Mark Twain Unfinished – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

61q+5s8-QzL._AC_US218_In the spirit of great unfinished work – Schubert’s unfinished symphony, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia – an unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain, now titled The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, was discovered among Twain’s papers in 2011.  Like other unfinished art, contemporary masters often take up the task to finish; in this case, the Newbery Medal winners Philip and Erin Stead provided the art and supplemental text to Twain’s scribbled notes and skeletal outline of a bedtime story he had created for his young daughters over several days.

The story has a little boy on a quest with a chicken and a skunk named Sally. A magic flower when eaten has him able to communicate with animals. The King with a short man complex has banned anyone taller than he is, the willowy Queen sits knitting below his high throne, and someone had kidnapped the Prince. Conversations between Philip Stead and Mark Twain interrupt the action periodically, and Twain’s story ends with the Prince in a cave guarded by dragons.  

Erin Stead draws a beautiful assortment of animals in muted watercolors with the chicken and skunk taking on special roles.  Her moving portraits of the queen and the boy will remind you of someone you care about.

Recently watching the Mark Twain Prize presented to David Letterman, I thought about Twain’s role in American humor.  Twain was well known for mixing his humor with truth; reading Twain can be fun for children and philosophical for adults.  Although the action seems a little slow, the Steads completion of this unfinished story adds another piece to Twain’s impressive canon.

The satisfying ending the Steads provide is timely and poignant.

“…the words that could save mankind from all its silly, ceaseless violence, if only mankind could say them once in a while and make them truly meant…

I am glad to know you.”

If only…

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A Soporific Solution to Falling Asleep

9780399554131_p0_v2_s192x300After reading Mark O’Connell’s essay – Letter of Recommendation – in the New York Times Magazine, describing his success inducing sleep in his three year-old by reading Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin’s The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep: A New Way of Getting Children to Sleep, I was curious to hear the book.

With my extra audible points, I downloaded the children’s book.  It starts with a warning not to use while driving, and continues with a slow smooth “once upon a time…” with soothing chiming music in the background.  The words are irrelevant and seem to fade into the slow rhythm of the voice – hypnosis came to mind.

Although I tried to stay alert, the monotony of the voice reminded me of a boring college lecture in a warm hall, and I found myself nodding off when the narrator yawned.  The listening length is about 30 minutes, but after the first five, I was ready to fast forward in a faster speed – not recommended if you really want to fall asleep – and heard about the magic sleeping powder and sleepy snail and the final good night.

I plan to use it on my next red eye flight, but now – I need a nap.

Flora and Ulysses

9780763660406_p0_v2_s260x420Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo’s newest contribution to wonderful children’s stories – Flora and Ulysses – involves the adventures of a young girl with a superhero squirrel.  When the squirrel survives getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner, he attains superpowers: he can fly, think (mostly about how hungry he is), type, and write poetry.  After a series of hilarious missteps, Ulysses saves the day and reunites Flora’s family.

DiCamillo combines humor with pathos as she targets the anxieties of Flora and her friend William, who are both suffering through changes in their families.  K.G. Campbell’s artwork adds to the story with cartoon frames interspersed into the narrative.  In this story, the adults learn the lessons of love, patience, and perseverance from the children, and, of course, from Ulysses, the poetic squirrel.

A book a child could share with a favorite adult – maybe even read aloud.

Other Books (reviews) by Kate DiCamillo:

Remembering Jean Merrill and The Pushcart War

When children’s book author, Jean Merrill, died recently, the world lost a champion of the underdog.  The author of over 30 children’s books, Merrill is best known for The Pushcart War – the New York City street peddlers against the big truck bullies.

When Morris the Florist gets pushed over by a big Mack truck, it’s the beginning of a confrontation that involves flattening truck tires with pea shooters under the supervision of Old General Anna and Maxie, the Pushcart King.  When the war escalates, with disabled trucks everywhere, Frank the Flower takes the blame for 20,000 flat tires and goes to jail.  Undaunted, the pushcart peddlers find unlikely allies in the children. When a peaceful demonstration and a foiled kidnapping threaten the vendors’ livelihood, the war seems lost.  Suddenly, the power of the word in the form of letters to the editor persuades the corrupt mayor to arbitrate a peace when public opinion turns against him.

If you have ever tried to negotiate between trucks parked on the street, you will appreciate the dilemma…

“… if there were no parking places, and a truck driver felt like having a cup of coffee, he simply stopped his truck in the middle of the street and left it there, blocking traffic for miles behind him.”

Although The Pushcart War was first published in 1964, Merrill’s humor underlining the political intrigue of three fictional big trucking firms trying to ban pushcarts from the streets of New York to make room for more trucks is still timely today.  Who doesn’t want to cheer for the little guy in danger of being run out of business by those mammoth corporations?

The food trucks are the newer version of the pushcart today, but some of the old-fashioned carts are still in business. Next time you visit New York City, look for one of the few remaining pushcarts; buy a coffee and piece of crumb cake – or maybe a pretzel.

Related Article:

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss

With the excitement of a youngster who has found a hidden treasure, Charles D. Cohen, has compiled a book of seven short stories – The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss – written by Theodore Geisel before he became famous as the Dr. Seuss of The Cat in the Hat, and other tales.  The stories appeared in magazines from 1940 to 1959, and Cohen offers an informative introduction detailing the references, including anecdotal sources, and a few notable reminders of Geisel’s genius.

Whether you are an adult with a penchant for “messages” in Dr. Seuss’s tales, or a child who cannot get enough of the rhyme scheme, the stories are fun to read:

  1. The Bippolo Seed–  a duck wishing for food, who asks for things he cannot use.
  2. The Rabbit, the Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga –  a rabbit who saves himself from a bear by using an eyelash.
  3. Gustav, the Goldfish –  a fish who overeats and keeps outgrowing his bowl.
  4. Tadd and Todd –  a pair of twins’ adventures
  5. Steak for Supper – with Mulberry Street and a host of strange critters
  6. The Strange Shirt Spot – the first time that bathtub spot from the Cat in the Hat makes an appearance in Seuss lore.
  7. The Great Henry McBride – the possibilities of being able to do anything

If you are a fan of Dr. Seuss, you too will think you’ve discovered long-lost treasure.