All About Sam by Lois Lowry

Jul 23, 2014

I have very distinct memories of my mom reading this book aloud. I don't know how old I was, but I remember laughing my head off at some of Sam's antics. When the book begins, Sam is a brand-new baby (still at the hospital). He sees a bunch of smiling, happy faces surrounding his crib, but he thinks one of the people has his head on upside down (it turns out to be his father who is bald and wears a beard). I have remembered that scene from the book for over twenty years because I thought it was so funny to get Sam's perspective as an infant.

I'm guessing many of you are acquainted with the Anastasia Krupnick series. I think I read most of them as a pre-teen. All About Sam (and the three books that follow) focus on Anastasia's little brother, Sam. Although not told in first person, they offer a glimpse of the Krupnick household from Sam's point of view.

With a new baby of our own, I knew Aaron and Maxwell would also love this book. When Sam is a baby, he is often misunderstood. For example, at one point he gets distracted by his mobile when he is supposed to be eating. His mom stops feeding him, and a few minutes later, he realizes he's still hungry. So he yells, "I FORGOT TO EAT, AND NOW I'M HUNGRY." But it sounds like "Waaaaaaahhhhh." As we read about Sam's frustrations, we wondered what our little Clarky is trying to tell us with his wails and squawks? Plus, as Sam gets older and turns into a walking, talking toddler and preschooler, his activities result in quite a lot of mischief (flushing his sister's goldfish, hiding broccoli under the rug, etc.). My boys thought every episode was more hilarious than the last.

I, on the other hand, found that I was less enchanted with Sam as an adult than as a kid. As much as I like Lois Lowry, I thought most of the story was a little flat. The characters and Sam's shenanigans seemed formulaic. For example, in the chapter where Sam decides to steal a pack of gum, the episode unfolds in a very predictable way: Sam wants candy, he pockets a package at the checkout stand, he feels guilty, he confesses, he feels better. There was just nothing that made this particular scene stand out from the hundreds of other preschoolers (fictitious or real) who have been overcome with similar temptations. (In contrast, in our recent read of Ramona the Pest, Ramona also gets into common scrapes, but the execution and resolution were always wildly creative and unpredictable.)

In addition to that, I also found the book quite dated (and not in the charming way of, say, Ramona or Betsy-Tacy). When Sam comes home from the hospital, Anastasia carries him on her lap (my kids were rather surprised he didn't have to be in a car seat). Also, Sam and his little friend, Adam, are obsessed with guns and bombs (which is still the case with many little boys but not talked about so innocently anymore).  And Sam's father smokes a pipe (and it made me realize that smoking fathers are not prominent characters in books anymore because I had to explain some things as we went along). It just didn't seem like the way a book would be written today, but it also didn't have that classic feel about it in any way.

The one chapter I truly loved was when Sam cut his hair, and it didn't turn out at all like he wanted it to. His mother is horrified, and quite frankly, Sam is too. He wails, "I'm a porkypine! An ugly one!" And his mother says, "For the very first time, I feel a terrible desire to spank you." Sam feels so bad, he says, "I want to spank myself." But then his mother asks, "Do you think that we could try to laugh, instead?" And so they try. And pretty soon they don't have to try anymore; the laughter is effortless and real. I loved this example of how thy turned an awful mistake into a hilarious memory. I wish I would choose to laugh a little more often when my kids unpleasantly surprise me.

If I had to rate this book for myself, it would probably be a 5/10. But if I rated it according to my boys' enjoyment, it would jump up to at least an 8. I think they loved it just as much as I did when I was a kid, and that made me enjoy it a lot more.

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