Pluralistic: 05 Jun 2022

Today's links

A product shot of 'The Big Sparkly Box of Unicorn Magic,' a pink boxed set with a picture of a triumphant Phoebe clenching her fist atop a grinning Marigold the Unicorn.

The Big Box of Sparkly Unicorn Magic (permalink)

Back in 2015, when my daughter Poesy was seven, I read her a story every night at bedtime. It was a glorious time, not just for our father-daughter relationship, but for my own relationship with kids' literature, which is a spectacular and rich part of the publishing world that grownups frequently have no contact with.

One of the great successes of our bedtime story ritual was our discovery of Dana Simpson's "Phoebe and Her Unicorn" comics, whose only defect was that they were too funny, and we'd laugh so hard at bedtime that it was hard to get the kid to sleep. That's a good problem to have! Here's my review of that first book:

We almost didn’t read Phoebe and Her Unicorn; it sat on my daughter’s shelf for months, untouched, because it looked like something pink and princess-y, and that’s not really her thing. But the kid got it down and started reading it to herself — really reading it to herself, as in, we’d have to take it away from her when it was time to get ready for school. My wife glanced at it, and asked if I’d ever really looked at it: “It’s really funny!”

So that night, I started reading it to Poesy at bedtime. Even though she’d already read halfway through, she was very happy to have me re-read those early strips to her. And I was even more glad to do it. I quickly discovered that Dana Simpson was doing something wonderful with Heavenly Nostrils: telling a hilarious, sweet, and unsentimental story about a kid and her imaginary friend ripped straight from the Bill Watterson/Calvin and Hobbes playbook, but with new, lateral moves that are strictly her own.

Phoebe meets Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the woods one summer vacation, coming upon the magical creature transfixed by her own reflection in a pond (being captivated by one’s own lovely reflection is the unicorn’s downfall). Phoebe throws a rock in the pond and is offered a wish for rescuing the unicorn: “to be my best friend.”

Unlike Hobbes, Marigold isn’t a toy, and unlike Hobbes, Marigold can be seen by people other than Phoebe. However, Marigold has an adjustable SHIELD OF BORINGNESS that she can dial up in the presence of Phoebe’s parents so that they find nothing remarkable about the fact that she’s invited a unicorn over for dinner. This is a great wrinkle on imaginary friends, a reversal of the Calvin and Hobbes world where Calvin sees the world as he wants it to be and everyone else contends with dull reality-as-it-is; in Phoebe’s house, she and Marigold alone are living in the real world and everyone else is blinded by magic and unable to see things as they are.

Like Calvin and Hobbes, Phoebe and Calvin’s adventures work on many levels — anarchic kid humor, snarky adult humor, slightly over-their-head jokes that kids enjoy once they’re explained. We read from Phoebe and Her Unicorn every night a bedtime and when it was done, we followed the directions in the appendix and practiced drawing our own unicorns and little freckled girls. Peter “The Last Unicorn” Beagle wrote a tremendous introduction to this volume!

Simpson is incredibly prolific; I just counted and there are twenty-one Phoebe and Her Unicorn books!

The first four of these books have now been collected in a boxed set called "The Magical Adventures of Phoebe and Her Unicorn," bound together in a fat, satisfying paperback, that's big enough to feel exciting, but not too big for small hands to grasp.

Included in this anthology is the third Phoebe and Her Unicorn book, Unicorns vs Goblins, which contains the introduction my daughter Poesy and I co-wrote. Here's a bit of that:

When Sesame Street launched, the show was all kids' jokes. Think of Barney the $#@@{!#* Dinosaur. About as much fun for adults as a fiberglass smoothie. But Jim Henson and the Children's Television Workshop pulled the show and went back to the drawing board, redesigning it so that it had as many adult jokes as kid ones — and so that adults and kids would have a reason to sit and watch together. Whatever value the show had, they reasoned, it would be multiplied if parents and kids shared an experience together, if they had something to talk about after.

This new edition of Phoebe is a perfect parent-kid bridge, especially if you supplement it with 2017's Rainy Day Unicorn Fun, a genuinely great activity book for Phoebe fans, with crosswords, wordsearch, sudoku and art activities:

Teachers and librarians: take note of the excellent, downloadable classroom guide:

If that's not enough, here are my original reviews of the four books collected in this new volume:

A four-panel Phoebe and Her Unicorn strip: Phoebe ponders her wish, wishes for Marigold to be her best friend; Marigold looks uncomfortable with this and says, 'Or, some gold?'

A color Phoebe and Her Unicorn strip: Phoebe and Marigold are having a tea party on a picnic blanket on a hill. Phoebe spins tall tales of her life. Marigold replies: 'You were born at Harbor General with a slight case of jaundice, and your middle name is 'Grizelda.' Baffled and embarrassed, Phoebe demands to know how Marigold knew all this. Marigold looks smug and says, *Unicorn*.

A four-panel Phoebe and Her Unicorn strip: A furious Phoebe confronts Marigold, who is staring into a puddle on the playground. Phoebe reminds Marigold that she was supposed to 'leap into the classroom so everyone could see you and be jealous of me!' Marigold continues to contemplate her reflection. Phoebe says, '*Seriously*?' Marigold days, 'My beauty has transformed this puddle into a thing of magnificence.'

A four-panel Phoebe and Her Unicorn strip: Phoebe complains that Marigold was supposed to make her life 'AWESOME' and Marigold says that's what she should have wished for, instead of wishing that Marigold was her best friend, adding, 'Maybe you should treat me as a friend, not a prop.' Phoebe says, 'You're less idiotic than I assumed.' Marigold replies, 'Unicorn.'

Book 1: Phoebe and Her Unicorn

Book 2: Unicorn on a Roll

Book 3: Unicorns Vs Goblins

Book 4: Razzle-Dazzle Unicorn

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Do the Right Thing recreated with Sesame Street toys

#15yrsago RIAA and Universal accused of extortion

#10yrsago Austerity obliterates ecology: Canadian budget to make environmental impact statements optional, class eco-groups as money-launderers

#10yrsago Why the modems screamed

#10yrsago John Scalzi, Charlie Stross and I explain why Tor Books went DRM-free

#10yrsago RIP, Erik “Possum Man” Stewart

#10yrsago Austerity Jubilee: unemployed workers tricked into being Jubilee stewards, denied toilets, left to camp in the rain

#10yrsago Scalzi’s Redshirts: existentialist comedy space opera

#5yrsago Theresa May wants to ban crypto: here’s what that would cost, and here’s why it won’t work anyway

#5yrsago Oculus Founder/alt-right troll Palmer Luckey teaming up with Peter Thiel to build surveillance tech

#5yrsago Leaked NSA docs: Russian military hacked US voting software company, spearphished 122 election officials

#1yrago Recommendation engines and "lean-back" media: The failure of "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump" and linear programming

#1yrago Aaron Swartz, vindicated

#1yrago Capitalism's crooked refs

Colophon (permalink)

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  • Some Men Rob You With a Fountain Pen, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. Friday's progress: 523 words (11934 words total)

  • The Internet Con: How to Friday the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. Yesterday's progress: 527 words (8433 words total)

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. (92849 words total) – ON PAUSE

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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  • Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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