Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lazy Little Loafers by Susan Orlean, illustrated by G. Brian Karas - review

Lazy Little Loafers by Susan Orlean, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Here's a question for you: Can we forgive Susan Orlean for being a gorgeous redhead who travels the world writing witty, insightful essays for sparkly, smart, classy publications? Can we forgive her the spectacular house in the Catskills made of native stone and glass? Does it seem like an embarrassment of riches that Meryl Streep played her in the movie? Is it completely unfair that she got to wear a matador outfit for one of her book covers? Well, maybe. She even has a cute dog. But she's talented and funny, so all these things we can forgive.

But now she's written a children's book, and when grownup authors and celebrities (even quasi-celebrities) do that, we sharpen ALLL the knives. Atwood's book? Preachy. Steve Martin's ABC book? Too smarty-pants. Updike's? Unexpectedly charming! (R.I.P., old man, I hope the afterlife looks like Cape Cod for you)

The book opens with our, oh, second-grade protagonist sitting at a desk under an anglepoise lamp, dark circles under her eyes as she copes with stacks and stacks of homework. She looks up from her work to pose the question, "Why don't more babies work?"

Typical New Yorker, this kid.

She then spends her day observing the behavior of several of the little freeloaders, one of which is apparently related to her. There is a certain amount of grownup humor here, as when she posits that the habitual uneven gait of the baby is a result of a "three-bottle lunch". But overall, the concept of babies getting jobs works as a good long joke. It's a fine take on the semi-resentful sibling thing.

Brian Karas's illustrations, by the way, are absolutely terrific. The little girl's deadpan stares, the happy, inscrutable baby - anyone who has stared at a baby and tried to imagine what he is thinking will recognize those faces. Backgrounds done in collage give the book a strolling, cinematic feel, as Mom, baby, and little girl travel from what looks like Greenwich Village, up 6th Ave, into Central Park, and to school on Central Park West. I do love a book that you can map.

So ok, one more point for Susan Orlean. But I'm sure she dyes her hair.


Susan Orlean said...

This made my day!
P.S. -- I do not dye my hair. But I'm sure I will someday.
Thanks for the thumbs-up on my maiden voyage as a kids' book author.
Susan Orlean

YNL said...

And you made my day right back, Susan Orlean! Thanks for the fun book!

PS - Dying one's hair, I am all for it. I myself dye my hair pink, but if my hair was your natural color, I might think twice!