Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Dangerous Books for Boys ...

The March release of "Momma Loves Her Little Son," (Simon and Schuster, $17) the first children's book by John Carter Cash, illustrated by Marc Burckhardt, seemed strategically timed to coincide with Mother's Day. The only son of the legendary Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, John Carter Cash has spent much of his own career advancing and archiving the legacy of his famous parents, his mother in particular.

In his children's volume, John Carter Cash claims to share the nighttime words she used to to sweep him up over mountains and sky scrapers and imagined adventures before bidding him goodnight.

I have to admit, *disclosure* when Simon and Schuster offered a review copy of this book I wanted to love it.

I have a son who doesn't sit still to read. I have a daughter who has more books about mothers' love than imaginable. The gap between them would need a lengthy bridge to traverse.

But from the moment it arrived the volume turned me off. Figuratively and literally.

To be frank, I found the smell of the ink overpowering.

I wasn't going to mention that I found the odor of the book to be even slightly nauseating. I'm not a printing expert and it could have been some isolated event, or perhaps some fresh-book smell I'm unaccustomed to. The illustrations, which are quite beautiful, are also saturated. So I decided to let it air out for a while before
i'd air such a grievance. Seemed like such a paltry quibble any way. ...

When I finally read it, however, (and yes, the scent was still evident a month later) I had to wonder if the smell wasn't some lingering bile from some unspoken sibling rivalry.

"Momma loves her little son.
There is nothing more so true.
From now until forever more,
Momma clings to you."

Near its end, Carter Cash's book also adds Christian overtones that, while some families may share and welcome them, will not appeal to all audiences.

Overall, the quality of the storytelling is what I find most lacking. The words weren't terribly lyrical, and their flow wasn't particularly satifying. Perhaps that's why all the press material that accompanied the book referred to the words instead of the story almost exclusively. In this respect it seems possible, in reading between the lines anyway, that the words June Carter actually said merely filled out the title and John Carter Cash conjured the story himself.

I suspect the latter because the work also seems awkward in the way personal stories can be. The more I read it, however, the more I realized the work he's created doesn't really speak to me as a special vehicle for mother and son, as much as it seems capable of driving a wedge between brother and sister.

I think I would have left "Momma Loves Her Little Son" on the shelf if it hadn't arrived in the mail.

Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds, creators of the best-selling "Someday," have a much better option in their 2008 book "Little Boy," (Simon and Schuster, $16). (A book I did buy off the shelf).

"Little Boy
So much depends on ...
your yellow cup,
a serenade to wake you up,
sun that slants across the rug,
the wings on that astonishing bug."

This book takes a more carefree, playful tone than "Someday," but its message is no less elegant. Its love is implied in the noticing and the marveling of boyhood play. Imagination is at play here, too, but it is subtle. The other thing I like about this book is that it doesn't classify a mother's love as being separate from the rest of the family ... it's a book anyone can read to a boy ... and the love will be implied.

Even big sisters. (Well, once they learn how to read, anyway.) Love is love.


Kcoz said...

I have been thrusting for a good book to read, I'll be sure to cross off the Carter book off my list.


toyfoto said...

Ah ... if it's a good book your thrusting after ... you might try "Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove," by Christopher Moore. It's on the order of a Carl Hiaasen novel.

Krista said...

I recommend "the Salamander Room," by Anne Mazer. I love the story and the illustration.