Iggy Is Better Than Ever: A Lesson in Looking for Laughs | A Guest Post by Annie Barrows
I am honored to turn over my blog for the day to Annie Barrows. She dropped by to share the cover for Iggy Is Better Than Ever. Thank you, Annie! Congratulations!
Whoo-boy, don’t look there! Or there, either! Over there? What are you, crazy? Don’t look over there.
I think this is how kids feel every day of their lives. Maybe there are some naturally sorrowful children out there, some kids who long for woe, but most of the kids I run across are interested in having fun—though of course what they term fun varies wildly by child. Obviously, certain circumstances and relations make kids sad, but to laugh and enjoy and play and imagine: these are the superpowers of kids. It’s enviable, their ability to find pleasure in a huge range of situations.
Take for example, the people I saw yesterday waiting in line to get into the supermarket. You know, the pandemic lineup. Grownups: irritably looking at their phones. Kids: three siblings draping themselves over the fire hydrant and whopping each other hilariously with sour-grass. One big sister playing swoop-the-baby to amuse her stroller-bound little sister. One kid blindfolding himself with his face-mask and walking into the supermarket wall. Overall, on the gloom spectrum, the kids were doing far better than the grownups.
Why, then, do we want them to be more like us? To be more aware of the dire facts? To discover the error of their ways and become sadder but wiser? Why do we want them to repudiate impulse, delay gratification, and soberly consider the consequences? Why do we want them to change? They certainly will, but why do we—grownups—want that for them? Why do we consider the narrative of improvement through hardship to be a good one for kids?
Just asking because there sure are a lot of books in which the main character learns his or her lesson through some form of unhappiness and becomes a better person at the end. Here’s an example: the main character of a book excludes another kid and then the other kid wins something like a race and becomes really popular, and the main character then feels excluded, and from this, the main character learns to be nice and not to exclude anyone ever again. The end.
Sometimes the main character is already okay at the beginning of the book, but he gets even better by the end. Say, for instance, the main kid is amazing at basketball, but by the end of the book, he learns that people who play the flute are just as good as people who are amazing at basketball. The end. Sometimes the kid learns a rule, like Don’t light stuff on fire. The kid generally learns this rule in a context involving burns. The end.
There are a million different ways to plot it, but the point is always the same: learn your lesson and become a better person.
This is great. It’s fine. It may even be true. It’s just not very much fun.
Which is why I’d like to introduce you to the second book about Iggy Frangi, entitled Iggy Is Better Than Ever. In this book, Iggy doesn’t become a better person. He stays more or less the same from beginning to end. It’s not as though he has no opportunity to learn a lesson, either. He has plenty. For instance, he could learn that you shouldn’t string clear plastic gardening tape across a street. He could learn that you shouldn’t throw basketballs in the very last second before you’re about to get in trouble for not lining up after lunch. He could learn a lot about things you should not do with a bicycle or say to a principal. He could look back at the end of the story and say to himself, “Gosh, if I had started this week off by making a more mature and rational choice, I would not have stitches inside my mouth today. From now on, I’m going to make better decisions.”
But he doesn’t. He definitely regrets some of the things he did, and he’s pretty surprised by some of the others, but at the end of the story, Iggy thinks he’s fine the way he is. And so do I. The narrative of improvement ignores something I see every day, which is that kids have a capacity—I’d call it a genius—for delight that should be cherished and cultivated and admired, and this capacity is inversely related to self-doubt. For all the many positive rewards of questioning one’s impulses and soberly considering the possible negative consequences of attaining what one desires, there is an incalculable loss that accompanies these skills. And we, by which I mean grownups, are the living proof.
Standing in the pandemic lineup, looking at the quite rationally unhappy grownups and the quite irrationally happy kids, I asked myself why we want to give them stories that imply they should be better than they are.
The answer, I think, is that we’re jealous.
Look for Iggy is Better Than Ever on October 6, 2020.
After making a few mistakes in Book 1 (only one that he regrets), Iggy and his friends embark on another hilarious prank, this time involving gardening tape and cars (just go with it).
No one gets hurt, but the last car involved happens to be driven by their never-smiling, Iggy-detesting principal. In order to not get caught, Iggy decides he’ll be so good at school that he’ll be invisible. But the tension of all that goodness builds and builds in Iggy, and, no surprise, it bursts out in a gasp-inducing, very bad way.
In the second installment of Annie Barrows’s new series about how causing a little bit of trouble can sometimes be a whole lot of fun, Iggy almost realizes that the consequences of his actions can affect others. Almost.