Thursday, March 24, 2011

Revisiting Marc Brown's Arthur Books

Arthur's Nose, the first book in Marc Brown's Arthur series, was published in 1976. The Arthur appearing in that story was very obviously an aardvark, with a long, drooping nose and a droopy disposition to match. 35 years later, Arthur is someone else entirely - a noseless, bespectacled, everykid who resembles neither an aardvark nor any other actual creature, but who has a much more agreeable personality, and can be trusted to guide kids through the many difficulties associated with growing up.

I hadn't read any Arthur books in a long time - probably not since long before the series became a television show - so I decided to read one title from each of the three series my library has on its shelves.

I started with a picture book, and read Arthur's First Sleepover, which is the 20th Arthur adventure and was originally published in September 1996. It was also adapted as part of Episode 30 in Season 1 of the television show, which first aired on June 2, 1997.

Arthur invites his friends Buster and the Brain to sleep over in the tent in his backyard. The morning before the sleepover, Arthur's father is reading "The National Requirer" at breakfast. One of the articles in the tabloid is about spaceships. Always ready to torture her brother, DW starts trying to convince the boys that aliens will disturb their sleepover. When night falls, and the boys settle into their tent, DW even tries to scare them by making alien lights  with her flashlight. They are frightened only momentarily; then they recover and exact their revenge using a scary mask. In between all the alien talk, kids also get to see the fun of a sleepover, and enjoy the excitement of staying up late, even after the parents say it's time to sleep.

The second book I read was an easy reader called Arthur's Hiccups, which was written by Janet Schulman, not Marc Brown, and published in 2001. The book includes a sheet of stickers for kids to use in telling their own Arthur stories.

When Arthur develops the hiccups, everyone has a suggestion for getting rid of them. The Brain says that at least one person has died from hiccups in the past, and instructs Arthur to stand on his head until they go away. Buster thinks a good joke will take care of them, and Muffy and Francine recommend lollipops licked upside down. DW helps not at all by teasing her brother, but ultimately it is she who solves the problem by hiding under the bed and scaring Arthur. Unfortunately for her, she then ends up with hiccups herself. This is a perfect easy reader: it deals with a universal experience, has a definite structure, and comes full circle with a humorous ending.

Finally, I tried an Arthur chapter book, the 10th, entitled Who's In Love with Arthur? which was written by Stephen Krensky and published in 1998. The book is based on an episode of the Arthur television show from Season 2, entitled "Arthur and the Square Dance," which originally aired on January 28, 1998.

The students at Lakewood Elementary School are square dancing during gym class. After Francine and Arthur dance together, a rumor gets started that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. Suddenly, their usually friendly gestures are being misinterpreted by their friends, and attempts to set the record straight only add fuel to the fire. In the end, during the next square dance lesson, Francine and Arthur avoid each other like the plague, and when finally forced together, they both blurt out that they're not in love. The misunderstanding is cleared up, and they go back to being friends. It was interesting to read an Arthur book with so few illustrations - I actually found it somewhat difficult to imagine the characters without visual cues. And kids who read this would definitely need to be familiar with the characters because there is no character description or development whatsoever.

Overall, three things stood out for me in each of these books:

  1. Arthur doesn't really have a personality. He's kind of a stereotypical boy, who likes sports and playing outside and becomes overwhelmed by attention from girls. He goes through the usual milestones of childhood, and deals with a lot of familiar problems, but any child could easily insert himself or herself into the story in his place. I think that is why the books are so appealing.

  2. DW is pretty much a brat. I guess I always knew she was annoying, but she really never misses an opportunity to make life difficult for Arthur! I saw a review on Amazon that criticized Arthur's Hiccups for promoting bad sibling behavior. I didn't think it was quite that bad, but it does seem like Arthur is usually the good kid, and DW the troublemaker. Big brothers might feel that way, though, so it works within the context of the stories.

  3. The Arthur books have stuck around for a long time! The newest of these three books is ten years old, but they are still extremely popular in my library, and at least in the case of the illustrated books, impossible to keep on the shelves. 

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