Audrey Wood's Weird Parents
Book review by Monica Friedman
Embarrassing Adult Antics from a Child’s Perspective
“There once was a boy who had weird parents,” this book begins, and it soon becomes clear to adult readers that this boy could be any child, and these parents could be any parents. Yet, to the main character, the odd parents are particularly mortifying. His mother insists on blowing him a kiss as the school bus drives off; his father shakes hands with everyone he meets. He begs them to stop being weird, but they persist in their weirdness.
From the boy’s expression, it’s obvious how horrifying this behavior truly is.
The objectionable weirdness centers primarily around questionable fashion sense and a remarkable joie de vivre. Their behavior isn’t quite like anyone else’s, but neither are they completely clueless. They simply love life, do what makes them happy, and try to draw the child into their world. The father is a bit of a jokester and the “mother always talked about the boy as if he wasn’t there,” and the boy covers his face in shame whenever they do anything different from the people around them.
The innocuousness of their weirdness opens the story up to children, most of whom, by a certain age, find everything their parents do completely embarrassing. Having parents who laugh out loud in movie theaters or drive an unusual car is, in fact, horrifying to many children, who are doing their very best to fit in and look just like everybody else. Without the perspective of experience, it’s hard to understand and cherish family members who deliberately express their own personalities instead of suppressing unusual aspects of themselves.
In this book, this is succinctly expressed by the mother saying, “My son has a belly button that sticks out.” In the picture, the other children are pulling up the boy’s shirt to verify this anomaly. Clearly, the boy would prefer that this difference remain hidden. He cannot understand why the mother would announce it. The mother cannot understand why it should not be remarked upon. Many of the pictures demonstrate the boy’s perception that everyone is staring and pointing at him every time his parents do something out of the ordinary.
Still, the weird parents have their good point. Ice cream, comic books, and Parcheesi are all acceptable diversions to the boy, and he clearly feels loved as his weird parents tuck him into bed and sing him a “little” (not weird) song expressing their love for their child.
At the conclusion of Weird Parents, the boy goes through three stages: first “he couldn’t help wishing his parents weren’t weird anymore,” and envisions them just as conservative and normal as anyone else’s parents. Then he wishes, “everyone else had weird parents.” In that case, of course, his parents wouldn’t be weird at all, but would once again be just like everyone else’s parents. Finally, he accepts that neither or these fantasies are possible. As an ordinary bedtime ritual turns into an impromptu campout in the backyard, the boy decides that, “somehow it didn’t matter…. After all…they were his parents, weird or not.”
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