A ‘Strange Snow’ indeed: A critical analysis of the author’s early author/illustrator works

While it has historically been considered Mr. Hughes’s’ second and very likely final work of fiction for children as both typist and crayolist by the author’s own admission in a now-unavailable audio interview (allegedly due to a melted cassette tape), the recent resurfacing of yet another very short, yarn-bound, copy paper on construction paper (noticeably lacking the more refined black marker outlined figures and smoother work of glue stick backing of The Strangest Snowy Day [bearing the quizzical and never-verified imprint of Silver Diamond Pub. Co. along the spine]), The Little Centipede, redraws our old assumptions attached to The Strangest Snowy Day. Together with the betwixtly composed and frightening work of The Grizzly Bear, with its infamous ‘DO THEY GET HURT???’ teaser inside the front cover (not pictured), the pieces were apparently produced on an annual basis, making a careful study of the artistic abilities, styles, and peculiarities of typical children ages six, seven and eight (second to the fourth grade, in this case).

Strangest, while tastefully and admittedly elegantly mimicking the unskilled drawings of a child in perhaps the lower echelons of color-within-the-line skills and raw creativity, even for that age group, the handcrafted book is filled with charming subplots and dramatic use of pre-existent white space that happened to fit the theme. In stark contrast to Centipede, which makes use of exclusively animal characters (friends and family members alike) that displays a characteristicly blurred and humanoid projection of the world, an only misty and hazy-at-best grasp on predator/prey interspecies fraternization; through the work the author wrestles with profound and apt emotional childhood themes of what really constitutes a family unit (three to four centipedes in this case, or three turtles).

Said the author of his own mother’s experience, that must have surely shaped his own early stories and musings:

“My maternal grandfather died very suddenly and shockingly of a heart attack while out of state on a business trip at age 45, never even getting to say good-bye before dying the next morning soon after entering the hospital, leaving behind a 16-year-old daughter and my uncle, who was a few years younger, under the sole care of my grandmother, who that day also became caretaker to a 100-acre family farm. The grief, I believe, had a lifelong impact as you might expect, and even at that age she remembers repeatedly asking the question, finally able to vocalize the repetitive thought jangling through her heart after such a crippling loss:
‘Are we still a family?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ my grandmother replied to her, ‘of course we’re still a family! Families come in all sizes, and they change as time goes by. Sometimes they get bigger, sometimes they get smaller, but the three of us still have each other. And I’m going to go on taking care of you like I always have, and you’re going to help take care of your little brother.’

She went back to graduate school while my mother worked on her bachelor’s in teaching at the same university a few years later, meeting up on campus from time to time; they both sometimes thought they had seen my grandfather for split seconds, walking amidst the throngs of students, still bald, unfrightening, gentle, filling them with a sense of love, relief and reminders of forever companionship, the beginnings of acceptance.

The boy returns from a camping trip, the only point in the story where his mother is shown.

The Grizzly Bear

According to an official-looking entry form still affixed to the back cover of Centipede, the work was submitted as a short story, though it would seem to be only in a technicality of the binding materials that any scholar would not consider the work a bona fide author/illustrator creation of sufficient length to fit more broadly in an obvious category of traditional chapbook, and in the not-so-obvious category of works by adults designed to resemble the school projects of children that may or may not be, in all cases, based upon actual previous historical school projects submitted for judging, as a matter of adherence to the syllabus for achieving a passing grade in the subject and not as a mere extracurricular.

Connoisseurs of the lost art of the so-called Melton Book remember it as a highlight and vital family and community fixture of local young author’s fairs in particularly economically disadvantaged rural public schools, which were either unable or too cheap to purchase also somewhat relatively inexpensive, blank hardback books that became almost ubiquitous soon after those days as the Melton Book diminished in popularity. Almost hearkening to an unknown future of a world of rebel self-published works available by the millions, to the millions, by print-on-demand, the genre taught students to obligatorily produce amateur, flimsy, low-quality paperbacks on an annual basis as a personal mode of artistic expression, psychological and spiritual development, despite the audience size or general applicability to the society at large.

You are important.

Your story is important.

As details are scarce also on Grizzly’s little-known printer Duck Tails Publishing, confirmed other copies of the work have yet to be discovered, though the author claims both Melton Books, “…most probably were repr- [inaudible due to coughing fit]…”

Only one sound conclusion can be drawn from the available information: that all three books (using ‘books’ in only the most fluid and exaltingly flexible lassos encompassing the word) were indeed original works produced by the author, typeset almost certainly from handwritten story text drafts by the editor (thought to be known as an unverified Mrs. Trowbridge of Silver Diamond Pub. Co.), which were then safety-scissored and gluestuck in pre-arranged locations on the full-page drawings (which next had to be gluestuck to the actual bound pages of the Melton Book skeleton), created after the fact to accompany the story lines.

That being said, the careful eye will come to see that both Melton Book forms, contrived as the creations of a third and fourth grader, are in reality, recent creations by the author during a time of his life he has referred to as the ‘the second in between years’, a mostly un- and/or under-employed doldrummy time following his graduate school education where one can imagine a very serious regression took place, having received quite a bit more formal schooling than is really warranted or productive for the average person, yet still unprepared, wholly unwilling, or simply too despondent to fully re-enter the working world drudgery of Adulthood: Part 2. A wily and caustic deception, falsely aged materials, and plenty of time on one’s hands brought about these masterpieces which might never have left the author’s shelves.

Furthermore, upon comparing the sorry and faded state of Centipede, the characteristic rippling effect on the paper of late 1980’s or early 90’s era white liquid Elmer’s glue that was almost certainly the sole binding material (aside from the two unmatching strands of yarn. Yarn!), it is clear that this work alone was verifiably created in the author’s childhood, by the author’s childhood self, himself, the only work of the three both for children and by an actual child, and that performed with very heavy assistance by his parents and teacher (the notoriously scary Mz. Black—who often wore black, and who had an unerasable sad face on the front chalkboard, a perfect circle in permanent black marker, for all mildly out-of-line first or second graders to inscribe their names, of which it is said, the author himself was only asked to perform a single time during those two years—who was unavailable for immediate comment or photo).

The near impossible-to-forge insignia affixed to the cover, a smiling candy apple or melting tomato with a (perfunctorily meta) sticker attached, even to this attachment, of still another similarly candied apple/tomato, makes one final thing abundantly clear: he was a ‘VERY IMPORTANT PERSON’ who had performed ‘GOOD WORK’ for the ‘IRA Reading/Writing Fair’ (pictured above, presumably, the Irish Republican Army).

Storyteller’s perspective filmed readings in the author’s adult voice, that sometimes uses childish voices, are being edited, digitally remastered, and posted as they become available, which further sheds finalistic and fatalistic doubt on the very existence of Snowy/Grizzly before the year 2013, leaving Centipede as the currently only available specimen of Jay B. Hughes juvenilia.

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