Ungovernable urges, I sing of thee! Of Giant Meatball uproariously romping and rolling his way along the old riverbeds, and flattening sheep, and sullying jellies! Of Rotten Ralph run amok in Pierre’s Poodle Parlor, and flipping over trash cans with his alley cat friends, and sabotaging weddings – what, you’re tired of hearing me go on about Rotten Ralph? Too bad! It’s my song!
Of Howard Cranebill dipping his pointy nose in all of the wrong things and making compulsively for the top of pear tree! Of Ugly Fish devouring his small-talking roommates, McFig and McFly irresistibly building their parallel towers of doom! Of a blue bird named Igor whose passionate warbling falls on undeserving ears, and the anonymous egg who climbs 583 steps to the top of a tower so he may briefly know the joys of flight! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
I sing of Robert, the antsy, necktied hostage of a hundredth birthday celebration in Cari Best’s and G. Brian Karas’s Are You Going to Be Good? from 2005 – and I wonder what’s become of him in adolescence. In a picture book landscape increasingly defined by all of the Stuff – the cupcakes and bunnies and tutus and merchandising rights – we absolutely cannot live without, here is a kid who just needs to dance. Hard to know how this squares with Key Selling Points today, still once upon a time this book even landed in the New York Times Top Ten Illustrated blah blah blah republican filibuster blah blah muammar qadaffi blah, which is probably how all of that endless cocktail chatter sounds to Robert before he finally gets his groove on.
“‘Don’t do that,’ whispers Daddy.
“‘Don’t do that,’” whispers Mama.
“‘Don’t do that,’” whisper all of his other relatives, the italics an echoing drumbeat across the whole night. Sure, Robert’s a handful, but I do not think he arrives at his catharsis without a little help. “Be a good boy,” says Mama before he has even gotten out of the car. “Remember not to mumble.” “Or talk too loud.” “Are you going to eat?” Then “Don’t do that.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t do that,” whilst Robert is sampling canapés, and making a face at the stinky-feet cheese, and drawing a tellingly wild-eyed self-portrait through all of the interminable speeches.
I bet that Robert has no problem entertaining himself when no one is watching, but it’s all of those times when everyone is watching which can seem to require more endless mediation than is helpful, or even, sometimes, sane. As often as not, when we count down from ten, we get what we bargain for: blast-off. And yet we keep counting, and drawing lines, and erasing them, never completely believing in a future that will make all of the antics worthwhile.