Tap Your Tencil on the Taper
CHILDREN'S LITERATURE IN AN IRONIC AGE
At the close of Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio book Summer Reading Is Killing Me! (1998), there is a “Summer Reading List” designed, it would appear, for schoolroom use. “Each student,” it begins, “must read four books during the summer and fill out the attached study guide for two of them.” The books are classified for Early Readers, Middle Readers, and Older Readers. Each category runs through the familiar texts in alphabetical title order. Many of these books are ones I have discussed here, from Aesop's fables and Alice in Wonderland to The Wind in the Willows and Johnny Tremain. All the familiar authors appear, from Dr. Seuss, the Grimms, and Robert McCloskey to Tolkien and Verne. But by the end of the list, something odd has begun to happen. There is the category “BeExtremely-Careful-When-You-Readers,” and under it, one heading: “Anything with Teddy Bears in It, by Anyone.” And following this one, there is the final category: “Perfect-for-Knocking-Out-Parrots-and-Savingthe-Day-Readers.” At the end, there is the Study Guide itself. It begins straightforwardly enough: “Write the title and author of the book.” It then enjoins the student to identify major characters and imagine who would play them in a movie version. But then something odd happens:
Tap your pencil on the paper.
Stare out the window and daydream.
Put the study guide away and don't look at it again until the night be-
fore the first day of school.1
What's going on here? Is Scieszka glibly subverting the very principles and canons of instruction and delight that children's literature has sought