Last summer, while cleaning out my parents’ storage unit, I found more than old dolls and a clock hat. Underneath a trampoline and behind a Bruce Jenner Air Climber, lost among boxes full of WWF Wrestling Dolls and the Millennium Falcom, were two boxes filled to overflowing with books. Some worth worth keeping, others not.
My Serendipity books from the 70s and 80s? Totally worth keeping. I adored these books about animals and creatures determined to extol moral virtue on kids aged 4-8. I read each one a thousand times, always turning the book over to admire illustrator Robin James’ Catskill chic outfit. Her long, straight hair parted down the middle drew my eyes to her drawstring denim skirt and the violet held delicately between her fingertips. I made a mental note to grow out my hair and move to the East Coast so I could draw pretty pictures and wander the mountains with a man not afraid to wear boots the color of flan.
The books tackled issues like kindness to those who are different, acceptance of life’s challenges, and the value of working to the best of your ability. The usual little kid topics, although occasionally they would touch upon something entirely 1978.
Like, Kartusch, the story of the blind snake who teaches a group of “Eye-Fulls” the importance of hearing the beauty in the world that surrounds us. Translation: Meditation, man. Meditation.
But some topics are timeless, like Bangalee, a story the boys became acquainted with just two weeks ago.
Bangalee is a Kritter, a short, furry horned creature who lives in a castle like all the other Kritters. You should know that Kritters are impossibly messy. They leave their clothes and dishes and toys strewn all about. They never, ever take baths or brush their fur. They simple can’t be bothered with cleaning up clutter.
All except Bangalee. He is neat and tidy and somewhat fussy. Messes make him nervous, and he spends most his days cleaning up after all the other Kritters. One day, he decides to hold a meeting to beg all the other Kritters clean up after themselves. Pick up their dishes. Put their toys away when they are finished playing with them. Well, the other Kritters thought that idea was a riot. Why bother? Who cares? Let’s go play!
Oh, Bangalee. I feel your pain.
On a day like every other messy day, the Kritters heard a rumble and a tumble. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Lumbering up the hill to their castle was a GRUNK! A Grunk is a creature–and not a very nice one!–who eats your junk.
Yup. A Grunk eats junk left by messy little Kritters.
I don’t need to tell you what happened, but I will. The Kritters were in a panic. The Grunk was eating things left and right outside and they barely made it inside the walls of the castle, which was also full of junk. Now there are dozens of Kritters in a tizzy, tripping over each other and their junk wondering how they are going to illude the Grunk, who is looking for all the world to see like a very, very, very hungry creature.
Bangalee knew an opening when he saw one.
He calmed everyone down and suggested they clean the junk to avoid the Grunk. The Kritters thought about it for approximately 0.00007962 seconds and started cleaning rapidly, efficiently, and (because this was still Bangalee’s show) properly. Soon the castle was clean, the junk was put away, and everyone was drying off from long overdue baths. The reader can assume Bangalee was in the corner smoking a cigarette.
The Grunk finally finished eating everything off the lawn and raised his nose in the air to track more junk. Finding nothing, his went off the way he came. The Kritters all rejoiced in their good fortune and from that point forward, kept a very clean castle.
I finished the book and looked at the boys, who sat silently the entire time while I read to them about the Grunk who ate junk.
It’s difficult to describe what I saw in their eyes when they stared back at me, human emotions being so complex. Eyes, even little boy eyes, can say so much. But, if I were to try to sum up and encapsulate in a tight sentence or two what they were thinking, it would probably something along the lines of O.M.F.G.!!!!!!
All of a sudden my Kritters were running around their respective rooms picking up toys, putting their dirty clothes in the hamper, and sliding books back onto shelves. They worked with the speed of a thousand woman with company coming over at the last minute. I was helping Mikey extract a shoe from under his bed while Nicholas, arms full of sporting equipment, struggled valiantly to open the closet door with his toe. Anxious that the Grunk was mere seconds away from taking a bite of his NFL regulation football he started calling out, “Can somebody help me please?” as he resorted to using his forehead and his toe to open the door. I told him I would be there in a minute, but terror must have kept him from hearing me.
“Can somebody help me please??” Scratching, toes squeaking against wood, gaspy little breathes.
“Can somebody help me please???” The hysteria reaches a fever pitch.
“CAN SOMEBODY HELP ME PLEASE????!!!!” I walked into the room to find his forehead beaded with sweat, his arms loaded with a football, a soccer ball, a bucket cap, a beach towel, and the heavy, heavy weight of dread. I opened the closet door and stood back while he flung his junk and closed the closet door, resting his back against its solid wood with arms splayed. He looked wildly about the room, scanning the corners for junk…or worse…THE GRUNK.
Twenty minutes later, both boys were sound asleep in their clean rooms, the earlier coursing terror a powerful sleeping aid.
My God, I adore those books.