A characteristically delightful and insightful column this month:
I have on my desk before me three early-reader books by Mo Willems: I'm a
Frog! (which the cover clearly shows is being said by a pig), A Big Guy Took My
Ball!, and Should I Share My Ice Cream?
Because I have never felt or declared myself to be a frog, I didn't instantly
identify with that title; the other two seem ripped from my autobiography.
Yes, there were times in my childhood when I willingly held a ball, and on
more than one occasion, a bigger (or meaner) human took that ball away from
I did not cry or tattle. I just grew up to be a writer and gave their names to
characters who were such pathetic losers that nobody feared or cared about
(I did not really do that. Why would I immortalize bullies by placing their
names in my magna opera?)
(Plus, I don't remember any of their names.)
Children's books are as serious for children as adult books are for adults.
A Big Guy Took My Ball is, in its small way, rather like the movie My
Bodyguard, in which a picked-on smaller person (Piggie) enlists the help of a
much larger friend (Adam Baldwin). But in this book, the "bully" -- who turns
out to be nothing of the kind -- is even bigger and more intimidating.
Unfortunately, the lesson that bullies are just misunderstood lonely people
who want friends can lead to some unfortunate consequences in the real
There really are bad people who simply enjoy making other people unhappy.
They aren't misunderstood and lonely. They're mean and bored and stupid,
and your attempt to reason with them will merely provoke even more cruelty.
These bad people don't become bad at age eighteen. They already take
pleasure in the suffering of others when they're young, and their victims
need protection, not lectures about being kind to mean people.
Let's take the simple mailing tube. The idea is that you are shipping a rolled-up poster or canvas. The cardboard tube is hard-sided and has a firm
structure, so that the object inside will not be bent or punctured or torn during
But then, at the other end, the recipient needs to be able to get the poster or
painting or whatever it is out of the tube without harming it -- or himself.
Mailing tubes are usually designed with an easy pop-out plastic cap, so that
the recipient can easily get the tube open and slide out the fragile rolled-up
Why, then, do packagers cover this plastic cap with a complete seal of plastic
Do they expect part of the voyage to be made under water, so the tube has to
be watertight? Or do they think live mice are being transported through deep
space, so oxygen must be retained inside?
A single strip of tape across each end of the tube should do the job of
holding the cap in place. Then the recipient could easily clip the tape and pull
out the plastic end cap.
Instead, with the end completely sealed in tape, the recipient has to use a knife
to slice into the tape along the outer edge of the plastic cap. This is a curved
surface and the knife is going to slip many times in the process.
Meanwhile, you have to hold the tube somewhere. Chance of cutting
yourself: too high.
That thick seal of tape protects against nothing but makes extraction of the
item dangerous and difficult.
Other absurdities: Shipping books in padded envelopes.
Books are not porcelain. You don't have to protect them from bumps. The real
danger to books in transit is that something will bend or dent the edges of the
cover, or, in the case of a paperback, bend the whole book.
Padded envelopes do not protect against these dangers. That's why Amazon
and other sane booksellers ship books, not in padded envelopes, but in
cardboard boxes that provide a structure that extends far beyond the edges
of the book.
Structure, not padding. That's a huge difference.