Our Winter Fiction Issue features twenty infants, toddlers and children under the age of ten who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction. Each writer, through the English they’ve grasped so far, reminds us what it means to be human.
Blair Tannenbaum, Age 7
The daring work of Tannenbaum shines a light into the darkness of man’s heart. His Franzenian/ Lethemian analysis of 21st century malaise will surely earn its place among the Dickens and Orwells. When asked for his inspiration, he whispered, “baby carrots.”
Maggie Joseph, Age 9
In a nod to the dramatic strides of post-feminism, Joseph turns the notion of “cooties” on its head by crafting an alternate universe where boys are plagued by this hypothetical disease. Joseph rails against the gender specificity found in so much of today’s literature, illustrating a unique feminine independence that forcefully points a finger at the modern, American patriarchy.
Daffy Daniels, Age 6
Daniels impressed last fall with her debut piece “Mom and Dad and the house we Live in,” a fertile journey describing the trees on her lawn, the rooms in her house and an energetic portrayal of her family and their ages. A self-described “scientist fiction,” the author looks forward to perfecting her report on “how many marbles in jar.”
Ryan Tashman, Age 8
Tashman burst onto the young adult scene with a daring assortment of math homework papers covered with bite marks. His alternately delicate and fierce movements intoxicate the reader and force us to confront our notion of a relationship with a normal, “whole” text.
Stephen Howell, Age 7
Thus far, Howell has delighted teachers and parents alike with his use of pronouns, auxiliary verbs, and most innovatively, gerunds. His most recent fiction, “Dog running fasting forever,” through the anthropomorphizing of a dog named Doggs, explores themes of trust, fantasy and isolation.
Jacob Ralston, Age 9
Making a name for himself in Ms. Boguszewski’s 4th grade class with his contrarian epithets and pizza Lunchables, Ralston changed the course of elementary school fiction with his story, more accurately described as a discovery, “_______ is ________”, a one-hundred line series of tautological statements, featuring “Baseball is baseball; Temper is temper; Homework is homework,” and ending with the single question “Jacob is Jake??”
Benjamin “Benji” Polenti, 14 weeks
With his trademark button nose and butter-yellow hair, Benji commands attention with a laugh more accurately described as a hiccup than a giggle. Benji combines Germanic, Latin and Tungusic sounds into gibberish and gaggles that Michael Chabon called “a phonetic orchestra that departs from humanness and arrives, more forcefully, back at humanness.”
Sam Williams, Age 6
The critically proclaimed inheritor of Proust and Faulkner, Williams presents “It was tomorrow,” a short story that toys with notions of linear time through artful selections of verb tenses. “His refusal to stoop to grammatical conventions liberates him and then begins to liberate us,” explains Cornel West, Princeton Professor of Religion.
Carly Sanders, Age 4
Sanders surprised critics, peers and her pediatrician when she proclaimed the four-syllable word “rhetorical” with nearly flawless pronunciation over snack-time, which she followed with silence. Sanders didn’t speak again until after nap-time, when she said “bugs,” pointing to the class’ tadpole.
Henry Timms, Age 9
Timms has been a bit more than lax in his homework and general effort than his teachers would prefer, but his renegade attitude has served him well with his rebellious untitled series of two-sentence shorts about a rabbit who takes drugs and fights in wars against the Japanese. At once called his generation’s Hemingway and Clancy, his efforts culminate in a bold fusion of commercial and literary fiction.
Sarah Kasparov, 7 months
Despite the fearful words of doctors, Kasparov’s almost debilitating case of colic represents The New Yorker’s first foray into infantile performance art. The constant crying taps into our deepest fears of a mechanized society, while simultaneously challenging our notion of how we take in a text.
Carlos Mendoza, Age 8
Sometimes called the next Gabriel García Márquez, Mendoza flourishes most when he writes on his two favorite topics: classmate Mandy Kaszubski and the Dallas Cowboys. Mendoza recently isolated himself for an entire recess, severing all communication from friends and family, and emerged with a letter to Kaszubski, both cutting and quixotic in its cadence, that came closer to poetry than prose has ever dared approach.
Talya Ruben, Age 5
Although unable to construct a full written sentence, Ruben has continued to stockpile her cubby with recipes of favorite dinners and snacks. Critics assure her prolificacy has in no way detracted from her pieces’ ingenuity, citing the classics “Rice & beans: rice, beans, spice” and “Ants on a Log: cuecumbrs, pb, raisons”.
Steven Chu, Age 3
The radical work of Steven Chu is highlighted by his particularly representative piece: “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” Chu’s artful refusal to separate a word into smaller words places a devastating demonstration of post-modern apathy and the failure of language in the hands of the reader. Jonathan Lethem exclaimed, “Move over, Samuel Beckett. Chu’s playful manipulations of language pull humans out of sorrow into a place where true freedom is possible.”
Gabriel Stutman, Age 5
Stutman constantly challenges the norm with his refusal to use periods, capital letters, and stay within the lines. At once bringing together the competitive novelty of Cummings, Salinger, Kerouac and Bukowski, he can “disorient the reader to the point of uncomfortable realism” (New York Times’ Book Review) and “ask, through his stories, where the individual ends and the word beings” (Harper’s Magazine).
Addie Stark, Age 5
Stark presents herself as a modern day hybrid of James Joyce and TS Eliot through her recontextualization of the text—through copying “Jim Goes to the Zoo,” a picture book from her classroom. She demonstrates the power of the modern author and independence from obligations to accuracy through her provocative and thought-provoking misspellings.
Richard Glesson, Age 6
Glesson’s stream-of-consciousness work, “What I Ate Today,” plays with the structure of Sartre’s Nausea but reformats it for a new but differently jaded generation. His rigorous chronicle begs the question: if we are so busy putting things inside of us, what are we contributing to the world?
Amy Oldsock, Age 9
The blistering social critique presented by Oldsock deconstructs a classmate’s glue-eating habits. Her creativity shines through in her demonstration of how the actions of individuals affect only the performer but the whole community. Oldsock dramatically reveals the dangers and joys of interconnection in today’s globalized world.
Luke Edinburgh, Age 8
Edinburgh’s delightful account of “Barney the Beagle Bed Bug Sniffer in Bethlehem,” shows true promise in its dark portrayals of the manipulation of animals in the modern world. “By the end of the novel,” n+1 reports, “we are forced to wonder who is the real human, who is the real animal, and what ambiguous space lies in between.”
Donald Hunt, Age 8
Although Hunt has never directly cited Borges or Murakami, it’s not hard to see they’ve had an influence on his brand of magical realism. His story “10,000 Frogs,” published last year in “Ms. Diane’s 2nd Grade Story Book,” is an excursion into a world where every boy owns 10,000 frogs. Known as both patient recluse and playful jokester, Hunt says he does not remember writing the story.