Monday, July 21, 2008

Runaways, dogs, and crippled children—oh my!

That's right, it's book report time! As I've said before, I devoured books as a child. This is just a sampling of what I had on my plate in fourth grade.

Book Report #1
The assignment: A picture and a paragraph about my favorite character
Title: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Author: E. L. Konigsburg

Type: Newbery Award

I think someday I'd like to have lunch with the Newbery Committee or something. I seriously still love this book:

For the insane few of you who have never read it, here's the back cover spiel:

When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would live in comfort—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She invited her brother Jamie to go, too, mostly because he was a miser and would have money.

The two took up residence in the museum right on schedule. But once the fun of settling in was over, Claudia had two unexpected problems: she felt just the same, and she wanted to feel different; and she found a statue at the museum so beautiful she could not go home until she had discovered its maker, a question that baffled even the experts. The former owner of the statue was Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. And without her help Claudia might never have found a way to go home.

If you think the copywriter got a little dramatic at the end, well, let me assure you, they had nothing on 10-year-old me. But first things first: My favorite character was Claudia, obviously. (No offense to Jamie, but draw a picture of a BOY? It would have to be a cold day in hell.)

I seem to have been determined to draw every last one of Claudia's eyelashes.

Here's what I had to say about Claud:

Claudia is running away. She doesn't want to be running away but, running to somewhere. She picks the Art Museum. She runs away because she is treated unfairly. She is the oldest child and only girl in the family. When she and younger brother, Jamie, move in, they discover "Angel". Claudia's determination and Jamie's money lead them to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler . . . . and the secret of Angel.

Despite the fact that I give zero explanation about the oh-so-mysterious "Angel," you can see that I was BORN to write juvenile marketing material. I think I may have missed my calling.

From the Mixed-Up Files is, in my opinion, the quintessential YA running away book, and woo boy, did I ever enjoy reading—and writing—about running away. (I mean, what could be cooler than living in the art museum? I ask you, WHAT?) In sixth grade, I actually plagiarized the bejesus out of this book in a story creatively titled "Running Away." You will totally get to read it once sixth grade rolls around.

Book Report #2
The assignment: A letter to the author
Book Report: Judge Benjamin: The Superdog Secret
Author: Judith Whitelock McInerney
Type: Animal Story
Pages: 140

Judith Whitelock McInerney wrote a whole slew of books about the redheaded O'Riley clan and their long-suffering Saint Bernard, Judge Benjamin (not to be confused with Judge Reinhold—man, there were way too many Judges in the '80s), who also happens to be the narrator. This was the only Judge Benjamin book that we owned, but it was also my favorite because it involved a mobile home. I was utterly fascinated with mobile homes after viewing a two-minute clip about them once on Sesame Street. I was all, "You can sit at a table and eat breakfast WHILE YOU'RE DRIVING? And play cards? And watch TV? WHILE YOU'RE DRIVING??? Sign me the fuck up!"

But back to the Saint Bernard:

The back of the book gives us this terse synopsis:

The O'Rileys are a big, happy family. There's Mr. & Mrs. O'Riley and their four children—Kathleen, Seth, Maura, and Annie. There's also Judge Benjamin, their 200-pound dog. One day Mr. O'Riley announces that they're all going on vacation in their new camper. All of them except Judge Benjamin, that is. But Annie has other ideas!

Yes, they somehow manage to hide a Saint Bernard in a mobile home. Don't ask. Here's what I had to say to ol' Judes about it:

Dear [left blank even though it CLEARLY states the author's name at the top of the page]

I think the Judge Benjamin books are great! I have read The Superdog Secret, The Superdog Surprise, The Superdog Rescue and the Superdog I forget!
. I am writing this letter about The Superdog Secret. I think it is neat how you write it from Judge's point of view. I love the characters, too! Just like a real family: sometimes caring, fighting, sweet, firm, etc., but always loving. It was funny how the kids decided to hide Judge in the tiny tub in the trailer. How could he manage smelly socks on his nose and bras on his tail from Decatur to Canada? Poor Judge! But in the end he always comes through. Nothing is more important than his family!


P.S. Keep Writing!

Yes, words of encouragement from a 10-year-old to a published author.

Book Report #3
The assignment: A diary for a week
Title: With Love From Karen
Author: Marie Killilea
Type: Non-fiction

I was a pretty strict fiction reader, but I made one critical exception: true stories about crippled children. Preferably written many decades earlier. I had a particular soft spot for blind children or—even better!—blind and deaf children. But Karen Killilea somehow managed to be the QUEEN of the crippled children, even though she still had all of her senses intact. For one thing, her book actually had a SEQUEL (reported on here; both books were written by her mom). And yeah, she had cerebral palsy, but she also had a Pollyanna-esque perkiness that made YOU wish that you had been born crippled just so you could learn to walk with crutches for the first time too! Also, the Killileas had about 78 million pets, and I was jealous because I had something that was maybe even WORSE than cerebral palsy: allergies.

Here's Karen with one of her 10,000 dogs:

The back cover copy hilariously reads:

For the thousands of people who personally wrote to ask, "What has happened to Karen since her story was published?" and for the millions whose hearts went out to this freckle-faced, pig-tailed little girl and wondered in silence about how she grew up, this book is a personal reply—written with tender appreciation, with love from Karen.

It was published in 1963, if that's any sort of excuse.

Anyway, my mom maintains that this book report is brilliant because I wrote it all in the decidedly sentimental style of Marie Killilea. I also used a different pen or pencil for each "diary entry," to give it that authentic feel:

Diary of Karen Killilea

[written with pencil]:

I feel that I have made the right decision. No more will I be in the crutch's prison. Well, now that I have this diary "Mom Pom" gave me to keep up my good handwriting, I feel I should explain myself.
I have cerebal palsy. Well time to eat dinner. Good-bye, dear diary!

With love,

Saturday [written with pencil]:

Today we took Ocean Borne to a dog show. Ocean Borne and Peri are our Newfoundlands. Today, at the show, I had a surprise. Ed Doll was there! I remember when I sent him the telegram telling him that Ocean Borne went BOB (best of breed). He said WHO'S BOB? When I saw him we hugged and he said, "How's BOB?" So, I know he has not forgotten either. Soon, Gloria, Russ, Mary, and Evelyn will be home. I'M SO HAPPY.

But I miss Shanty

With Love,

[written with pink pen!]:

Dear Diary,
How foolish I've been to not explain my spectacular family to you. There is "Mom Pom", Daddy, Gloria, Marie, Rory, and Kristen. And our animals! Shanty was my dog but, alas, he has passed away. Hmmmmmm. Now there is Ocean Borne, Peri, and Pierre. Our cats are many. One is Misty Morning. Another, Kristen's companion, is Etcetera, our darling Siamese with points! We also have 2 birds and more cats (of course). Glo and Russ (+ kids) lived in Florida and on Tuesday they are coming back.


With Love From,

P.S. We also have an alligator, Gigidinella, and a talking parrot, Gazebo

[written with black pen]:

Dear Diary,
So much to do in so little time. Glo, Russ, Mary, and Evelyn will be here tomorrow "for keeps" says Glo. Let me tell you all about my important decision. I chose between riding in my wheelchair (FREEDOM) and the crutches (PAIN). Naturally I chose the wheelchair. I am free. Well, I still have to help prepare the surprise party for GLO AND RUSS! Excitement is in the air. I can smell it.


With Love From,

[written with blue pen]:

Dear Diary,
Glo and Russ and Mary and Evelyn came home today. Evelyn is the most darling baby. Kristen loves her. (So does Etcetera.) And more animals! Glo presented me with a tank of the most beautiful tropical fish. Our menagerie grows! Rory came for a visit!!!!!!!!!! His girlfriend, Virginia McGuire, brought us a puppy, a beutiful Golden Retriever, who Virginia claimed she was called Shannon. (I guess Rory told her about Shanty.) Glo is back and they are looking for a house. Jean, our neighbor, said things were back to normal. Even Marie, her husband, Ronald, and son were there.


With all My Love Family + Friends From,

[written with pink pen]:

Dear Diary,
Today, oh, today was a glorious day. We went to the beach. It was warm enough. Virginia does the most remarkable dives. Shannon joined our 3 dogs (2 Newfs, 1 Daschund) in a water/romp game of fetch-the-frisbee. What fun. Kristen is learning to hold her breath! Mary can swim!!!! It is nice to see us all together. I happily took note that Marie and Gloria are the same fantastic swimmers they used to be. Glo, Mare, Ginia (VIRGINIA), and myself raced, swimming, in the water. I had some tough competition. Later, Mommy told me we were all very impressive.


All My Love,

[written with pencil]:

Dear Diary,
Today Rory and Ginia went away. (AGAIN!!!!!) Glo and Russ have already found the perfect house. I suspect mommy was hunting for them when they were in Florida. Now they are getting a Labrador. We used to have one named Highland Lark (Lark for short). Mary wants to get a dog named "fishy". She is hilarious! Today was OK, I guess.


With Love from Karen

Wow. Two things:
1) I definitely read those books way too many times.
2) I kind of want to write everything
à la Marie Killilea from now on. Ahem:

This trip down memory lane has been such glorious fun! How lucky I was to have such impressive authors to emulate and such remarkable books to plagiarize. And how foolish I've been not to write like the spectacular Killileas all along!

WHAT FUN I HAD WRITING THIS BLOG ENTRY I WILL REMEMBER FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. Well, time to eat dinner. Good-bye, my dear, darling readers!

With love,

NEXT TIME: Plot treatments for some stories that never were, but definitely should have been (hi, The Bikini Summer?).


Miss Banshee said...

"Mixed Up Files" is still one of my all time favorite books. Bathing in the fountain! Hiding in the bathroom! Sleeping on the big bed! Oh god, I need to go read that again.

Kathryn said...

Okay, your childhood affinity for biographies of crippled children makes me feel less weird about how many times I re-read Helen Keller's biography in grade school.

And "Mixed Up Files", LOVE! I have a poster (from the children's libarian) on the back of my door of all the Newbery Medal winners, and it is my goal to read them all before I die.

zanne said...

I read "Mixed Up Files" too, and I've actually been thinking of rereading it. I remember thinking it would be so cool to hide out in an art museum!

I was fascinated by Helen Keller too. I loved reading about kids with disabilities for some reason. I never heard of the book you wrote about, though.

That one family really hid their giant dog in the mobile home?! ha.

Sada said...

I was into Helen Keller and also Laura Bridgman, subject of Child of the Silent Night—she was like Helen Keller before there even WAS a Helen Keller!

Actually, a friend gave me both Child of the Silent Night and Wren (my first taste of Karen Killilea) for my birthday. So I was clearly not the only one with a cripple fetish.

Anonymous said...

I remember in 4th grade, a classmate did a book report on "Anastasia Again" - until I read it a few years later, my idea of the plot (according to her book report) was that it was a (murder?) mystery story about a neighbor named Gertrude Stein, but that she was both famous and dead. !!!

Sada said...

Ha ha ha. Okay, now I'm just having book report flashbacks... Also in fourth grade we had to dress up as a character from a book, and I went as Sara from Summer of the Swans, complete with homemade puce sneakers. Well, they were SUPPOSED to be puce, but I somehow got it into my head that puce was a shade of orange (which is not even in the puce ballpark), and I orange-markered up a pair of old Keds. Then I blue-markered some laces just to be fashionable. To my horror, the boy I liked pointed out that these were the team colors of the Denver Broncos (who were at that time the bitter, bitter rivals of the Browns) and then MADE FUN OF ME for supporting them. I vehemently denied any such affiliation, but then MAN, did I hate those stupid puce Keds.

halle said...

My dear young lady,
You were a very lucky child to have such a supportive and sensitive mother. I agree (again) your book report on With Love From Karen WAS brilliant because of the sentimental style of Marie Killilea and the different writing implements you used to denote each new "day" for the dairy book report assignment.
Much love and continued support- Your "Mom Pom"

gollygee said...

The letter to the author is incredibly well-written. Keep on writing Sada! :D

BadKat said...

I attempted to run away once; I left a note assuring my parents that I would be somewhere safe and headed off to Grandma’s. I realized that it was kinda far, so I turned around and went home. I made it a whole block.

Anonymous said...

Love love love your blog! I wish I had some of my old writing, I did plan to be an author one day too. =)

Amanda said...

I just discovered your blog today, and I have to say though I've only read a few entries, I'm a huge fan. I had a VERY similar childhood... this makes me want to go home to Cincinnati and dig up some of my own stories and pictures.

Also, "Mixed Up Files" was my second favorite book at this age, after "The Egypt Game".

Sada said...

No way! The Egypt Game was hands-down my favorite for a few years. I'm a huge Zilpha Keatley Snyder fan. Still.

Cory said...

I just re-read this again, and it's shocking how advanced that diary is for a fourth grader. What 9 year old knows how to spell menagerie, or even what it means? Impressive.

Oriole said...

I used to re-read "With Love from Karen" so many times that I could actually quote extensive passages from it. (I received an ancient paperback copy of the book in a box of discarded books from a relative's attic.) Anyway, in case you're interested, I've since done some research on the Killilea family and found that poor Mary deLourdes and Evelyn Anne died in a fire - yes, the famous "Little Red House" with all its dry wood that Marie rhapsodized about in WLFK was actually a fire trap. One of Little Marie's daughters also perished in that fire.

I don't know if Rory ever married Virginia McGuire, but his second wife's name is Cherie.

Sada said...

Thank God you're here, Oriole! I can't tell you how many people come to this blog after Googling various members of the Killilea family... only to find a fourth grader's book report.

I must say though, that is very upsetting news about the fire! I'm not even writing anything in Killilea-ese about it, that's how upset I am.

Kelley said...

I had to smile when you noted that your journal-style book report on With Love From Karen was written in Marie Killilea style. I also adopted that writing style in 5th or 6th grade when I wrote the heartwarming tale of a girl whose family overcame great obstacles to adopt her new sister Marie. Hmm...does any of that sound familiar? I loved those books and also books on Helen Keller. Great minds think alike, eh? There is a new bio out on Annie Sullivan btw.I'm another one who landed on your blog via a search to discover what has happened to the family. Very sad to learn of the fire but heartened that Karen is still with us and doing well.

Always, Absolutely Amy said...

I thought it was just me! I once made my family drive all over Larchmont, New York to find Karen. I was a strange child. I also wrote a prize winning poem about Helen Keller in the 2nd grade.