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The Fizzle Box

Helen Lester is moderately famous for imagining Tacky the Penguin, but here she is thankfully stepping out from behind his inscrutable mannerisms:

“A long time ago there lived a three year old author. Me. When I wrote a word I knew exactly what it said.”

Unfortunately she was the only one who knew, but this does not set out to trace the origins of an incorrigible visionary. Instead she is actually disabled – “a mirror writer,” she calls herself, which does sound kind of magical, I guess, though here it is simply the first of many unglamorous obstacles to spiritual and professional fulfillment.

Here is writer’s block – whether clinical or garden variety is significantly not always clear. Here is imagining a future with the circus, and here is setting yourself straight. Here are career changes and rejection letters, here is something called the Fizzle Box where crazy sounding ideas go to bide their time (a funny name: Felicity Brickhead? A wise lesson: never comb your feathers backwards?) before you can figure out if they’re actually crazy. Here are endless re-edits and public indifference. Here is no cake walk, in other words, though even if it is, has anyone ever considered how hard it would probably be to walk across cakes?

Not easy. We all love an underdog story of course, but what makes this book exceptional finally is how unexceptional it apparently considers itself. You would skip right by it in the library or the bookstore (probably in favor of the penguin), and that would be a pity, yet it’s probably also true to the spirit of its subject. There’s something a little brave, a little honest, and even kind of inspiring about an author who has the nerve to eschew the services of her regular illustrator, and have a go at it herself. The results? Well, let’s just say they allow Lester’s words plenty of opportunity to shine. We’re good at some things, not so good at others, and maybe there is all of the wisdom in the world to be gained by recognizing the difference between the two.

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