Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Avi's Short Stories Not Brilliant, But Not Bad


In general, I'm not a big fan of short stories. Why? I don't know. I've been analyzing my psyche to figure it out. I think it goes back to the whole old friends v. new friends thing - I'd rather keep old, established relationships than try to create new, possibly superficial ones. Thus, I enjoy reading series' and big, thick novels that delve deeply into the characters. Anyway, the point I am very slowly getting to is that I don't usually read short stories. In fact, I chose Avi's Strange Happenings for the R.I.P. Challenge thinking it was a novel. Nope. Short stories. But, since the volume is short (it's intended for 8-12 year olds), I decided to give it a shot...and the short stories were not bad, not bad at all...

They weren't, however, exceptional. I felt most of the stories lacked imagination and carried over-simplified morals (i.e. always keep your word; you can't trick a trickster; physical beauty does not necessarily equal happiness, etc.). Yes, I realize that they are written for children, but I would have liked more intricate tales. I did think "Curious" was funny, especially since my husband and I were just at an Arizona Diamondbacks game musing about what kind of people dress up like tacos and burritos and act like idiots during the 7th inning stretch. Anyway, "Curious" is about Jeff, a young boy who loves the mascot - dubbed The Alien - of his hometown baseball team. He desperately wants to meet the person inside the costume, so he lurks around the field, questioning players and staff about the identity of The Alien. Oddly, no one knows, or really cares. Most people consider The Alien's actions rude and even offensive. Not Jeff, who is now even more curious about the mascot. Finally, he decides to hide under the bleachers and wait for The Alien to reveal himself. Jeff ends up getting a lot more than he bargained for, which proves that curiousity can get you into a whole lot of trouble.

My favorite story in this collection was "Babette the Beautiful," a tale in which a beautiful queen makes a deal with a sorceress to ensure she bears a princess who is equally as fetching as herself. So obsessed is the queen with beauty that she wants her child to be wholly without blemish. The sorceress, an ugly hag, assures the vain queen that her daughter will "appear flawless." Satisfied, the queen leaves, but banishes the hag to an outer forest, just so she doesn't make trouble. When Princess Babette is born, her mother stares at her in confusion. At first, the infant's features are curiously invisible. Luckily, the queen has an image in her head of what she wanted her child to look like, and that image replaces the one before her. In fact, she orders all mirrors removed from the kingdom. She then has artists paint Babette according to her description; thus, everyone in the land comes to recognize the princess based on the pictures that have been drawn. This is all well and good until Babette, travelling in the outer forests, encounters an ugly old woman who tells the princess she is invisible. Outraged, she orders her guards to stow the hag in the castle's prison. The furious Babette then questions her subjects about her appearance - no one can give her a credible answer. Finally, she demands a mirror. When she peers into it, she can see nothing. Astounded, Babette sends for the old woman, who gives her mysterious instructions as to how to fix the problem. I won't spoil the story for you, but let's just say that Babette learns her lesson about prizing physical beauty over all else.

Avi's stories were quick and amusing, if not brilliant. They're really not scary at all, but magical and fun. Kids will certainly enjoy them, probably without even realizing they are cautionary tales with time-tested morals.

2 comments:

  1. I've never read any Avi, but I'm not typically a short story person either. I love thick sagas. Long series. :) But I may give some of his other books a try.

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  2. I'm with you on the thick sagas - that's me to a T. This was the first Avi book I've read, and although I wasn't that impressed, I would like to read more of his fiction. I'll probably start with Crispin, which won a Newbery.

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