Hollywood Jersey, 80 pages, paperback, $20.00
I am a big fan of kids’ books, and in my youth digested a massive amount of William Steig, Richard Scarry, Matt Christopher, Encyclopedia Brown, etc. I’ve also worked with kids in public schools a little bit, and have a rough set of guidelines for determining the quality of children’s books: they should be fun, well-written, and foster learning, life skills, or a creative imagination (or any combination of the three). I also believe a book should be, no matter the target age group, a stepping stone to the next level; slightly challenging, quality writing that respects the reader’s intelligence.
So, does I Went For A Walk by author Shanti Wintergate and illustrator Gregory Attonito fulfill those requisites?
Well, not entirely. It’s an excellent effort, with beautiful artwork, clever concepts, a neat (and strange) storyline, and a lot of heart from the creators. Attonito’s colorful and rather psychedelic artwork accompanies Wintergate’s tale of a child who walks around the Earth, floats up to Neptune, and falls back to Earth in search of food. Upon opening the refrigerator door, finding only a moldy piece of lasagna, the gender-neutral child narrator shrinks to the size of an atom and is sucked into the mold to discover a new universe. In the “mold universe,” the child visits two pun-tastic planets, “Moove” and “IZ,” all the while still seeking food. The story wraps up with the kid awakening to the smell of pancakes and eggs and a parent calling, “Breakfast is ready!”
I like the idea of the two mold universe planets, Moove (where there is “No walking, no running, no cars/and no bikes, just dancing about in/a playful delight”), and IZ (“The people of IZ are so very pleasant/because the people of IZ live in the present!”). Nice, though these concepts are likely to be more appreciated by the adult reading the book to the child, rather than by children, whereas a classic like The Giving Tree contains an impacting concept comprehensible and equally appreciated by readers of all ages.
The main theme of the story is summarized on the next to last page: “You never know what’s beyond the Horizon/you never know what’s under your nose.” The fact that the book takes us travelling through two universes — the one in which we live and a microscopic galaxy contained within the mold on a slice of lasagna — is a really bizarre, clever way to get the idea across.
Beyond that, though, the book doesn’t do much for me. Intended for an age group who’ve graduated from Pat The Bunny and reside somewhere in PD Eastman territory, the language still seems too rudimentary — unless we’re talking about Winnie the Pooh, I personally would never read to my own child or elementary school students a book that uses too-cute words like “yummy” and “tummy,” which together appear six times, including the phrase, “I flew back home as quick as I could, I couldn’t wait to fill my tummy/with yummy, yummy food!” That’s Barney the Purple Dinosaur language, and you can do better than that.
Also — yes, I know this is a kid’s book — but even kids deserve consistent rhyme scheme and meter. Is this a book-length poem, or is it not? Even within single pages (most pages are comprised of five or six lines broken into two stanzas) the rhyme and meter is inconsistent. Right off the bat, on page one, the first stanza doesn’t rhyme, yet the second stanza does. Then pages two through 10 don’t rhyme, and don’t even maintain any particular cadence. Then, on page 11, both stanzas rhyme, in an ABA CC scheme. An on we go throughout the book, rhyming, not rhyming…the whole thing reads, I’m sorry to say, amateurish (“No peanut butter, no bread no carrots,/no yogurt no cheese, no milk,/not even a soda. I rubbed my eyes to be sure of this sight/but there was no food,/not one single bite.”)
Do you have to be the next Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein to write an adept children’s book? Absolutely not. But you should study them and strive for an attainable level of quality before putting your final product out there.
I feel like an ass for critiquing a children’s book so severely, and I feel even worse because I’m afraid I might hurt the creators’ feelings if they ever read this. But before I finish, hear me out: as I said initially, this book is a great effort, and it succeeds on several levels. What I’m assuming Wintergate and Attonito could benefit from most of all is some outside assistance. This is a fully DIY effort, and on that front, they deserve an A-plus for breaking the punk rock mold and really creating something truly “for the kids.” But like many a cut-and-paste zine, I Went For A Walk feels as though the creation of the book was very insular and relegated solely to the writers. Copyeditors, outside eyes, anyone who has experience working with children’s books…there are a host of sources they could bounce ideas off of, and if I’m assuming correctly, it doesn’t appear that they brought in anyone else to help clean it up. They both possess wonderful imaginations and great potential, and their hearts are in the right place. I tip my cap to them. They’ve done a pretty good job here, but I’m just convinced they can do better.