A year ago I found my dog on a computer. When people ask me now, I cannot remember what network it was exactly, or specific organization which posted his picture (in a fetching straw hat) and provided his contact information. He’s like a lot of dogs from the South in his outlines: black and lanky with a white patch of Other tattooed across his chest (this is evidently what you get when nature runs its wanton course), though he is otherwise more recognizably the product of oddities not specific to Alabama, starting with a history of baldness which came cheerfully disclosed in his first-person profile (“I’m all better now!” ), eleven siblings (and eleven farewells, each sibling adopted before him), a mother with mastitis, a bottle feeding wet-nurse, a long ride North, expressionist carsickness, foster families, a couple of close calls with a Corgi, and a not-fond familiarity with guns.
He looked like an elephant apparently when he was bald (bits of his epic first months I have been able to reassemble from the papers that followed him North). Who wants to walk around all day explaining their elephant-dog? Not me. We took a chance. Things worked out. But there wasn’t a single noble impulse behind it.
I mention this mongrel who has a sense of himself apparently as being imprisoned beneath my desk while I am working, and issues many gassy protests till I pack up – I’m telling you this story for all of its obvious parallels with the sort of unpedigreed children’s books that almost, don’t quite disappear, but also because I worry about what gets left over that it seems increasingly inbred. Stories about polka dots. Getting dressed the wrong way. And princesses - there are more fricking royals on the shelves at Barnes & Noble than there are in the entire human history of capricious beheadings. And puppies. I swear if I see another book about a perfect gift wrapped puppy – particularly one heading to the White House – I think I’m going to bite someone.
Salespeople beware! Hard to know whom to blame exactly for these skittish offerings but they do fit pretty well into Key Selling Points, as the industry likes to refer to them. And if they’re not quite for everyone, they handily manage the distinction of something reduced and reduced and reduced to its least offensive elements.
Are noses offensive? I like to pick on Madonna especially for her gape-faced English Roses, but the phenomenon is everywhere these days, so I suppose there is data to recommend it. As such, I was initially a little put off by the unsparingly named Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw’s
My Travelin’ Eye, which features on its cover a very tight close-up of a girl with artistic looking glasses and a barely visible smudge where her nose was supposed to be – all in all too peppy for my tastes, and it hadn’t even started. Still, a funny thing happens once you have ventured past the dedication – “For God” – and a Note from the Author about the title, which isn’t, it turns out, derived from country music, but a clinical condition called strabismus “when one eye, or both eyes, misaligns and turns in, out, up, or down.” An actual diagnosis then (as opposed to, say, crippling shyness, or an underdeveloped fashion sense): should we really be so surprised? Jeez, a disability. In a children’s book of all places! Even the acknowledgement of God looks a little dangerous suddenly. Maybe we are in for a wild, freaky ride.
Well, freaky compared to what? Certainly, there is a lack of self-consciousness in the narrative style which is as matter-of-fact as the dedication, and in the illustrations which are crayoned and water-colored and puzzled together - without much regard for accessibility. You can get a little dizzy sometimes looking at the pages here, yet this feels indispensably true to the spirit of a girl (and an author) who’s convinced there’s nothing really wrong about the way she sees the world - in fact it seems sort of a blessing:
“My right eye is the navigator. It sees numbers. It’s my guide.
“My travelin’ eye is the artist. It sees colors. It’s the adventurer. Together, we make a great team.”
Oh, there are those glasses in the end, and a pleasingly manic ophthalmologist named Dr. Dave, and all of the ordinary chuckleheads at school who make you feel lousy before they make you feel great. So uplift, so science, so art – this book checks all of the boxes - though I’d be very surprised if it ever received even a thousandth of the attention that Fancy Nancy demands every time she gives herself a manicure.
And yet here it still is, not brilliant or beautiful, an exception for our exceptional selves. Hybrids, all of us, with recessive weirdness as far as the eye can’t see. We are One Potato.