Saturday, September 17, 2011

Best Plot Ever, Where Are You Now?

My sister Laurie is a middle school librarian, and I am surfing her couch. To be more specific, I am sleeping on the bottom bunk of my seven-year-old niece's bunk bed ("ONLY THE BOTTOM"; Iris sleeps on the top bunk even when no one's in the bottom, and why wouldn't she? Everyone knows the top bunk is way cooler). I moved to Seattle last Wednesday. After a thorough, exhaustive search, I finally rented an apartment on Sunday. Today all my stuff is being delivered. (When I say "all my stuff", I mean "books and a few other things".)

Anyway, as I said, Laurie is a middle-school librarian. A couple of days ago we were sitting at dinner and talking about our days. Laurie said a couple of big classes of kids had come in to take out books. "Did they take out science fiction and fantasy?" Iris asked. "No," Laurie said. "Some of them probably wanted to, but their teacher wanted them to take out real estate fiction and memoirs."

I opened my mouth to ask incredulously if there was really "real estate fiction" in Laurie's library. But before the words were even out, about a dozen examples of real estate fiction flashed before my eyes, so I didn't bother.

"It's hard, because on the one hand there's so MUCH real estate fiction, but on the other hand, what exactly constitutes real estate fiction?" Laurie's husband Matthew nodded sagely. This is just the kind of topic all four of us like to wax eloquent about.

Of course, it was not long before I realized that what Laurie was actually saying was "realistic fiction", and not "real estate fiction" at all.

It was a disappointing moment.

Not that we didn't discuss real estate fiction ANYWAY.

I mean, it's a really common plot in older books, once you start thinking about it. I call it "We move to a new house and everything is awesome."

Do I even need to start listing examples of books like this? I can start with Return to Gone-Away, probably the best book about buying a house and redecorating it ever, and then there's The Four-Story Mistake, and Go to the Room of the Eyes. There are variations, like Dandelion Cottage. There is a book I just read by Hilda Van Stockum called Canadian Summer about a big family moving to rural Quebec. There is Anastasia Again, where Anastasia cleverly tries to prevent her family's move by choosing impossible things for the "must have in the new house" list her parents invite her to contribute to, but instead she just ends up in the Best House Ever. (Please to put more examples in the comments.)

Clearly, moving to a new house and everything being awesome was a topic of Great Interest to previous generations. BUT WHERE ARE THESE BOOKS NOW?

I don't really buy the thing about how all kids' books are problem novels now--I don't think anyone who actually reads kids' books does--but I can't really conceive of a book about a family house-hunting, moving, and redecorating, written now, being a book with a plot other than "we move to a new house and everything is not awesome".

I tested this by doing a quick scan of the books I've labeled "award possibilities" over the last few years. It's hardly an exhaustive list, but I don't see many books about moving at all, and none about it being awesome or fun.

Is this a lost plot? Did it get tired, or is it just Not of General Interest to readers today?


grrlpup said...

Mary Calhoun's Katie John is another oldie for the list. And Jean Little's Look Through My Window.

mamster said...

I also enjoyed Wall Street Summer by Hilda von Stockmarket.

Ms. Yingling said...

Wow. You're right! almost every Betty Ren Wright book starts with a move. Doctor Illuminatus, the Alice books (Naylor)... I'll have to think about this!

LaurieA-B said...

I loved how Canadian Summer is all about renting vs. owning and how sometimes it makes better financial sense to rent a house. (Wendy and I read the same copy, which I stole from a bag of books that my mom got from a library book sale and left unguarded.)

Newer books: Penny Dreadful, they move to the country, and doesn't it talk about their house a bit?

Wendy said...

Oh, that's true! Good one, Laurie.

Melody Marie Murray said...

Lots of Ruth M. Arthur, including A Candle In Her Room, fits this category. But it can't be called modern.

SiS said...

All of the fairly recent "move to new house" books that I can think of all have something else More Important going on than simply the new house plot. THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE: THE SHADOWS by Jacqueline West...POWERLESS by Matthew Cody.

Paige Y. said...

How about the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. At least two moves there. Also The Trolley Car Family.

The Gone-Away Lake books are two that I reread any time I'm depressed -- I call them happy books.

CLM said...

A Room for Cathy, Amy Moves In, Anything for a Friend, Nobody Likes Trina, Finding Walter,

A more recent pub is Palace Beautiful but it didn't do it for me the way the childhood books did. However, my niece loves Allie Finkle who moved and started a new school the same month she did. Someone also gave her a recent Scholastic series that had a book called New Girl.

Recent YAs that fit this theme are How Not to be Popular (which I really liked) and the most recent Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye.

I'd go on but it's bedtime.

Lady Chardonnay said...

Another old New House book is "The Headless Cupid" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

(I also thought of "Penny Dreadful" right away because I am Laurie's twin, except that I am Laurie's sad, slow twin.)

Would you count The Penderwicks? It's a new summer house rather than an entirely new house, so I'm not sure.

I would think that new beginnings, clean slate, fresh start would still be a promising topic for the youth of today -- I wonder why it isn't?

--Jen D-K

Els said...

The first book of Meg Cabot's Allie Finkle series basically has that plot: they move to a new house and a new neighborhood, and everything is much more awesome than the old place. Though Allie herself (unliike her parents) is much more interested in the social dynamics in her new classroom than in the cool old house she's moved into.

Also: Real estate fiction! Hee!