al and ginny: when is a book a "children’s book"? (schuyler)

for the past few weeks i have been reading mainly “the GRE Test for Dummies” by Suzee Vlk, but now that the test has been taken, my brain wants something more – shall we say, exciting?
so, right after the test, i went out and bought some books!


i picked up “alfred and guinevere” in the frankfurt oxfam bookshop (hooray for second hand bookshops, and hooray for oxfam!) – i bought it because i was curious. afterall, c. recommended i read “the morning of the poem” by the same author, and i did, and i liked it. but schuyler did not strike me as the children’s book type. now, having read just over two thirds of the book, i must say that, well, it isn’t really a children’s book. it’s a book that can be read by a variety of audiences, a bit like exupery’s “little prince.”

i half wish i had not started right at the beginning of the book! right at the beginning is a foreword / introduction by john ashbery, and while it was interesting to read, it did give things away. i wish i could have just read the story unbiased and “unwarned” – schuyler is so subtle in saying so much in such a simple story. there are bits in there that some readers would just miss, or not read the way i read them – and i am not saying that my reading is any more “right” than anyone else’s. just that – with ashbery’s introduction and interpretation – my reading is biased and i wish it wasn’t. 🙂 while i think my own take on the story would have been much like his even without reading his intro, it would have been more fun figuring things out for myself, savoring the story as it evolves. so, if you haven’t read this one but are going to, skip the intro and leave it for later.

so… when is a book a children’s book? just because a book is not (or not overtly) about sex and violence or just because a book has children as its main characters doesn’t mean it must be a children’s book. when is it useful to make the distinction between children’s and “regular” books?

alfred and guinevere are at a point in their lives where change is imminent or, rather, happening right there and then. the things that happen do not really make much sense to the kids, but that just means that they have to figure things out their own way. things are said without being said, there are themes of loss, of attempts at self-defintion, of death, and love, and passion versus manners.

this book is about two children and their perception of the world around them; a boy named alfred (who is about eight or so) and his older sister guinevere. most of the story is written in letters and journal entries by guinevere, and schuyler does, i think, a brilliant job in capturing the duo’s mental world and their relationship. while guinevere is hopelessly devoted to movie stories (love stories of course), alfred’s interests are the usual for boys his age: dares, pranks, and impressing his friends.

here are some quotes to pique your appetite:

“Alfred, don’t pretend you’re asleep.”

No answer.

“I can tell when you’re asleep. I can see in the dark like a cat. I know you believe me because I can see you squeeze your eyes shut so I’ll think you’re asleep.”

No answer.

“Maybe he is asleep. I certainly hope so. I wouldn’t want him to wake up and see what I just saw. I can feel my hair standing on end. It’s a good thing I’m older or I’d run screaming out of this room.”

No answer.

“There it goes again, drifting across the window. I’m covered with clammy sweat. My arms and legs are tingling. My blood is icy cold. Who will come to my aid if it slips in the window and grabs me by the throat?”

“Nobody,” said Alfred, “That’s who.”

and a section from guinevere’s notebook:

“Hints to remember:

1. Smile slower.

2. If you act a little deaf people have to lean over to talk to you. That way it is so much more bewitching and intimate.”

… and this book is from an arts bookshop. it’s a graphic novel, technically speaking, at the same time as being non-fiction, i suppose. an interesting mix of genres. i read the chapter about “beatnick chicks” earlier today and will read more once i have finished with al and ginny. i know little about the beat poets and all that, and i am curious. i hope the book will show up some connections between people and ideas – while i am not good with remembering names, i am pretty good with remembering interconnected ideas and such. have you read any books from the graphic history series? which ones? how did you like them? please share!
i have also started on “the fourty rules of love” and will tell you about it in my next post. 🙂

About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.


  1. Hmmm I am curious about the book "alfred and guinevere". Thanks for nurturing our reading appetite:)

  2. Pingback: Things as They Are: James Schuyler’s Unashamed Reality | Outside of a Cat

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