How endearing were the Krupniks? In the opening chapter, Anastasia writes a poem for school, a free-verse alliterative work about “the little things that live in tide pools.” Her teacher, Mrs. Westvessel, gives her an “F”, explaining that she expected the class to write rhyming ditties about dogs named Spot / Who eat and drink a lot.
Devastated, Anastasia brings her poem home. Her lit-professor dad carefully reads the poem, then says to his daughter: “Some people – actually, a lot of people – just don’t understand poetry.” “It doesn’t make them bad people,” her mother adds hastily. Then Dr. Krupnik swoops out his red pen and writes on the paper, turning the “F” into “Fabulous”.
At age eight, I remember thinking that my parents would have freaked out if I ever brought home an “F”, not that I would have told them. So I thought ten-year-old Anastasia Krupnik was a pretty lucky gal.
What made her parents so appealing? I thought I’d figured it out when I re-read the books during university: the Krupniks are part of that mysterious entity, the white liberal middle class. Anastasia’s mom Katherine is a painter, and her dad Myron is a poet and Harvard English professor. They live in Cambridge. They donate money to the American Civil Liberties Union. They get cross with their kids, but never spank or yell. Her father reads his poetry aloud by candlelight and lets Anastasia take sips of his wine. (Though like my own father, he also watches baseball and gets his daughter to fetch him a beer.)
But I no longer think that the difference between the Krupniks and well, most of the other, non-ideal families I know is a question of class, race, or culture. I think it has more to do with the fact that Myron and Katherine listen to their kids and treat their opinions with respect (in future books, even toddler Sam gets a vote in family conclaves). In other words, they view their kids as human beings with ideas of their own, rather than as extensions of themselves, or as cute living dolls.
The best evidence of this? Anastasia is most definitely a “precocious child” (how could she not be, surrounded by all this smartness and nurture?), but you never notice, or think about how gifted she is. You just keep on reading about her lists and her goldfish and her desire to be a Catholic so she can take a middle name, and laugh/empathize. As my friends become parents, and I contemplate becoming a parent, the thought of raising a child with the Krupniks’ mindset is a challenge and an aspiration.
It works both ways, too. When her mother gets pregnant at the age of 35, Anastasia gets angry. She is disgusted by the thought of her parents procreating, and of sharing them, and their small apartment, with another person. As the book progresses, Anastasia begins to see glimmers of her parents (and her senile grandmother) as human beings (in LUUUUV!), with their own pasts and dreams and foibles.
Lois Lowry proves to be great at mixing just the right of amount of tenderness into a really funny book (and series). The result is both light-hearted and heartwarming.
Reading Age: 8-11