Thursday, July 5, 2012

THE OBSTINATE PEN


By Frank W. Dormer

(Henry Holt and Company, 2012)

WARNING:  You must have just the right sense of humor to appreciate this book, the kind of mind that delighted when Roald Dahl sucked Augustus Gloop up a chocolate chute and inflated Violet Beauregarde into a human blueberry.  I refer to Dahl because Frank Dormer’s goofy humor will bring to mind the twisted wit of Dahl and his drawings bare a resemblance to Dahl’s partner in childhood amusement, Quentin Blake.

Not since Frindle has a writing instrument received such focus in a book.  The story begins with Horace’s Uncle Flood unwrapping the prized pen.  The dutiful pen stands at attention atop a desk before Uncle Flood shoos Horace away, screeching, “I MUST HAVE SILENCE WHEN I WRITE!”

Ah, yes.  Another temperamental artist.  And so Uncle Flood sets out to write something astounding, beginning with:  The following story is all true.  But the pen crafts its own message on the paper:  “You have a BIG nose.”  Uncle Flood is aghast.  He tries to write his opening sentence again and again, but the pen only sees fit to write more insults about the writer’s eyes and hair.  Uncle Flood has no choice but to chuck the bold—yes, obstinate—pen out the window. 

This must be the real reason so many people succumb to writer’s block.

The adventures continue when the pen continues to speak its own mind as it comes into contact with Officer Wonkle and Glenda Weeble, as well as driver Druthers and the delightful Mrs. Norkham Pigeon-Smythe and her easily affronted dinner guests.  Eventually, the pen finds its way back to Horace.  What will the pen write when it finally lands in his hands?

I have yet to debut this book as a class read-aloud, but I know it will become a memorable piece of fiction.  (Yes, I’ll have to preface the reading with a talk about putdowns.  Please remember, pupils,...pens are not people.)  I can imagine following the reading with a goofy writing period wherein students create funny anecdotes with their own obstinate pens and pencils.  Naturally, there will have to be clear parameters established.  Still, I must confess that, as I writer, I find inspiration in this sometimes poisoned pen.  Too often, I want to take care of my characters, protecting them from awkward situations and precarious fates.  I need to take more chances and, if readers object, then I shall of course blame the pen. 

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