Monday, December 7, 2009

Small Adventures

One of the hallmarks of a great read is the conversation it inspires. Both my husband and I read Barbara O'Connor's The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis this weekend during a four-hour car trip. I devoured it first while he drove, and my delight inspired him to read it after I took the wheel. (This was on I-95 through the first snow of the season, speaking of hair-raising adventure.)

Do you know how you can hear a person smile if they're close enough? That almost-silent chuff of breath? I couldn't resist---every time my ears caught my husband smiling in the passenger seat beside me, I'd imagine which line he was reading, and beg him to tell me where he was in the story. I guess that could get annoying. :)

But he and I both agree: not only does Barbara O'Connor write perfect titles for her books, on which she totally delivers, she also writes snappy endings to chapters, complex characters with awesome names, and hundreds and hundreds of juicy details that yes, make you smile with the joy of recognition.

Which brings me to the conversation that The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis inspired. I asked my husband about his own small adventures growing up on a dairy farm.

We used to hide in the barn, he said, and lie as still as possible, waiting for the rats to come out. They would surround us---maybe 150 of them. (At this point, imagine me, stiffening in terror, but trying to listen nonchalantly) Then we'd jump up and YELL and scatter them! he finished.

I don't know about you, but that's bigger than a small adventure to me.

He also used to go outside with his brother and shoot arrows straight up in the air (yes, they both had real bows) and dodge the points as they hurtled down around their heads. (Gulp. How close I came to a husband with a name like Popeye's.)

And how did he fuel himself during these small adventures? With butter and sugar sandwiches.

What's that? I asked. (I grew up in a house where everything was blessed with wheat germ.) Exactly how it sounds, he said: you put butter on one slice of white bread, sprinkle it with sugar, fold it in half, and eat it.  Like a proto Pop Tart.

Of course, I had small adventures, too: combing the woods for grimy soda bottles, which we piled in a wagon and took to the store for the deposit money. Avoiding the yowling dogs that chased us on our almost daily epic walk to the local Family Pantry to buy an Icee. I took a blood oath with a friend once, and kept the piece of paper with the browning smear of blood on it in a secret compartment behind a flap of a jewelry box.

Even today, small adventures are possible. My son and his friends chased an armadillo across half an Air Force base in Mississippi. In Rhode Island, my daughter started and published her own kid newspaper, whose staff raucously converged in our living room.

Don't get me wrong; I love books about big adventures, too. But today, Barbara O'Connor (and Popeye and Elvis) have inspired me to honor the small ones.


  1. I will track down this book. I absolutely loved her book How to Steal a Dog, which is on a reader's choice list for my school. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've got this from the library, sitting in my stack. Can't wait to read it.

  3. Love this post! Yay for small adventures and fabulous books like Popeye and Elvis. :)

  4. Okay the rat story made me shiver. ;) But everything else made me remember my childhood adventures. Thank you for stirring up happy memories. And I'll be checking out that book!

  5. The cover of that book does not entice me, I'm sorry to say. But you're the second person I know who has absolutely adored the book, so I may have to read it anyhow.

    And I totally ate butter & sugar sandwiches when I was a kid. And in my 20s and 30s and maybe at least once in my 40s. Only sometimes I used 2 slices of white bread.

    In the same vein, I highly recommend sugar folded in the center of pancake and eaten out of hand. YUM!

  6. You are so right about the book. One of my favorites of the fall. I think it will be a great jumping off place for kids to remember their own small adventures as you and your husband did. Terrific book, terrific blog post about it. Thanks!

  7. I used to eat butter and sugar sandwiches when I was small, but I haven't thought of them in years! I feel like I may just have to eat one for dessert tonight.

  8. Isn't it awesome how this book inspires conversation? It lead me to a post about small adventures in the storm sewer where I grew up!

  9. Yes. Small adventures. Small potatoes. Yes yes yes.

  10. I think Barbara's gift is in capturing how vital those small adventures -- which I doubt seem small to the adventurers themselves -- are to children. Here's to many memorable small adventures for today's children.


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