I’m not going to pretend that I get Lemony Snicket.
I was just listening to an interview with him on NPR and he is, indeed, a weird dude. But also really, really compelling. And Maira Kalman, the illustrator of this book? Also really peculiar and yet fascinating. I have a few of her books (both children’s and adult’s) and they’re all the kind of books where you turn the page and just kind of shake your head because…what? I adore her.
The book 13 Words is really just a vocabulary list of some basic and some…ah…eccentric words that Snicket linked together. In order, the words are: Bird, Despondent, Cake, Dog, Busy, Convertible, Goat, Hat, Haberdashery, Scarlet, Baby, Panache, Mezzo-Soprano. All of those words, by the end, are combined into this odd, jagged, purely enjoyable story.
This is one of those collaborations where both author and illustrator come from left field, both with such a strong aesthetic, and together they create this amazing dynamic. Kalman, this impossibly cool artist, has created these bright, colorful, very, very odd illustrations, and I kind of want to frame them.
In the Fresh Air interview with Snicket on NPR, he bemoaned the fact that children aren’t exposed to a wider vocabulary, and that unlike adults, they lack the embarrassment if they don’t know a word and are more likely to ask or look it up, therefore, you know, learning. I dig that idea. I’m constantly floored by what my kids pick up when given the opportunity.
I also like it when a children’s book takes a rather dark turn. Our hero in this story is a bird that is despondent, and remains so throughout. Our lives are not always rainbows and unicorns, it’s important to see those emotions represented as well (see Elliott).
I haven’t gotten to the Series of Unfortunate Events yet (we’re still plowing through the Magic Treehouse books, my son’s not quite six). Have you?