Title: Strange St.
Author/Illustrator: Ann Powell
Published: Kids Can Press, 1975
Know what I love? A good picture book. I love a picture book that you start to read and then you THINK you know the ending, but you really have no idea. I love a picture book with a strong story and a clever hook. I really do enjoy MOST picture books that publishers are publishing these days.
But there was a time, back in the dark ages called the ‘seventies’ that picture books weren’t as…er…let’s say ‘vetted by the publisher’ as they are now. (Read: a lot of questionable/crappy stuff was published.)
One thing I’ve mentioned in passing is that I have two collections of kid lit: my big, huge collection of awesomeness and my smaller (but perhaps more entertaining in some ways) collection of crappiness. Today, we shall delve into collection 2!
This book is called Strange St. and the premise is very simple: Sam lives on a weird street. No, really. Everyone on the street isn’t ‘normal’ in some way.
This premise bugs me for three reasons:
1. IRL, no one is normal. Nothing is normal. Every street is a bit strange. Seriously.
2. I HATE stories that force the whole “OMG, you’re so WEEEEIRD” thing. It’s painful to read about and it makes no sense to me. Who cares if you’re weird? Embrace that, yo! It’s what makes you special.
3. The ‘OMG, so WEEEIRD’ thing feels like it’s being used in place of, you know, telling a story. This is a series of sentences put together in book form. It’s not a cohesive whole. No one learns anything except that “Strange St. isn’t so strange after all!” Blargh. No.
So. Let’s list the ‘strange’ things in this book, according to the author:
1. Sam’s mom is a lady wrestler. His dad is a part-time chef, part-time dad. I guess that’s a bit risqué, seeing as this WAS published in 1975. In the illustration, they’re depicted as reading books about Greek wrestling and Welsh cooking. OMG, mind-blowing.
2. Aged Mr. Grumby has 9 cats. Aside from that being a health code violation, I guess it’s OK? Also, his million-year-old girlfriend resides with him. And…they’re not married, I suppose? Scandalous?
3. Camille and Joseph run the corner store and they have a baby girl named Charlotte. Literally nothing here is weird at all. These people are just living their best life, Sam.
4. This kid, Stephen, lives across from Sam’s house. He thinks there are tigers under his bed. Whatever helps you sleep at night, bud.
5. Mrs. Lawrence is 65 (but looks 95 in the picture) and likes to ski. Elizabeth is teaching Sam how to knit. Are Mrs. Lawrence and Elizabeth somehow related? Unclear. And, once more, nothing about them is weird.
6. Mark and Sarah grow basement mushrooms. OK, so they’re drug dealers. Janet has a ‘jungle’ growing in her house, so probably weed. Sam, it’s the seventies. Get with the times, kiddo.
7. Sam has a girl BFF called Patti. She likes hockey and cars but lives on Bright street which is a place that is 100% not for girls having those interests, so Patti chills on Sam’s street. Patti is a total sport-o and I have absolutely no interest in her storyline. You do you, Patti.
8. Sam is a BOY and plays with dolls. Was this even news in 1975?
9. Sam heads over to see Patti on Bright Street. It’s a total misnomer, because NO ONE IS NICE THERE. There’s even a creepy old neighbour who peers out behind his curtains. But who is he? Patti doesn’t know. She doesn’t know ANYONE on her street.
10. Sam goes into Patti’s house and then her mom is all “Oh, I’ve heard a lot about you, Sam.” Which…what? They’re BFFs. Patti has played numerous times at Sam’s house. Wouldn’t you know him by now? I mean, I get that the seventies involved moms basically saying “Get outta my house and come back by dinner and don’t get hurt or anything. Mama’s having her 10 AM cocktail.” But still.
11. Sam is all “I can help make lunch” and Patti’s mom is all “OMG, NO! Boys don’t cook!” They also don’t do dishes. Or play with dolls. Or cry. This book is killing me, you guys.
12. Sam was all judgmental about lunch. It was Kraft Dinner, Coke and a chocolate pudding cup. He didn’t like it. Look, where I’m from that’s called ‘gourmet.’ Stop being such a stuck up jerk, Sam. Manners, man.
13. Anyhoots, after Sam falls off Patti’s bike and is told not to cry, (by Patti’s mom, the original helicopter parent) he busts a move back to Strange St. He heads over to see his pals, Mark and Sarah, the drug dealers. They’re all “Sam, is your knee OK? Boys totally CAN cry if they’re hurt!” (Also, side note: Sarah and Mark literally look like twins in this story. I cannot decipher which is which.)
14. Then Sam sees Stephen, who is disembowelling his dolls to feed to his fake tiger. And Sam’s all “Boys don’t play with dolls!” and Stephen is all “Yeah they do! When it’s feeding time!” And Stephen is gonna be that kid you sort of avoid in high school.
15. Sam pops into Mrs. Lawrence’s on the way home. She’s making cookies and enlists Sam’s help, after reassuring him that boys CAN cook. (DUH…his dad is a part-time chef. Doesn’t he know this already?!)
16. Sam abruptly heads home (where is dad is vacuuming and his mother is presumably at work, pile driving an opponent) and tells his father that “Strange Street isn’t strange at all!”
I have literally been muttering “It was the seventies, Jess. A product of its time.” under my breath for the past ten minutes.
So…there’s a taste of my ‘not-so-awesome’ kid lit collection. What did you think, dear readers? More, more, more?!
Oh, I have more.
So much more.
Until next time!