Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: If I Were in Charge of the World

A Fair Trade Book

Title: If I Were in Charge of the World
Author: Judith Viorst

Author's agent's Web page: http://www.eaglestalent.com/Judith-Viorst?gclid=CKfTgPqO-8ICFRQQ7AodFwkAlQ
Date: 1981
Publisher: Atheneum
ISBN: 0-689-30863-9
Length: 56 pages
Illustrations: drawings by Lynne Cherry
Quote: “If I were in charge of the world / A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts / would be a vegetable.”
These 41 poems about childhood were written with Viorst’s three sons and their school friends as consultants. This by itself would not guarantee their authenticity, since by 1981 Judith Viorst’s sons were college-aged. And, yes, the influence of psychologists is as evident as the influence of children, although the poems keep it light:

                My mom says I’mher sugarplum.
                My mom says I’m her lamb.
                My mom says I’m completely perfect
                Just the way I am.
                My mom says I’m a super-special wonderful terrific
                little guy.
                My mom just had another baby.
Children who wonder about this might be happier with an answer than with a restatement of the question. Parents of multiple children might as well be truthful. At some point a younger sibling will probably be told “Mom and Dad tried every way they knew to keep from having you,” even if it’s not true, so parents might as well admit that Life (or God) decides when children are to be born.
Meanwhile, a more literary criticism might be made along the lines of, “Why do so few free-verse poems stick in the mind, even if they are witty and insightful? Why is the poem about the cat who ‘thinks human beings are / Almost as good / As he is’ really a short essay, not a poem?”
Fortunately for kids who'd rather just enjoy poems than debate about what is and isn't a poem, most of the poems in this collection aren’t free verse. Some of them have a quality that’s a sort of trademark for Viorst, a way of setting up an elaborately detailed scene and giving it an unexpected plot twist in just a few words. After sixteen lines about a mother who doesn’t want a dog:

                Mother doesn’t want a dog.
                She’s making a mistake.
                Because, more than a dog, I think
                She will not want this snake.
The drawings are realistic and delightful. If you read the author and illustrator mini-biographies, and realize that the poems are about children in Washington but the illustrator was a New Englander drawing mostly from life in Texas, a certain geographical dislocation will explain itself to you...and this is the kind of criticism that really amounts to high praise. How many illustrations in children’s books are well enough done to give any sense of geographical location?

This is a book whole families will enjoy reading before they pass it on to other lucky families. It's easy to find, so as a Fair Trade Book it costs $5 + $5 for shipping. Although you pay only one shipping charge per package, and several other items could fit into a package with this slender book, we will send Judith Viorst or a charity of her choice 10% of that total price, $1, for each copy we mail out.