Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Boy Named Charles

I can't remember a time in which I didn't love Peanuts. Every Halloween and Christmas, I check the TV listings to make sure that I don't miss It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Yes, we have both DVDs but a) they're always checked out during the holidays and b) it's just not the same watching it on DVD (weird, I know). Later, when I began to follow comics in the newspaper, I would always look for Peanuts.

Several years ago, David Michaelis wrote an exhaustive and memorable biography of Charles Schulz; his depiction of Schulz as a melancholic, narcissistic, and inattentive husband and father drew sharp criticism from Schulz's surviving family members. At over 600 pages, it's obviously not a quick read, but it's a fascinating survey of a complicated man (this is coming from someone who generally dislikes overstuffed biographies and history books).

For children wanting to know more about Schulz, or for anyone who wants a quick glimpse of this unique man, Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz is a sensitive and moving portrayal of the famous cartoonist. Schulz's manifold personality isn't glossed over (or dwelled on), nor are the more anguished aspects of his life (such as losing a great love that eventually was expressed in the Charlie Brown-Little Red Haired Girl storyline). Peanuts cartoons that aptly express different stages in Schulz's life anchor each chapter, showing that Schulz often expressed his thoughts and feelings through his beloved cartoon. It's an honest tribute to an esoteric man.

Now, I'm just waiting for a more modern children's biography of Walt Disney. Definitely a challenging subject, but it's doable. If Sid Fleischman can do a children's biography of Charlie Chaplin, with all the controversy that surrounded him, I think we can have an honest biography of "Uncle Walt" for middle grade readers. In the meantime, adult readers (or high schoolers seriously interested in all things Disney), should check out Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. And yes, his family (and some Disney fans) dislike this one, too.

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