(Read to the bottom of the post for a giveaway of today’s book and of Quackers.)
I think the closest I’ve come to discussing real-world events here is when I injured my finger. But I can’t pass over the attack in Orlando, and I feel like if you read my blog you probably understand that. You know I have a daughter, and, frankly, you probably either have or know children yourself. And at the word “shooting” I always feel more than usual like holding onto my daughter, as though holding her could protect her against whatever it is that makes shootings happen.
And that’s the real point, isn’t it? Politicians, pundits, lawmakers, police– and ordinary people like you and me– everyone’s going to be talking and talking about this shooting. But all the talk comes down to an essential point: “What made this happen?” How is it that a person was capable of taking firearms and shooting his fellow brothers and sister– how is it that someone can ask “Am I my brother’s keeper?” instead of stating “I am my brother’s keeper.” How is it that he couldn’t hear his brothers’ blood calling out to him from the ground?
Obviously, if you catch those heavy-handed biblical allusions, this is an old, old question. None of the politicians, pundits, lawmakers, neither you nor I… none of us will be able to answer it. Even the shooter wouldn’t be able to, were he still alive. But, being that I am who I am, I still have another question:
So many schools these days try to teach us about each other, in the hopes of promoting understanding and love of our fellow human beings. Others, of course, don’t. So many homes do the same. Others, of course, don’t. But, as part of that climate of love and understanding, we have so many books which try to teach us love and understanding. Some are preachy or pedantic, others are marvellous. We’ve encountered some here: Leo: A Ghost Story, The Gift, Quackers. All of these are great books for reminding us of the humanity of our fellows. But did the shooter read these? If he had, would it have helped? Did he, in a word, read Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson?
(NB two things: a) Christian Robinson is the wonderful illustrator who did Leo, and b) My husband firmly believes it should be Kelly DiPoochio, not DiPucchio. I’m sorry about that.)
Why do I ask whether the shooter had read Gaston? Well, here’s the thing: the story of Gaston is fundamentally about love across differences of all kinds. I think anyone who grows up reading Gaston must grow up with laughter and love and sympathy. Here’s the story:
Gaston is a member of the Poodle family. He and his sisters, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La are raised to be proper pooches. They’re tidy and graceful and look pretty in pink. But Gaston, as the family soon discovers, looks different… he looks like a bulldog. When they meet the Bulldog family in the park and see that one of the tough little bulldog puppies (Antoinette) looks an awful lot like a poodle, Gaston and Antoinette swap places. Everyone is sad: the dog mummies miss their own puppies, and the puppies miss their proper families. The next day everyone resumes their proper places and the two families decide to be friends. Ultimately, Gaston and Antoinette marry, and all is harmonious: looks don’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts.
As a writer, I’ve been told not to use vague words like “charming,” but sometimes that’s the only word that will do, and this is one of those times. Take a look, for example, at this:
You see here exactly the best points of both Kelly DiPucchio’s text and Christian Robinson’s art. There’s the lilting prose: “pretty in pink,” “nibble their kibble,” “ride in style,” all lead up to the three superlatives describing Gaston: “worked the hardest, practiced the longest, and smiled the biggest.” There’s the way the names are all highlighted in the text to look extra-elegant and extra-emphatic: Gaston has to stand out!
There’s also the art. Christian Robinson is at his best here: each little puppy is distinct, one in a scarf, one in a bow, one in sunglasses, and Gaston in a bow-tie. The cuteness makes you want to squeal. But it’s not just the sweetness. There’s his vintage colours: that slightly dusty shade of rose, that slightly sage shade of green, those off-white pearls which harmonize with the green dress… and let’s not miss that the gentleman’s own bow-tie works beautifully with the pink bags and bows of the little puppies, right? Everything is just slightly vintage, just a bit old-fashioned, and yet so very perfect for today, too.
But why does that matter for the book? Here’s the thing: a book of this kind, so very fashionable, so very sweet, right down to little pooches riding in handbags, runs the risk of becoming a little bit too much “of the moment.” And yet, by making the style just a little bit retro, Christian Robinson says, “Not just today. Yesterday, too.” And we complete the thought, “Tomorrow would be nice, too.”
And it’s not just the style which gains an extended lifespan, but the message, too. Remember the message? “It’s not just about where you look like fitting in. It’s what’s inside that counts. It’s where you feel like fitting in. Love is love.” Personally, I stand by that, and I’m hoping that this is a book that lasts, and that it’s a book which gets around. It may be silly and idealistic, but I still believe that books like Gaston and Quackers can help us stand against horrors like the Orlando attacks.
And that’s why I’m hosting a little giveaway here for a free copy of this book and one free copy of Quackers.
The first person to email me with a) which book they want, and b) the first name of the child who will be reading this book will get it. That’s it. That simple. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me who will be reading it, and I will rejoice that the message of love is getting around and send you a copy.
If a lot of people email me, I may send more than one copy, so don’t hesitate to write.
And, of course, don’t forget About that contest…