With the holidays upon us, the expectation here, and probably everywhere you are likely to encounter a printed, or scripted, or pixelated word, is that it will somehow contribute to a blessing or seasonally appropriate reflection - so I’m sorry to disappoint. I thought about it, of course, because I would like to sell you stuff, and do, myself, completely buy into the whole Christmas thing, but not so much Ashura, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa or whatever else it is you’re looking forward to that roughly coincides.
It’s certainly no accident that so many of these celebrations are more or less positioned on the calendar to distract us from what are otherwise the suckiest weeks of the year. Because I’d probably be inclined to celebrate the birth of Ataturk near the end of December, or the extinction of dinosaurs, or the independence of a country on the other side of the globe.
I wondered about all of this recently when my son brought home one of those Time Magazine for Kids they are apparently distributing for free in public schools to develop brand awareness or something - I don’t know. These seem like pretty bland offerings to me, no matter the news that they cover, but kids eat them up. The last one came entitled “Australia!” though really I cannot remember if that exclamation was the editors’ or my son’s.
He talked about kangaroos, wallabies, seasonal flip-flops, the regular stuff, and yet with such exuberance I could not help reflecting that this is the thing most worth preserving from his – or any - childhood, indeed it seems sometimes essential. Because a lot of what ends up defining us as adults is exactly the sort of moderation that precludes these whims and wild interests. We focus eventually, and sometimes even make money at it, and families, and many good things, still I’ll take such random enthusiasms where I can find them, or only see them, or remember them, to punctuate these longer winter nights.
The books that we give to each other may follow a fascination, or they may start one, though it is the books that we give to our children which arguably set off the brightest sparks. This could just as easily be true for a very good movie, or a television show, I suppose, or even video games, though I worry sometimes about the dueling motivations of so many enablers and disablers it’s hard to tell where all the fascination ends and the marketing begins. Something gets lost, it says here, in production, though a great many books still speak to monomania as a subject as well as an inspiration. When a single working artist is accountable for all of the words and also the pictures in a parallel, fanciful universe, they really need to dust off their inner exclamatory six-year-old to make it work.
Take pirates - or pirates! as they are better known to our children. You cannot fake a fascination with buccaneers and scallywags, and Robert Priest has made a career of relating their sometimes unsavory, always entertaining impulsiveness.
And dragons! Even if you should need to travel four thousand miles among gaping hordes of tourists to ever hope to encounter one in real life. Though fortunately Peter Sis has carved a quiet little hideout from his restless imagination in Komodo!
And space! Which of us does not want to believe in the potentials of space like we did before those compulsory science credits back in college? It can’t be impossible – can it? - that somebody else should be visiting the moon right while we are, like the briefly stranded alien and the lonely little boy in Oliver Jeffers’s The Way Back Home. And is it really so unlikely that we and our celestial neighbors should even want to get along, like all of the initially terrified strangers in Umberto Eco’s (yes, that Umberto Eco’s) The Three Astronauts?
To fly! Does anyone still dream of flying as often, or as fluently, as they did when they were kids? Allan Drummond’s The Flyers follows a group of children over one hundred years ago on a beach in North Carolina, imagining all of the potential variations of the Wright Brothers’ ungainly contraption; then Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold (who have collaborated on so many books together now they probably speak to each other in dreams) imagine a penguin’s excitement upon finally taking wing.
Oh - penguins! I could go on forever here, though you need not look very much further than Polly Dunbar’s boldly titled Penguin - with or without an exclamation - for all of the hope we invest in this species, indeed there is probably no finer example of the sort of implacable silences that are likely to become enlivened with even the smallest leap of faith. Happy holidays to you then, whether you are looking forward to a fat guy sliding down your chimney, or fairies, or burning bushes, or the abominable snowman to deliver your surprise.