books,  the ethical life

Book Review: Adventures of Charlie Bubbles

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I can’t help seeing The Adventures of Charlie Bubbles as a sort of “Wizard of Oz for four year olds” story. Scared of an oncoming bee, baby Charlie blows a bubble and floats away in it. Lost in a strange location he befriends a cowardly squirrel and a useless old teddy bear. Through their adventures together the squirrel gains courage, the teddy bear a purpose and Charlie learns that the way home is easier than he thought.

My children asked me to read the story repeatedly, so it gets a good review from them, and I liked it as well.

To me the most fascinating part of the story is when Charlie has the opportunity to do something that he is hesitant to do because of the effect it will have on his friends, and they argue that it is okay. Then the friends choose to do something that will result in them getting hurt a bit, but they are okay with that because it will help him. Charlie is upset, and his guide in that part of the story assures him that it is okay because “that’s what friends are for.” The interesting thing to me is how closely together two actions are placed both of which help Charlie while (possibly/slightly) injuring his friends. He is assured it is okay because he is the important one, he’s already helped them in some way, and because they choose and that’s what friends are for.

It fascinates me because human ethics fascinate me. To what do we owe our fellow human? There are always so many little points where we can be pulled one way or another, left to choose something that will benefit others or ourselves.  I think about the times in which a child complains that a friend won’t play the games he likes, and I think, do I suggest that he play the games his friend wants, or do I suggest that yes, his friend should play the game he likes, or how do they sort out which is most important at that particular time? There cannot be a clear accounting of how much one has done for another in exchange for what the other does for you. I used to think one could try always to be the more loving one, the more giving one, but I question whether that really works or is a good idea.

Charlie Bubbles doesn’t answer any of those questions, and it doesn’t really ask them either, because it is easy to see a little boy as more important than a squirrel or teddy-bear, and it is easy to understand them making the choices they do. Yet the book hints at those questions anyway.

I received the book from the author, in exchange for a review, and I had the opportunity to email him and ask some questions. I asked about how the story was created. The author, Paul Carafotes, replied:

The story was created this way. I had a new baby, a boy i was home taking care of him and he would lay on my shoulder and chest. I would blow little bubbles of my tongue and his eyes lit up. His tiny arms and fingers would reach for the Bubbles. A seed was planted or I guess a bubble was planted. I also read to him quite often and i thought that many of the books I read were very simple. Not much story at all just more or less pictures with a few words or sentences. I thought I could do this. I had bubbles, I had Charlie, hmm. Charlie Bubbles… That’s how it began.

The story and themes began before he could talk. so basically i would make up these scenarios up and tell them to him. Charlie was flying round in his bubbles saving the world or helping someone out, doing this or that then it began to take shape. Later when he could talk i had written a story out. I would read that to him and as I read it and re-read it it would change and develop. I would put it away for months and then he would ask for Charlie Bubbles. He wanted me to read it to him and we would start that process again, repeat it. Charlie would ask me questions all the time about the characters and that was helpful in the development of their personalities . Later, much later when we had all the illustrations done and we were getting ready to publish Charlie noticed a few or the illustrations were not correct. Like for instance Paulie Pumpkin was still inside the pumpkin shell as he was telling Charlie that he was ready to stand and fight the bees off. of course Charlie was right, in the book it says Paulie steps out of his pumpkin shell for the first time “unafraid” a very big moment to help protect his friend.This was huge for Paulie Pumpkin so we had Jeff who did such a beautiful job create another picture with Paulie Pumpkin with his little dukes up which is the correct picture to have because it follows the story and the kids can see it happening as they hear the words . That’s was my son’s doing. very astute boy.

I think it need the son being able to correct the illustration. The style of illustrations matter to me more than the detail. I tend to overlook the detail, and it amazes me what my children notice. With my younger son, who is just learning to read, it can be incredibly tedious waiting for him to read a page in a book. The book might only have two lines on it, and he could read them easily, but he stares at the pictures and wants to talk about what’s happening. Inside I’m thinking “hurry up kid, the point is to practice reading the words” but to him the story is as much about the pictures as the words.
I asked about the illustrations:

Jeff Vernon did the lovely illustrations. He is an old friend in fact we used to be roommates in the 80’s. Jeff has done several illustrations for many other books. A very talented man. We have collaborated on other projects over the years, he has done my story boards for a few things I’ve directed and is a pretty good actor in his own-right. I showed him the story and we sat an discussed what the characters should look like, he went off and did it pretty much in the first go round. I gave him very little direction. The colors were also very important to me i wanted them to be vibrant and vivid. it was Jeff idea to use water colors and I believe that’s why you see the lines on the pages. it’s create from the water colors. I actually asked him the same thing. I thought what are these lines and as I look t them I thought what great texture he has added.

Paul Carafotes is an actor, so I asked him about that.

My acting career has spanned 30 years, from staring in movies like ‘ Headn For Broadway’ to series regular roles on shows such as Knots Landing and most recently Damages with Glenn Close. It has been a roller coaster ride to say the least. I have been very fortunate to have the career that I’ve had. I’ve have the had the chance to work with and meet some of the most talented people, interesting people in the world. Ive traveled and work and I am not done. There is so much to do. I’ve written screen plays and an a award winning stage play. I’ve directed and produced. Ive played football players and a Broadway dancer. I’ve learned to play several instruments. write music. and now I am knock out by the fact that I am a children’s book author. What a wild ride. What will I do when the Bubble bursts? Blow another Bubble! Those things I mentioned is what I do. Who I am is simple a dad!

You can read more about The Adventures of Charlie Bubbles at its webpage, and please share a comment here about how you encourage your children to find the balance between giving to their friends and others and taking care of themselves. Or share about a story you and your children made up together.

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  • Lionel

    Excellent review. I love the questions you ask the author. They add such insight into the workings of their minds and the back story to the book. Thanks so much for all your hard work.

    Paul R. Hewlett

  • snacksformax

    It’s fun to be able to ask the author such questions. That’s one reason I love social media – it’s so much more immediate than snail mail, and asking questions of authors about their work not only helps you understand the story, it also helps them show others the value of their work!

    Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  • Renee C.

    Great review Christy and excellent questions. I also struggle with the question of how much should you “give in” to your friends and do what they want because that’s what you do for friends. I think it needs to be equitable and that’s a difficult concept to teach kids. I think patterns are developed very quickly and if you give a dynamic enough time, there will always be one of the two kids giving in and one of the two kids getting their way. When my kids were really young, I watched a lot more closely making sure that the kids were taking turns dictating play, but now I see that my son is more of a giving in kid. But, you know what, he’s happy doing that and when he really doesn’t want to give in, he doesn’t. I think he’s learned to strike the balance.

    I love the author’s back story of how he created Charlie Bubbles – it’s very sweet!

    Thanks for sharing this in the Kid Lit Blog Hop Christy. Nice to see you there as always! 🙂

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