I've been looking for this book for years. I couldn't find it anywhere. I remember my mother showing it to me when I was really little, at the Park br...moreI've been looking for this book for years. I couldn't find it anywhere. I remember my mother showing it to me when I was really little, at the Park branch library (it could have been the Noe Valley branch, or even Bernal, but I don't think so. I remember the big stone steps). These two guys worked with a bunch of kindergarten kids to make up the story and paint all the illustrations.
I've been thinking of changing my name for a long time and Alexander was on the short list. Part of my hesitation was that I'd always be thinking of this book and I wasn't sure if I'd actually like it if I saw it again.
Last night my sister found the book sitting all by itself in a discarded box on a curb, and brought it home. What an amazing coincidence! It's just about how I remembered it.
Alexander is at home in his room when this old rusty car rolls out of the junkyard and crashes into the tree outside. Alexander has a light bulb for the broken headlight and he drives away into the city. He helps out some animals in trouble, and goes to Africa and back before morning. He gets chased by a big red dog who definitely isn't Clifford, unless he's mean when he's off duty.
When he goes to Africa and helps out some animals and a king, it's reminiscent of the first Doctor Dolittle book - the African king needs Alexander's help, because a crocodile ate his horse and he can't find his way back to his palace. This definitely has unfortunate colonial-racist overtones. Later Alexander and the African princess his age play together comfortably as equals, and she doesn't wish she had white skin or anything, the way the princess in the Doctor Dolittle book does.
It reminds me of In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are in the way Alexander goes and has this animistic adventure at night when his parents are nowhere to be found.
The pictures are beautifully painted. Apparently they're from an animated film, "created by [filmmaker] Peter Fleischmann with drawings by kindergarten children of Paris." They have a viscerally moving quality, maybe just because they did when I was little and I haven't seen them since then. I have a remembered feeling of empathetic fear when Alexander is being chased by the big ferocious dog, and a sort of agoraphobic tension when he's going up huge mountains under the night sky - and into the night sky to pull a star for his headlight when it breaks the second time. They have a great feeling of being real 5- or 6-year-olds' paintings, while being beautifully composed and consistent from one to the next.
Will I change my name to Alexander? We'll see. (less)
Another one of the books that taught me to have an attitude at a young age. Funny in a way, it's what I think of as an American attitude but this book...moreAnother one of the books that taught me to have an attitude at a young age. Funny in a way, it's what I think of as an American attitude but this book is all English. It's about commoners, though I didn't know about that when I was a kid.(less)
**spoiler alert** I am totally fascinated by this book. It's lots of fun to read - it reminded me a lot of Daniel Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars when I...more**spoiler alert** I am totally fascinated by this book. It's lots of fun to read - it reminded me a lot of Daniel Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars when I was reading it (Daniel Pinkwater - one of my favorites when I was a kid), and sure enough he gives Pinkwater a shout out in the acknowledgements at the end. It has the same kind of rebel attitude, where the kids know right from wrong and know what's esthetically acceptable, and have a good sense of humor, while the adults are clueless, and the kids just have to find a way to get around the adults and do what has to be done.
But this book is culturally and politically a really odd blend of left and right wing. It's pretty much a guided tour of libertarian fantasies and paranoias around surveillance and information technology, but set in the San Francisco of Critical Mass bike rides, generator punk shows in the park and old-school leftist muckraking journalists (the Bay Guardian saves the hero's butt by publishing an investigative expose at a crucial moment). The book takes advantage of all these touchstones, and updates them to fill out its fantasy info-rebel underground, but the politics the characters champion is open-mouthed reverence for the Bill of Rights and the Founding Fathers.
When the book ends and the monsters from the Department of Homeland Security are sent back to DC where they came from, the happy ending is that the USA is back to the good old days JUST BEFORE HOMELAND SECURITY TOOK OVER SAN FRANCISCO. Not even before the Patriot Act was passed!
He's appropriating our culture of resistance, which city dwellers have created and defended over many years by making sacrifices and spending plenty of time in jail, to give credibility to his fantasy of digital political resistance, without giving back where it's needed - to the real project of solidarity with the people who were already getting screwed even before 9/11, to housing for homeless people, resistance to male privilege, freedom not only to say what you want on the internet but also to live near your loved ones and see a doctor when you're sick, etc.
Like most online activists, Doctorow needs to know more about the history he's in the middle of.(less)