What a strange and puzzling invention is Anna Banana, by the writing and illustrating couple, Lenore and Erik Blegvad, she from New York City, he from Denmark, and the scenic, urban landscape of their imagining from someplace – maybe any place – in between. Lord knows, I have tried to trace the landmarks in this story to New York (Isn’t that the Chrysler building peeking out of the skyline in the opening pages? The Lewis Carroll statue transported from the boat pond?) all because I live here, and would like to continue to justify doing so by remembering that some things never change. This book is like that: with park benches to explore beneath, and hallways and stairwells and sandboxes, quiet places mixed with busy places, full of joggers and bikers and strollers and dog walkers and dapper old men reading newspapers mere feet from where children go swinging higher and higher….
“It makes me dizzy to watch,” remarks the Blegvads’ tentative wanderer, and I don’t think he is referring only to the swings.
It is Anna Banana leading him on each of these adventures, and shouting into shadows, and discovering pigeon feathers and calling them magic. And telling scary stories about red tomato-faced goblins, and building castles and stomping them flat, then always abruptly disappearing down the sidewalk – hands in the air like someone else is probably calling her – with never so much as a backward glance.
Is she real? Is she imagined? It is part of the enduring oddness of this book that its creators never try to spell that out, and probably also why it merits revisiting. Yes, you could probably sit around on a rug and discuss the allegorical signposts here (or Key Selling Points!) and make it all the way to lunch time, still dreams are almost always more compelling, more astonishing, more essential for everything they do not tell us than any guidance we presume to derive. They’re cooler when we’re in them, it says here, though this is admittedly from a perspective increasingly blurred between waking and sleeping, growing up and growing old, tomorrow’s regrets and today’s responsibilities, business and pleasure, family and adventure, mornings and evenings, coffee and….
Whoa, where was I? Heads up! Is that a giant tomato-faced goblin on the horizon? Okay, maybe not, still I have never been gladder to wake up to the possibilities of a setting sun.