Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder

Laurel Snyder makes a point of sitting on fences, one in particular running between her two (of more than a few) careers as poet and children's writer. She's written on her blog and elsewhere of being caught in the middle of two nearly-disparate things. Of spending years becoming a poet, then suddenly finding herself quite successful at something different. A dream come true, but still, she writes, "I realized that I was afraid of becoming a genre writer in the eyes of other poets. Of being relegated to the ghetto of kiddie-lit. Of losing my identity, as silly as it was."

In terms of Snyder's writing, however, the fence itself becomes less important. I read her book of poetry The Myth of the Simple Machines back in April, and quickly found its echoes in her new novel for children Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains. From her poem, "Happily Ever After": "She's every wolf, every rib, every snarl./ No matter how she tells her story./ No matter what the frame looks like." I recognized Snyder's poetry in the prose at the beginning of Scratchy Mountains' second chapter: "Many years passed, because that is what happens, even when something very sad has taken place. It is the nature of years to pass, and the nature of little girls to grow."

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains plays the same kind of game with logic and reality as The Myth of the Simple Machines, similarly inventing a reality constructed in much the same way as our own is but to a different effect. Which is called a fairy tale, I think, the Scratchy Mountains being a part of the geography of the Bewilderness, which is a corner of the world wholly contained upon a tapestry. The kind of land that is bordered by edges, I mean, and populated by kings and princes, and rivers that flow upstream, and a milkmaid called Lucy from the village of Thistle.

Lucy, determined, brave, singular and loyal, is not Alice, the ordinary child who is quite extraordinary in Wonderland, but their journeys are quite the same in their sheer bewildering-ness. Though Lucy's journey is more deliberate, in search for her missing mother and out of anger at being excluded by her friend Wynston. She sets off with her cow and same apples, off to find an adventure when adventure finds her, but eventually meets up with Wynston, a Prince (but that's not his fault) who has come in pursuit of her. Not to save her, of course, as Lucy needs no such thing, but she could use his help, and naturally she could use a friend.

Between them, they encounter a ferocious prairie dog, a strange man stuck in a soup pot, a forest that must be knitted to be passed, and a town called Torrent where it always rains on schedule. Lucy and Wynston a bit like Gulliver in Torrent, with its strange emphasis on civility and following rules. Those two in particular finding rules difficult to follow, and so naturally there's trouble to be gotten into and out of. And then somehow, of course, they both have to find their way home...

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains is a book to read aloud to someone who can almost read themselves. To any little person who appreciates a dose of fantasy, a bit of real, singing songs, playful language and a happy ending in the end.