a list of…five stories about grumpy days

Grumpy days are universal.  Sometimes it’s easier to get perspective by reading about somebody else’s grumpy days.  Here are five winners:

The Little Brute Family, story by Russell Hoban, pictures by Lillian Hoban

Wild, sticklebush, red hair, poking-up ears, sprawling black noses, scowling mouths and cantankerous eyebrows — these are the members of the Brute family — Papa, Mama, Brother, Sister, and Baby Brute.  And what a grimacing, snarling lot they are, utterly without manners, pushing and pinching, thumping and scolding.  Crashing their sleds into snowbanks and howling with rage.  My, my my.

Then, one day, Baby Brute found a little wandering lost good feeling in a field of daisies, and he caught it in his paw and put it in his tiny pocket.”  And, voila!  Baby Brute laughs!  And smiles!  He says thank you for his supper…and the little good feeling begins to waft around among the other Brutes.  Ah!  They look ever so much nicer with smiles on their brutish faces!

What a considerable lot of good that good feeling does for the Brutes.  Good manners.  Lovely days of kite-flying and swimming, cozy evenings singing by the crackling fire.  In fact, the little Brute family’s ways are so completely changed, that they go ahead and change their name!  You’ll have to read it to discover what name they choose 🙂

Delightful story brought to us by the creators of Frances-the-badger and family.  Sure to bring a good little feeling your way, too!

Mrs. Biddlebox, by Linda Smith, pictures by Marla Frazee

Mrs. Biddlebox is a small, plump lady with a wild, unruly mass of black hair and…she is having a very, very bad day.  She is in a funk.  Even her tea is “dark and bitter.”  Which, for those of us who love our tea, is something dreadful.

Mrs. Biddlebox does not take this crummy mood lying down, however.  She sticks out her chin and gets to work dismantling the grumpies and transforming them into something better.  She twirls up the dreariness like spaghetti on a fork.  She rolls up the gloomy sky like a carpet.  She stuffs all this desolate mess into a big pot, and whisking and rolling, patting and stomping, she turns the whole bad lot into a cake.  Which she bakes.  And. Eats!  So there!

Now Mrs. Biddlebox is stuffed full of sweetness and is ready to settle down with a smile on her face to enjoy the twinkling stars and plump pillow and get a good night of sleep.

This is a bittersweet story.  Sweet, because it is so satisfying to watch dear Mrs. Biddlebox conquer that bad day.  Even young children can sympathize with a cranky mood that needs a bit of energetic whomping, and perhaps some dessert and tea to chase it away.

Bittersweet, because the author, Linda Smith, wrote this story out of her experience battling breast cancer.  She died as a fairly young woman in 2000, leaving behind a large family.  This, of course, elevates the immensity of Mrs. Biddlebox’s bad day to a point far beyond minor grumpiness.  For some children, this background may provide a powerful connection point for them.

Marla Frazee’s illustrations for this book are fantastic.  I always love her work.  I am drawn to her style like a magnet.  This book, with its strong emotions, required a great deal of thought to make it accessible to children, yet true to Linda Smith’s experience.  I think she did a phenomenal job.  If you’d like to read an interview by Marla about the process of illustrating this book, click on the link: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2007/09/illustrator-interview-marla-frazee-on.html

No Fighting, No Biting, by Else Holmelund Minarik, pictures by Maurice Sendak

Lovely Cousin Joan is trying to read.  All she asks for is a little peace and quiet.  Rosa and Willy, however, are having…difficulties.  They are squeezing too close on the sofa.  They are pinching one another.  They are whispering about pinching and squeezing.  Exasperated Cousin Joan tells them they are like two little alligators! 

Ah!  This captures the attention of Rosa and Willy, who wheedle a story out of Cousin Joan about two little alligators named Light-foot and Quick-foot and their  frequently-scolding mother.   “No fighting, and no biting. Come along now, and hurry!  HURRY!” Mrs. Alligator decrees again and again.  When those two little rascals ignore their mama, lagging behind in scrapping heaps and nipping each other’s tails, they encounter a very large and hungry alligator.  And he is definitely up to no good.  Good thing Mrs. Alligator always arrives on the scene just in time to teach those naughty alligators a lesson!

This charming, funny easy-reader book was written in 1958, proving that children and squabbling have not really changed a whole lot in half a century!  Else Holmelund Minarik is perhaps best known for her Little Bear books which combine the same charm, light humor, and clear rapport with children.  Maurice Sendak’s illustrations for this book are just fantastic.  Quaint, refined, set in a Victorian parlor, yet perfectly capturing the scowls and smirks of the children, the weary resignation of Cousin Joan, and the children’s clear adoration of their lady-like cousin.  A favorite for 50 years.

The Quarreling Book, by Charlotte Zolotow, pictures by Arnold Lobel

One rainy, gray day, things get off to a sour start for the James family.  I don’t know if it’s the crummy weather or just what, but at any rate, Mr. James forgets to kiss Mrs. James good-bye when he leaves for the office!!  Whoops.

This perverse little sour seed sprouts in all sorts of unhappy ways throughout the day.  Cross words, sharp tongues, scratchy comments, and miserable unpleasantness are passed from one person to another to another by Mrs. James, and her children, and their friends, like a mischievous relay race.

Then, suddenly, the tide turns!

Do you know who is responsible for this turning?  For dishing out love instead of grouchiness?  For sweetening up the day?  The family dog 🙂

And as a result of her furry waggings and lickings and pouncings and wriggling happiness, a new stream of kindness and pleasantness begins to wind its way through the household, touching and gladdening all those who have been hurt by the earlier  nastiness.

Short little story, great for preschoolers, with a message for cranky grown-ups, too!  Quaint, ink drawings by Lobel reflect the 1963 publications date for this one.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Just like you and I, children, too,  have days that feel like just one bad run-on sentence of mishaps and crankiness.  I think we all feel a bittersweet camaraderie with Alexander and his rotten day.  For things just keep landing wrong side down all day long.  No dessert in his lunch box.  Squished foot in elevator door.  Lima beans for dinner.  Railroad train pajamas.  And to top it all off, kissing on TV.  Blecch.  Alexander believes there is only one option:  moving to Australia. 

This is not a story where everything works itself out tidily at the end.  Alexander’s bad day just keeps being crummy right up through bed-time.  The story does not end in despair, however, because Alexander’s mom provides a little piece of wisdom which provides the perspective he needs.  “My mom says some days are like that.  Even in Australia.”  There is a companionship in that response that somehow takes the sting out of the whole string of bad luck.  Yup.  Some days are like that.  For all of us.  Tomorrow is a new day. 

This book has become a classic, and we certainly quote it in our family on those bad days.  The pen-and-ink illustrations wonderfully capture Alexander’s day as well as his woeful response to it.  Published in 1972, you’ll love spotting the VW bug, Ecology poster and phone-with-curly-cord, none of which were retro then 🙂  Everyone should know Alexander.