking of what we were discussing in class last week about childhood text having a different meaning in adulthood. What does this mean if we read adolescence text as adults?
  3. “The ideological act, in which blends create new domains specifically aimed at manipulating a reader’s belief system, involves what cognitive narratology refers to as cultural narratives.  Cultural narratives have been called by many names: master narratives, metanarratives, dominant cultural ideologies, or even stereotypes; Zunshine herself refers to them as “cultural representations” (2002:126)” (60) In all of the text we’ve read this semester, what “cultural representations” are represented in them? Does this shape how we read a text?
  4. THE BODY IS A CONTAINER – “As Lakoff and Johnson explain, “We are physical beings, bounded and set off from the rest of the world by the surface of our skins, and we experience the rest of the world as outside us. Each of us is a container, with a bounding surfaces and an in-out orientation” (1980:29). (71) What does this type of context mean for a character like Lila who’s outside world is limited to the nighttime?

 

This last part is an extra, because once I learned about the context of Lila’s disease I was reminded of a movie and a show that I watched a long time ago about someone with the same disease. There is a 2006 Japanese movie as well as a 2006 Japanese Television Drama called Taiyo no Uta about a teenage girl with Xeroderma pigmentosum, it’s interesting to read something that came out around the same time with the same concept but a different age for the characters.

 

a cool moonlight discussion questions

  • There were some really magical, tender moments in the text. For me, three stuck out in particular: 1) the scene of Lila and her father having middle-of-the-night grocery cart races in supermarket aisles, 2) when Lila is baking cookies with her sister, Monk, and 3) the ending when Lila literally becomes light and illuminates, accepting herself as moon girl, firefly keeper, and superhero. Did you find any magical moments while you were reading?
  • Any thoughts on the style of the narration? Thinking of lack of capitalization, sentence structure, diction, style …
  • I found the descriptions of characters to be sparse (and I wanted more, I think). We discover little things here and there about certain people: Lila’s dad is tall and skinny. David has red hair and freckles. The waitress, Callie, has a big afro and dragonfly tattoo. But, overall, descriptions are slim.
    • This is particularly true in case of Lila. Did you like or dislike this approach? Do you think the lack of physical description surrounding Lila is a result of her being a “night person” as opposed to the “day people” described above?
    • Trite points out “the race of her family is textually ambiguous.” Thoughts on this?
  • I realized in my second reading of the book that glowing is an important theme. It’s talked about a lot. Mushrooms glow. White tennis shoes glow. Alyssa and Elizabeth glow. Raisin cookies glow. Fireflies glow. The city glows. The sunbag glows. And, of course, Lila, in the end, glows. Why is glowing so important?
  • We have talked about the value of community more than a few times this semester. In a cool moonlight, the community surrounding Lila is quite strong. They always seem to be around to protect her (which may be partly why it’s so utopic? I wonder if/how this will change as she grows up…). From her parents, to David, to her sister (and even her sister’s boyfriend and friends), to maybe even the neighborhood? Where do Alyssa and Elizabeth fit into Lila’s community, if at all?
    • Side question: just curious if people knew right away Alyssa and Elizabeth were imaginary companions?
  • Of course, a question about the positionality of the author! On the book jacket, we are told that Angela Johnson “read a news story about the rare sun allergy xeroderma pigmentosum, and she knew that she had found the subject of her next novel.” Reactions? Did this remind anyone else of R.J. Palacio’s inspiration for Wonder? Yes, no, maybe so?
  • Why does Johnson have Lila describe her disability to us a “defect.” Reactions to this?

-Christie

Don’t forget your final blogging assignment….

Blog Assignment #4: Post on final paper and responses to each other’s post, if writing a final paper:  About a week before you submit your materials for workshop–or before–you should write a 1-2 page post about your final paper and the research you are completing.  I would like everyone to comment on these posts.

I would recommend that everyone get going on this–and do comment on each other’s posts.  It will enhance the workshop experience, which is otherwise going to unfold in Dropbox (and in the classroom of course!).

Secondary Source for “a cool moonlight” (Blog #2)

So I read “a cool moonlight” and instinctively compared it to “Wonder” and “Challenger Deep.” I kept thinking about the different ways that each protagonist connected with, talked about, and navigated their disability. A major concept within disability studies is “normalcy” and how socially-constructed and artificial it is. Normalcy operated very differently in each of these novels, and Auggie, Caden, and Lila all dealt with normalcy in distinct ways. For example, sometimes normalcy was desired as goal for the disabled characters, other times it was considered unnecessary.

I was fascinated by the ways that able-bodied characters interact with the disabled characters in these books, and how each author uses these scenes to depict, satirize, or ignore societal ableism. The secondary source I chose explores interactions between able-bodied adults and disabled children. The article makes use of Freud’s uncanny, continuing some of the themes of the minor Gothic mode discussed in the McGillis article and that we talked about in class.

The source I chose is from a book called “Disabled Children’s Childhood Studies” (I attached the whole book here because it has some amazing sources that some of you may be interested in). But for this assignment I am most interested in Chapter 13: The Disavowal of Uncanny Disabled Children: Why Non-Disabled People Are So Messed Up Around Childhood Disability by Dan Goodley and Rebecca Lawthom (pages 164-179 of the book, or 180-195 of the PDF).

Most of “a cool moonlight” explores how a disabled child deals with the able-bodied world, so I thought this source would be an interesting way to look at the other side of the book. How do the able-bodied characters deal with Lila? In what ways is “a cool moonlight” potentially more utopic than “Wonder” or “Challenger Deep”?

Blog Post #3: Humor and the Body (Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon)

After I read the McGillis piece, a series of questions surfaced for me: What are the ways in which humor is embodied? How does humor get (re)articulated through bodies? What are the meanings of different kinds of humor and how do they weigh in/on the body and how does the audience make meaning of them? I really started to grapple with these questions and the ways in which “the body has been a source of humor” (.258) as I read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

In Everything, Everything, Yoon chronicles the journey of teenager Madeline Whittier, a self-identified multiracial Japanese and African American girl who believes that she has a dangerous and life threatening auto-immune disease. Madeline lives her life (or her semblance of a life) in her decontaminated house under the supervision of her mother and her nurse, Carla. Quarantined in her home since an infant, Madeline knows little of the outside world and has capitulated to the demands of her disease out of necessity. Madeline’s very body becomes threatened when she makes contact with the outside world (her sickness is embodied quite literally here).

Early in the novel, Madeline describes the condition of her disease in relation to how it fueled her passion for reading and the ways she interacts with books (by labeling them as her property), she remarks: “I don’t know why I do this. There’s no one else here except my mother, who never reads, and my nurse Carla, who has no time to read because she spends all her time watching me breathe” (.1). Here, Madeline deploys humor not only to explain her medical condition and the impact it has on her body (“basically, I’m allergic to the world”) but she also utilizes humor to convey the ways in which her disease regulates her interactions with and navigation of the world (specifically, the world inside her house). For Madeline, humor allows her to cope with a medical condition that could ultimately be a death sentence. It helps her processing and speaks to her desire to not be the object of any one’s pity. Madeline does not want to be restricted to the confines of her house, though she realizes that this is her social reality and thus humor becomes a vital part of how she traverses it. The humor expressed early in the novel speaks to the ways in which humor can create necessary space and/distance from excoriating human experiences, a line of reasoning that McGillis draws, as he states “we can realize that the humor provides us with a necessary distancing from the death so that we can take in the lesson this death delivers” (.263). Madeline was distancing herself from her illness and the significance and power it had over her life through the deployment of humor. Furthermore, Madeline arguably pokes fun at her disease in an exaggerated fashion that is characteristic of humor in children’s literature—for instance, when she says she’s allergic to the world. Madeline isn’t literally allergic to the world (only certain triggers) but by exaggerating Madeline constructs herself as aberrant, as different, a notion that speaks to McGillis’ assertion that “the point is that much humor for children is exaggerated, fantasy writ large, a reminder of the monstrous and the freakish. The freakish serves, as Susan Stewart asserts, to normalize the person reading about or looking at the freak, ‘as much as it marks the freak as an aberration’ (.267).

Later in the book, the plot really thickens and humor gives way to a teenage love story. Whereas humor is how Madeline initially copes with her condition, she later hinges her future, desires, and ambitions on her next door hunky neighbor, Olly. Madeline falls in love with Olly and doesn’t really rely on humor to explore, process, or understand (which felt so problematic to me)—Olly becomes more important than coping and figuring her own thing out and the novel’s emphasis on embodiment shifts to consider the ways in which love inhabits and affects the body (heart racing, flutters, butterflies, Madeline’s “body blushing”) and how perceptions and realities of health operate inside and outside the body (when Madeline describes feeling well versus when she feels like she feels like she’s been “doused with kerosene and lit with a match” (.224; .234). Near the conclusion of Everything, Everything, Madeline discovers that she doesn’t have a life-threatening auto-immune disease. Rather, it is implied that her mother has an undiagnosed mental health issue that surfaced after the deaths of Madeline’s father and brother when she was a baby. I think it’s worth considering how humor shifted, evolved, and (dis)appeared throughout the novel (as well as broader dynamics and themes of masculinity and femininity, gender, sexuality and race).

Humor and the Body in Children’s Lit x This One Summer

This One Summer is a graphic novel from the creative duo behind Skim. In This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki pair up again to bring us the story of one girl’s summer: in a familiar place, Awago Beach (her family’s summering spot), while she grapples with the new and unfamiliar of growing up and leaving girlhood. It is in this in-between place that we meet Rose and her summertime sister/best friend, Windy. While Rose (and Windy) oscillate between carefree girlhood and the pangs of pre-teen angst and growing up, we see the body and humor operate in different ways.

Rose is the narrator and she is one year older than Windy. Because of this, she often drives the adventures, and her particular ‘pre-teen but crossing into teen’ proclivities dictate what they do. One such pastime is the consumption of horror movies. When Rose decides she’s not interested in X-men or Sex and the City anymore (the movies Windy already has), Rose and Windy go to the local store, Brewster’s, to rent a film. Postulating as grown-up, teenager, “cool,” in the hope of impressing her summer crush, Rose grabs the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet, at home, in a private space, Rose and Windy hide under the covers instead of watching the film outright, while text and sound bubbles surround them (“ BZZZZ!!” “Splat!!” “Squirt!” “HELP ME!!”). Rose asks Windy to distract her, and Windy brings up oral sex. “That’s so gross!!” Windy proclaims, when she finds out what it entails (all the while, the movie continues to contribute background sound for the conversation). This is in line with McGillis’ assertion that “we can see the potentially subversive aspect of humor most clearly in the scatological and violent manifestations, its obsession with the body and all its discernable parts (264)”: the sounds of dismembering bodies surround the two girls while they discuss oral sex. “The dead body and the body in pieces are recurring features of children’s stories and fantasies, and it is quite possible to find humor in the body in pieces (263).” And indeed, some of the most poignant scenes are the ones in which we see Rose grapple with her fear of the horrific images from the films they consume. For example, she sprints home one night after watching Friday the 13th and bursts into nervous/scared/tired laughter after making it home unscathed.

We also see This One Summer grapple with the humor around changing girls bodies. Windy and Rose have extensive conversations around boobs and speculate on what size boobs they will have. In one scene on the beach, Windy proceeds to dance around as they together shriek “BREASTS!” “TITS!” “SEXY TA-TAS!” before being admonished by passing adults. Rose and Windy collapse, laughing. Here, “language itself provides broad humor (264)” as the girls confront the reality of their own changing bodies and those of their peers. With all that happens in the book, it literally closes on Rose thinking, “Boobs would be cool,” as she and her family leave the cottage for the summer.

This One Summer tackles a number of topics, from teenage sex, to miscarriage, to family tensions, to summer crushes, to the pangs of growing up and leaving girlhood. The body, bodies, and body parts play an ongoing role throughout the book, and the humor in relation to the body is both gentle at times (Windy mangling gummy feet candies before consuming them) or unrelentingly grotesque (as with the many scenes involving horror films). The visuals vividly drive all this home; I will share some of my favorites in class.

Blog Post #3 – Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies

In “Humour and the body in children’s literature” Roderick McGills writes about the “the ‘joyful’ deaths of young children.” (259) as well as how stories told to children were written with “short factual narratives… showing heroism of small children in the face of a reaper less grim than welcome.” (259). Instead of choosing one of the text that McGills’ reference I’ve decided to look at something more recent. The short story collection Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies, by author David Lubar, is one in a long series of children’s and middle grade books. The stories within the pages uses tales of children being attacked by garbage monsters, or parents not celebrating their child’s birthday because of the end of the world, as a method to address real problems.

The titular story is a tale in which the main character, Amanda, is the only one without a cellular phone as she watches her classmates click and tap their way through class without noticing the outside world. Even the teacher has their phone out, ignoring the class of “texters, surfers, and gamers.” (116) What this story does is that it uses the way people stare at their cell phones, tablets, and any other electronic device without acknowledging their surroundings. Amanda says in the story that, “The world had turned into Wireless Weenies, sucking gigabytes of data out if the air.” (116). McGills writes that comedy “serves to remind us just how important the body is to the human condition.” While the story isn’t comedic in the sense it does show the importance of the body, or in the case of the wireless weenies, the mind. Everyone is engrossed in their devices to understand the world around them, their minds aren’t one with their body and they don’t have the ability to listen to reason.

While the story is short, the point comes in the form of a squid monster that has appeared next to the school, and while the lead character attempts to alert people of the crisis they all ignore Amanda in favor of posting about the monster on social media. The children fall to their deaths, are taken by the monster, their teacher wants to abandon them in favor of saving themselves. McGills says “it will be sufficient for me to point out that much humour for young readers finds expression in satire and parody.” The parody within the story is that it is using real people and the need to record a moment, to not pay attention to the severity of a situation instead going forth towards danger, once again going towards “the ‘joyful’ death.”

Lubar’s series of stories often uses real life situations to show how scary the world is but some stories are sound far-fetched until it’s read between the lines. This particular story shows the dangers of not truly paying attention to what is happening around you, and it could have a negative effect on your life. It may sound funny but sometimes what one person thinks is funny really isn’t the same for another.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Published in 1992, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales won the New York Time’s “Best Illustrated Book” award and was named a Caldecott Honor Book.   The illustrated book follows Jack as he attempts to piece together the book. Frequently, the book breaks the fourth wall, as Jack and some of the characters are directly aware that they exist in an illustrated book that is currently being read. Most importantly, the book is a parody of popular fairy tales.

For example, the first story is “Chicken Licken.” From the beginning, the story seems no different than the traditional tale. Chicken Licken runs around town telling everyone that “The sky is falling!” Opposite of the first page, Chicken Licken is drawn large and green with far apart eyes, glasses, and a mouth open in clear panic. A tile with the number “12” bounces off his head. However, “the sky wasn’t falling. The Table of Contents was. It fell and squashed everybody” (Scieszka and Smith). Over two pages, we can see parts of Chicken Licken, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosy, Cocky Locky, and Foxy Loxy peeking out from underneath the crumpled table of contents, a cloud of dust surrounding them.

Throughout the book, The Little Red Hen appears abruptly, complaining about the disappearance of the other characters who were supposed to help her. Rather than getting any work done, she gets eaten by the Giant that Jack faces off against. Her words often appear in large red font, abrasive in comparison to Jack’s small black font. Jack has just put Giant to sleep when Little Red Hen appears; her large red font wakes Giant. Excited by the bread she is complaining about, he sits up, wide eyed. On the next page, Giant holds a sandwich with feathers sticking out. Little Red Hen’s legs poke out one side of his mouth while he cleans his teeth with a feather. Jack smiles as he runs away on the facing page.   The Little Red Hen repeatedly disrupts Jack’s ability to put together a cohesive book; by putting her end on the page facing “The End,” there is a certain humor to her death.

As Mcgillis points out, “children’s humor depends largely on the body. Not entirely, but largely. Slapstick, caricature, parody, the grotesque, ridicule, and the improbable in human predicaments concern the body, and so too does nonsense” (McGillis 258). He goes on to mention the importance of names and size in relation to that humor. Regardless of what aspect of the body, there seems to be a subversive act to the humor.  With The Stinky Cheese Man, fairy tales are parodied, where classic elements are subverted, critiquing the moral message of the original tale.  There is nothing to gain from the individual stories. “Chicken Little” is often a moral tale of courage (or if the fox ends up eating Chicken Little, it is a tale about not believing everything you are told). That moral is removed when the Table of Contents crushes everyone. Similarly, “Little Red Riding Shorts” ends with Little Red walking away with the wolf annoyed that Jack ruined their story by giving it all away in advance. There is no moral to gain from walking in the woods alone.

While The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales actively works against moral lessons, the book does have a didactic element. Through Jack’s constant missteps, the reader learns about the elements of book: narrator, characters, title page, table of contents, etc. An element that is kept in the play version, but now it’s the elements of the play that are being interrupted and misplaced. (Also, I think the play is really interesting since it’s children’s bodies that are performing the stories from the book, but we can talk about that more in class).

 

If you’re not familiar with the book, check out this website.

Humor and Willy Wonka

“‘Oh, don’t worry about them!’ cried Mr. Wonka. ‘They’re always laughing! They think everything’s a colossal joke’” (Dahl 81).

When you think about the story line of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory it may seem a little off-putting. It is essentially the story of five kids who visit a chocolate factory where all of the works are slaves and four of the five children only narrowly escape death. In truth, the infamous Willy Wonka comes across as more villain than hero. Yet, since its first publication in 1964, the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has gone through multiple editions and has been the subject of two widely successful move adaptions. How is it that such a story can come across as, not only palatable, but widely endearing? The success of the book lies in no small part with Dahl’s use of humor.

In the essay “Humor and the Body in  Children’s Literature,” Roderick McGillis explores a number of different forms of humor that are often found in children’s literature, and Dahl makes use of almost all of them. From funny names and strange words to playing with size and strange foods, there seems to be humor embedded into each twist and turn through Wonka’s elaborately whimsical factory.  Perhaps, however, the type of humor that is most true to Dahl’s work lies in the idea exaggeration and fantasy (McGillis 267).  Certainly in, a factory that makes jawbreakers that never get smaller, ice-cream that never melts, and gum that can take the place of an entire meal whatever happens exists outside of the realm of reality and believability. It is from this place of suspended reality that we are able to find humor in the torture of children.

Indeed, the idea of grotesque and unpleasant humor seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout the novel. One of the earliest examples of this is when one of the children, Augustus Gloop, falls into a chocolate river and gets sucked into a pipe that leads to the fudge room. While his parents are clearly distraught by what is happening to their child, the reader cannot help but to laugh as the Oompa-Loompas sing about the possible market success of “Augustus-favored chocolate-coated Gloop” (76). This occurs time and time again as Violet turns into a blueberry, swelling and turning purple, before being rolled out of the room with her parents close behind, Veruca and her parents get pushed down a pipe to the furnace (which luckily for them only gets lit every other day) and Mike Teavee is zapped into a million pieces before popping back up small enough to be carried out in his mother’s hand. The children are removed from the factory tour one by one with no knowledge of what will happen to them. When we seem then again leaving the factory at the end of the story, they appear to be unharmed yet not unscathed. The pressure of the tube has thinned Augustus, Violet is back to her original size but not her original color, Veruca is covered in trash but it must have been a day when the furnace is not lit, and Mike has been stretched out so that he towers over even the adults and is as thin as a pencil (Dahl 148). Sure, these kids have been tortured, but at least the reader can get a good laugh out of it.

As evident in some of the examples above, size is a large contributor to the humor of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Even before Augustus gets sucked into a tube, he is the subject of the reader’s laughter due to the fact that he is significantly overweight. In fact, the illustrations show him almost as round as blueberry Violet. Augustus’ weight is the subject of many jokes and remarks such as when the rest of the children each take one blade of edible grass and Augustus grabs a handful. The reader laughs again as Violet grows in size and once more when Mike shrinks. While not depicted on the page, the reader cannot help but to laugh as well at the idea of Mike being stretched by a gum machine or Violet being juiced. In these moments, and many other in the story, the manipulation of the body becomes a source of humor.

Yet, it is not just the children that are subject to bodily humor. Perhaps the most obvious examples of characters in the story that are designed strictly for humor are the Oompa-Loompas. Putting aside the overt racism of having a tribe of people living and working inside of a chocolate factory while wearing leaves and furs, one cannot help but to find humor in Wonka’s work force. With their strange names and small stature, standing as tall as an average adult’s knee, the Oompa-Loompas come across as just another element of the whimsical chocolate factory. The Oompa-Loompas are also directly responsible for much of the humor surrounding the fates of the children through the songs that they sing whenever one of the rejected children is carted out of the room.

Ultimately, it must be said that the Wonka Factory is home to humor in many forms, and it is because of this humor that Dahl has secured a place in the tradition of children’s literature.