Saturday, April 6, 2013

Little Little By M.E. Kerr


 This is another book that has been a long-time favorite of mine, since I was in middle school. Little Little is a Young Adult novel that gives us a teen romance between two characters who are just as sharp, witty, and non-conformist now as they were thirty-one years ago in 1981 when the book was first published.
Little Little La Belle, a three foot, three inch tall high school senior is soon to turn eighteen and is contemplating her future. She lives in a  picture postcard upstate New York town with a  wealthy family of average sized parents and a younger sister. She is tired of her mother trying to fix her up with various little people who are "perfectly formed" or "p.f." and tired of her father not wanting to let her grow up at all. She plans a secret engagement with Knox "Little Lion" Lionel, a TV evangelist and fellow little person with a large following and an even larger ego. Things begin to go awry when she meets and forms a friendship and maybe more with Sydney Cinnamon, another little person who is to be her party's entertainment.
Sydney has some issues of his own. At three feet, four inches, Sydney has been starring as "The Roach," a TV mascot for a pest control company and has been hired to entertain at Little Little's upcoming birthday party. An orphan and high school dropout, he begins to fall for Little Little himself and vice versa. The two begin a romance based on their different outlooks and the difficulties that they experience of being short stature.
The book is very dated in some parts.Little Lion's career as a TV evangelist seems to be based upon real preachers from the '80s such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker so the character seems a bit dated now. (However many of his conservative fundamentalist views still retain some of their prominence as does the discovery when his character is not all that he pretends to be). Little Little and Sydney go on one of their dates to a grindhouse movie theater which shows such B movie horror films as The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant and Curse of the Werewolf. However, M.E. Kerr has given the reader two strong characters through their humorous narration and their fresh outlooks on life.
In alternating first person chapters, Little Little and Sydney both give their views of the world with deft and witty narration that makes them memorable characters. In describing her younger sister Cowboy's various interests, Little Little observes: "It's hard to tell which one of us is most strange, me or Cowboy, though a dwarf will always look stranger anywhere."
Sydney also presents some clever insights, particularly about his fame as The Roach: "I decided to be something that people don't like instinctively and make them like it....If I'd been a vegetable, I'd have been a slimy piece of okra. If I'd been mail, I'd have been a circular addressed to 'Occupant.'"
Besides the narration, Sydney and Little Little become individuals describing their different experiences as little people. Little Little grew up with a normal sized family and has always been considered a town outsider; Sydney grew up in an orphans' home with other children with physical deformities; Little Little's first experience with other little people was when her grandfather took her to a meeting of The American Diminutives (TADS), a fictional organization that she and her family later join, mostly with the purpose of setting Little Little up with the male members. Sydney's first experience with other little people was when he went with the other orphans' home children to a theme park and saw various little people dressed as gnomes, foreshadowing his future working as an advertising mascot. Little Little is constantly described by the mother as "little, but p.f." but is tired of being treated as small doll by everyone around her especially her parents; Sydney often feels self-conscious about his hunched back, his overlong front tooth, and his short legs, but covers up his physical insecurities with one-liners and intelligence gleaned from reading various books about other people with physical abnormalities. In the differences in the two leads, M.E. Kerr shows that experiences can be different and even people in similar situations can be raised with completely different outlooks in life.
Above all, the book is about being an individual in a world that encourages conformity or as Sydney and Little Little describe, being oneself rather than being"Sara Lee" which means "Similar And Regular And Like Everyone Else." There are various moments that celebrate the characters' individuality such as Sydney and his friends' mock-Oscar award ceremony call "The Monsters" which awards are presented such as "Least Likely To Get Adopted" or "Most Likely To Scare Small Children." Little Little also proves her non-conformist nature in her arguments with her family including her blustering but well-meaning minister grandfather. When he tells her to "be a bush, if she cannot be a tree," she counters with "the idea of being a bush wasn't all that appealing and not for me, anyway, even if I was the best bush." Through Little Little and Sydney, Kerr seems to speak to every kid or adult who has ever been considered different by their peers and encourages them to embrace it and be themselves or as Sydney says "When I found out  I was a ball in a world of blocks, I decided that even if they didn't roll, I do. I decided to roll away, be whatever  I wanted to be."
 Links & Activity Suggestions
1. Little People of America- Here is the website for the real-life non-profit organization that provides support, resources, and information for little people. What other similar organizations are there that have encouraged diversity and provide support for others? What obstacles have people who are different have faced and how do these organizations help them? Have you ever volunteered for or have ever been a member of any of these type of organizations? What was the experience like?  Has there ever been a time when you were considered different, in what way?
2. TV Acres: Advertising Mascots-Sydney Cinnamon works as a mascot roach for a pest control company. This website explores some of the real-life commercial mascots and their impact on advertising including resources to several other advertising sites. What mascots do you remember? How did they portray their product? Why do you think advertisers choose mascots and why do people remember them so much? If you were going to make a commercial, what advertising mascot would you choose? What would they promote and how would they be like?
Literary Discussion Questions
1. Compare Little Little's upbringing with Sydney's. How were they different? How did they lead to the decisions that they have later made? What do you think that the advantages and disadvantages were Little Little's past with her parents and sister versus Sydney's past at the Twin Oaks Orphans' home? Do you think things would have been different if the situations had been reversed and Little Little was an orphan and Sydney was raised by his family? Why or why not?
2.  What are some of the difficulties that Little Little and Sydney had to cope with both physically and emotionally with as little people? How have they and the other characters, such as Little Lion and the other TADpoles adapted to their world? Why is it so important for some of the characters to fit in and be considered normal and why is it important for others like Sydney to embrace being considered outsiders? What does Sydney mean when he describes himself as a "ball in a world of blocks"?" How do Sydney and Little Little "roll" when others do not? Do you believe by the end of the book that they will continue to do so? Why or why not?