From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond
When grown-ups asked you to sit in a circle, they were usually about to tell you something you didn’t want to hear. Ms Aruba-Tate, Ivy and Bean’s second-grade teacher, was forever gathering them in a circle for bad news. Like, the class fish died over the weekend. Or, everyone has to start using real punctuation. Or, the pencil sharpener is off limits. Circles meant trouble.
Bean watched Madame Joy walk pointy-toed to a chair and sit. No floor for her. “Girls,” she began, “I have something very special to tell you.”
“Oh, tell us, Madame Jwah!” cried Dulcie. She even clapped her hands.
[I+B find out they’re going to be squids - who don’t actually dance at all - in the class’s performance of “Wedding Beneath The Sea”.]
Bean’s mother had said she would make both squid costumes because Ivy’s mom didn’t like to sew. But it wasn’t even a real costume. Madame Joy’s picture showed a white leotard with a circle of droopy white tentacles hanging from the waist.
Madame Joy said that tentacles were a breeze to make. Bean’s mom didn’t think so.
“Who ever heard of squid costumes, anyway?” she muttered.
“No complaining,” said Bean.
“None of your lip there, missy,” her mother said.
That was grown-ups for you. They never followed their own rules.
[Note from CiB: Yesterday's entry looked back at the life of Shirley Temple, so it is appropriate, and a happy chance, that today's entry deals with modern-day potential child stars.]
observations: If, like me, you wish there were a dozen more books about Hilary McKay’s Casson family [this entry, and an early appearance by the Guest Blogger] - excluding the disappointing late sixth entry in the series - you could do a lot worse than look into Annie Barrows’ Ivy + Bean books. The children are seven (or eight - it depends where you look it up) and in theory the books are for that kind of age group. But, as with all the best children’s books, there’s plenty here for adults to enjoy.
Like the Cassons, they do outlandish things and get into outlandish scrapes, and crucially they don’t do it for attention, or to be self-consciously eccentric, or to be bad, or to gain an advantage over anyone else: if they did, adult readers wouldn’t like them and I’m pretty sure children wouldn’t either. They just do things because it seems like a good idea, or a good solution to a problem they’ve already created for themselves. And then they deal with the consequences, the ones they couldn’t foresee because they’re seven. (Interestingly, they will ask grown-ups for help, but not for ideas. They have all too many ideas.)
The supporting cast is good, too. Parents and other grown-ups are interesting and not entirely predictable. We don’t like all of the other neighbourhood kids and schoolmates equally, which is realistic; but no child is belittled for not behaving better than they know how to. Ivy + Bean are cut some slack because they’re kids so it’s only fair that the others are. Mind you, I like to think you can sense some score-settling at times by the author, for example with the parents who would bring a child up to be like Dulcie, in the extract, who is a massive two years younger than our heroines but loves dancing, is annoyingly very very good at it, and is both a precocious suck-up and a teacher’s pet, the worst possible combination.
The main pic is a beautiful serious grown-up squid costume from the Ballets Russes, designed by Natalia Goncharova c1916. Pic from the National Gallery of Australia website, which sadly doesn’t note which ballet it was needed for. It couldn’t be much less like Ivy + Bean’s ones, with stuffed tights for tentacles.
In Korea, apparently, squid are so beloved that the existence of a sexy squid outfit is a given. This pic is from a fancy dress costume website – I don’t know why the model looks like she probably comes from California.
Lots of other characters in fairy tales and other fiction have been “doomed to dance”, in much more sinister senses than Ivy and Bean, of course. The girls really wanted to dance in Giselle, where there are vengeful female spirits called the Wilis who force people to dance till they die of exhaustion. But they’re the spirits of jilted women, so that’s ok… And someone in the film The 12 Dancing Princesses - starring Barbie - is doomed to dance, but it would be a spoiler to tell you who it is.
To read more from the Guest Blogger, click on his name below.