Of carp and kids' books

I often say in my postings that I'm unemployed. That's incorrect. I'm not really unemployed. As of this past August, I'm simply underemployed. I have a job -- a part-time job working for the local Children's Literacy Center as a site coordinator at a local elementary school. I just don't really think of it as a job; partially because it came about as an off-shoot of volunteer work I'd been doing since my layoff, partially because it's only 10 hours a week, and partially because I enjoy it so much that it just doesn't seem like a job.

One of the things I enjoy about the job -- in addition to the wonderful women who volunteer to tutor some really great kids -- is that I get to read kids' books, including picture books. I love picture books. I write picture books! None I've written have been published yet, but I have had a few close calls: personal letters from editors and agents, an honorable mention in the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition. I know that one day I will be published. It's just that I'm still in the phase of accumulating rejections, tweaking as each editor or agent suggests, only to be rejected again.

It's this continual rejection that makes me wonder how the hell one of the books among those in the small "library" I have for my tutors and students to choose from was ever published ... and mine aren't.

The book, "The Carp in the Bathtub" by Barbara Cohen, is one of the oddest stories for kids that I've ever read. It's Ms. Cohen's first book (written in 1972), so I'll forgive her a little, but I simply don't understand how she -- or a publisher -- could have seen this story line as something kids would enjoy.

Here's a bit of back story, then I'll share the parts that really floor me. The story is a first-person account from a young girl's point of view, telling about how her mom makes the best gefilte fish for Passover of anyone in town. The carp she uses for her fantastic recipe each year is housed in the family bathtub. The young girl and her brother, Harry, get attached to the fish -- and are devastated when Mom beats the poor carp to death and puts it in the meat grinder!

Here, take a look:

The kids loved the little carp. Now read what Mom does to their beloved pet (first page):

One year the kids kidnap the fish and hide it in the neighbor's bathtub. They get busted by Dad, they have to return the carp to Mom, who then clubs it to death, just like all the others. This is the conversation when the young girl asks Harry what happened:

That last sentence just floors me. This was traumatic! So traumatic that the writer, who obviously went through this as a child, was so deeply affected that she wrote a darn book about it!

But hey, Dad feels bad for his traumatized kiddos, so he brings home a stray cat for them:

A stray cat who CHASES THE RATS OUT OF THE KITCHEN! What kind of life were these children living? Sounds more like "The Glass Castle" than something kids should be reading!

I truly don't understand how "The Carp in the Bathtub" has made it into the hands of unsuspecting children ... and my "Hot Chocolate and Javelinas" still awaits acceptance.