Anastasia Krupnik, by Lois Lowry
I was feeling rotten Wednesday, so I went home sick. Couldn't sleep. Was feeling headachy, so couldn't sew or watch a movie. Was cranky, didn't want to read anything new.
So I started re-reading the Anastasia books. And let me tell you, there are few things that have perked me up faster:
Wednesday was the day that the members of the class were to read their own poems, aloud.
Robert Giannini stood in front of the class and read:
I have a dog whose name is Spot.
He likes to eat and drink a lot.
When I put water in his dish,
He laps it up just like a fish.
Anastasia hated Robert Giannini's poem. Also, she thought it was a lie. Robert Giannini's dog was named Sputnik; everyone in the neighborhood knew that; and Sputnik had bitten two kids during the summer and if he bit one more person the police said the Gianninis would have to get rid of him.
But Mrs. Westvessel cried, "Wonderful!" She gave Robert Giannini an A and hung his poem on the wall. Anastasia imagined that Longfellow was eyeing it with distaste.
I love how Anastasia always thinks of Robert Giannini as Robert Giannini. She always uses his first and last names, even in the later books.
I love Anastasia. I always have. I grew up on these books, and she was one of the few literary heroines who I really, truly identified with—it wasn't that I wanted to be her, it was that I WAS her.
As a grown-up, it's rare for realistic fiction about precocious child characters to really work for me—the kids usually fall into the Wise Beyond Their Years category or into the Mondo Precious (In Other Words, Yackworthy) category or into the Supposedly a Child But Actually Just A Mouthpiece for the Author category.
Now, though, re-reading Anastasia Krupnik, I'm finding that Lois Lowry really hit it—she created a whip-smart, creative, funny, grumbly ten-year-old who is so real to me even now that it's hard for me to accept that she's a fictional character. AND, not only are the books fabulous because of all that, but also because they're never condescending or trite or simplistic—they are so clearly written for kids like Anastasia. And for parents of kids like Anastasia. And for adults who were kids like Anastasia.
And her parents. I love her parents, their relationship with each other and with Anastasia. I love the realism of their conversations, that they often veer off into territory that goes over Anastasia's head, that would go over the heads of the intended audience of the book, because that's what happens in real life. Brilliant. The bit in Chapter Seven where Anastasia goes to the college poetry class her father teaches is an excellent (and hilarious) example.
I know I've said some of this before. Sorry. I'm beginning to realize that I'm an Anastasia Krupnik fangirl.
In this installment, Anastasia toys with becoming a Catholic (because she'd like to get a new name, and because there are fourteen other Catholics in the fourth grade, and so if they start a club, she'd automatically be included), constantly revises her THINGS I LOVE and THINGS I HATE lists, falls in love with Washburn Cummings, develops more of a relationship with her 92-year-old grandmother and, the biggie, learns that she's about to lose her only child status:
"How long does it take to make a whole book of poems?"
"Well, let's see. That last book of mine took me about nine months."
Anastasia groaned. "That's a long time. You could get a baby in nine months, for pete's sake."
Her parents both laughed. Then they looked at each other and laughed harder. Suddenly Anastasia had a very strange feeling that she knew why they were laughing. She had a very strange feeling that her list of THINGS I HATE was going to be getting even longer.
Yet another thing I love about Anastasia: Her regular use of the phrase "for pete's sake". I can imagine her hearing an adult saying it, liking the sound of it, and working it into her vocabulary. I use it a lot. It never occurred to me that it's probably due to these books.
Oh, and I love Washburn Cummings:
On the day that he came to school wearing a tee shirt with an obscene saying printing across the front, and was sent home by the principal to change, Washburn Cummings made a quick trip around the J. Henry Bosler Elementary School, appearing briefly at the door of each classroom and opening his jacket to flash the tee shirt at each class. By the time the principal heard he was doing it, Washburn Cummings had flashed every classroom down through the second grade and was already headed down the front steps, bouncing an imaginary basketball and wiggling his hips.
Why did they change the cover art? Okay, I know WHY they did it—they did it to make the books more attractive to a new generation. Whatever. I'm going to complain about it anyway. The old artwork was so perfect—there she is, sitting at her desk wearing her Amelia Earhart shirt. There's Frank the goldfish and her watercolors and her orangutan poster. Her notebook is even green, for pete's sake, and it's got lists in it. It's FREAKING PERFECT. If the middle of her left thumb was visible, we'd probably be able to see her wart. And what do they replace her with? Smirky Way-Older-Than-Ten Generic Glasses Girl Wearing A DENIM SHIRT??