28 September 2007
I recently had a manuscript returned to me with a--reasonably--kind rejection letter. It was a submission to a magazine, and while the editor liked certain aspects of my story, she felt that it was "a shade gruesome". Well, it was an adaptation of a fairy tale, and fairy tales can be gruesome, cruel, and twisted at times (must be because they're not just for kids!) I did not feel that my story fell within those parameters, but there was the slight matter of the giant chopping off the heroine's feet. Be that as it may there are some well-regarded picture books which would qualify as "a shade gruesome". I think of The Amazing Bone by William Steig. Or The Wretched Stone by Chris VanAllsburg. And Chocolatina by Eric Kraft (a teacher is quite prepared to eat a child simply because she is made of chocolate!) I think you can add to that list The Shivers in the Fridge by Fran Manushkin. The book tells the story of a family living in a refrigerator, and each day they endure a giant earthquake and a monstrous hand which removes a part of the landscape. One day, the hand removes father, too. The hand returns, replacing a jar of jelly, but no father. Day by day, members of the family are picked off, until only the little boy is left, cold and alone, telling himself stories in the dark for comfort.
Now, this is a picture book, so you can rest assured that all turns out fine. But the book lost me about half-way through, when the mother is whisked away after becoming trapped in a bowl of jello (she took a dip in it, and then it solidified around her.) The picture of two gnarled hands removing the bowl, with the mother stiff in place, and looking, frankly, terrified, was a bit much for me.
So what's my point? Well...has that editor, who rejected my manuscript, read this book? Because clearly there is a market for creeping out kids. Or at least their parent readers. And "Shivers" has been well received, too, with a stared review from Booklist and favorable words from School Library Journal. Both reviews comment on the potential to scare, but clearly it is not a detraction, because the scare is balanced by humor. I guess if you can laugh a thing off, you won't cry later when you actually stop and think about it.
Trust me--the giant cutting off the heroine's feet--it's funny!