George Upside Down, by Meghan McCarthy
Having read a variety of works by the author relating to history and culture, this book is somewhat different from the rest but similar in the sense that it features appealing drawings and is aimed at children. As is often the case with good books aimed at children, though, this book offers something to the adult reader that is worth paying attention to, and a reader who bought or got this book from the library to read to a child who did not think there was anything of personal relevance would be missing something in the author’s interest in the psychology of children and in subtle ways of influencing behavior that do not involve the sort of attempts at coercion that I grew up with and that have become increasingly stigmatized in more recent decades. Moreover, the lesson, to the extent that one seeks for a lesson in a book like this, that is provided is not only of use in dealing with children but is also a reminder of a particular quality that subcultures in general have that is also had by quirky and eccentric children (and the quirky and eccentric adults that they become).
This book as a whole is a simple one, as many books for young readers are. George likes to do many things upside down, including reading, playing music, and dreaming, among other things. Not everyone, and this especially includes the adults in his life, like him being upside down so much, especially when this makes him a distraction in class when he pretends to be a bat. His parents and teachers, tutor, school nurse, the principal are all ineffective at trying to coerce George into standing right side up until they do something that thwarts his efforts at being unusual and do handstands themselves so that they are upside down too. Once he is no longer unique by being upside down, George decides to do something else that distinguishes him, and to become a superhero who looks for opportunities to rescue cats and presumably others. Who knows how long this will last, but the characterization of the author seems to indicate that this desire to be unique and unusual is something that is likely to be lasting, and the author is kind enough not to discuss the sort of bullying that goes on from peers for those who stick out, and only focuses on the problems it creates with adult authority figures, or this would have been a much darker book in nature.
Even a book as silly as this one, though, has something serious to say. Why is it that George wants to be different? He seems to revel in drawing attention from adult authority figures, even if it is negative attention, and he seems to be a somewhat imaginative and daydreamy sort of child as well. What are his relationships with his peers? Do they make fun of him or just try to ignore him as an insufferable showoff of what? And what applies to George here applies to many others as well. Those who desire to make themselves unique and separate themselves from the herd will change their behavior and language if what they are saying and doing becomes too mainstream. It is for this reason that the cant of young people and the behavior of hipsters has become increasingly extreme, and why progressives continually change their targets whenever they have achieved one form of social change. So long as there is resistance between themselves and the greater society at large, they are content to be on the cutting edge, but when their positions become too mainstream they have to switch to other areas to be distinctive. George may be cute in this book, but others like him are dangerous to society and its well-being as a whole.