Last Friday was my nephew Ryan’s fifth birthday. Hard to believe my little buddy was born a half a decade ago. He’s evolved from a cute little bread loaf sized cooing baby to this impossibly tall and smart little man. His encyclopedic knowledge of animals two years ago became this encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs this past year and recently, and sadly, this encyclopedic knowledge of Pokémon.
I’m sure there are some good things about the Pokémon phenomenon, I just don’t see them. There are dozens of characters with points and powers who battle each other and then transmogrify into other characters with different points and powers so you just can’t buy the cards or the action figures or the video games etc. of one, you have to get them all. Very insidious and profitable. Until Ryan’s conversion to Pokémon obsessive, my experience this franchise was trying to steer kid away from the Pokémon chapter books and towards something better when they came into my store.
But Pikachu be damned! I’ve known for a long time now what I was getting Ryan. First was one of my very favorite books when I was a kid, The D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. I can remember reading and rereading and re-rereading this book and just loving its sweet (and G rated) telling of the stories of the Greek gods and heroes with these wonderful and evocative illustrations by the D’Aulaires. I’ve handsold this book to many a preteen kid, who was a bit too young for Harry Potter but who wanted some tales of magic and wonder. It would suit Ryan with its friendly tales of monsters and people being constantly turned into animals.
Second was the dvd of My Neighbor Totoro directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s answer to Disney and director of Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle etc. – all wonderful films in their own right. I remembered a rave review of Totoro by Roger Ebert when the film came out in the 1980s but hadn’t seen it till this year when I rented it then had to buy a copy. It has all the elements of the best of younger kids fiction: a sense of fun and mystery, and a lesson learned within the safe confines of family and friends – the friend being a very large "keeper of the forest" who looks like a rabbit who swallowed a Thanksgiving Day Parade Float.
I got a couple of other books and I knew I would face tough competition from everyone else bringing toys. Ryan opened my presents, allowed me explain them and then turned his attention more towards the toy boxed shaped presents. I don’t fault him; that’s what kids do. A few days later when I was babysitting, Ryan told me he watched the whole video of Totoro and liked it a lot and had read a few stories from the Greek Myths with his parents. I even got to read him the story of the monsters Typhon and Echidna and their brood of monster children, which really got his attention.
His party was a lot of chaotic fun as the twelve kids, most under eight, ran around the house juiced up on sugar and playing wildly. Happily no fights or injuries occurred. Aside from Ryan and his sister Grace, my three other neice-phews (someone has got to coin a collective noun for nieces and nephews) Aiden, Molly and Sarah where also there and we tried to wrangle them into one spot for a photo with mixed results.
I am biased, but they are cute.