A Young Rabbit, Wishing to Escape the Oppressiveness of its Bedroom
August 28, 2010 2:15 PM   Subscribe

In May, Jacob Lambert wrote in The Millions about the subversive messages hidden in classic children's books in the essay Are Picture Books Leading Our Children Astray? His conclusion: "What I previously considered whimsical trifles now reveal themselves as other things entirely: thinly-veiled endorsements of chaos, malfeasance, naïveté." Now Lambert's back, with: Again, I Ask: Are Picture Books Leading Our Children Astray? posted by chavenet (50 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Meh.

As someone who's studied children's lit somewhat seriously, I've had enough people say shit to me like "The Wizard of Oz is about communism!" and "Alice in Wonderland is all about narcotics!" in complete earnestness that even parodies of this sort feel eye-roll worthy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2010


There is a point where deconstructionism turns thoughtful analysis into pure bullshit spewing self-reinforcing psychoanalysis.
posted by edgeways at 2:36 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Poky Little Puppy has always bothered the hell out of me. It's nothing short of an endorsement of anarchy. Cute, puppy anarchy.
posted by dortmunder at 2:37 PM on August 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is this a parody? I can't tell. If not, shouldn't this guy be googling chemtrails or something instead of writing lists?
posted by cmoj at 2:37 PM on August 28, 2010


Lambert could do this with every children's book out there. I get the idea of the first article, but really, is a second one necessary? He brushes aside Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, but doesn't he see the hidden message of the dangers of over-crowding and peer pressure? And the rigidity of Miss Clavel in Madeline, insisting the children walk in two straight lines! The lessons of graffiti taught by Harold and the Purple Crayon!

I guess my point is you could do this all day (well, as a former elementary school teacher, I could do this all day), looking at children's books from the eyes of an adult, but where is the fun in that? I'd rather continue to see them through the eyes of the child within me.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2010


The theory that the Wizard of Oz is an allegory about currency is crisp and well-argued. All the rest of L. Frank Baum's 16 or so Oz books, however, are clearly written for the sole purpose of leading children astray (and did so quite successfully in my case).
posted by Faze at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2010


I have to agree with PhoBWanKenobi: Meh. If it's parody it could've been a heck of a lot funnier; in the unlikely event it's not parody, pffft.

Also, I loved Ferdinand and his cork tree.
posted by Gator at 2:42 PM on August 28, 2010


Is this a parody? I can't tell.

Is that a parody?
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on August 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm not very funny, and I hate anything funny. So I hate this.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:45 PM on August 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


The theory that the Wizard of Oz is an allegory about currency is crisp and well-argued.

Well-argued does not necessarily mean true. The problem I have with assertions like this is that they often come from this weird place of naivity and assumption--when shared by those who are not used to looking critically at children's work, it's usually stated as "Hey! Can you believe there's more going on in kids' books?!" At the same time, the analysis tends to oversimplify a work (as with the Oz paper presented above) and not really discuss it in a way that acknowledges the nuance of a work, the peculiarities of the genre (adult write ostensibly for children, but include winking references meant for the adults reading to the children--though that's not to say that it's what a work means or that this second-layer of meaning was the sole intention of a writer).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:51 PM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not very funny, and I hate anything funny. So I hate this.

but you don't hate it very much?
posted by Hicksu at 2:52 PM on August 28, 2010


....wait. nevermind.
posted by Hicksu at 2:54 PM on August 28, 2010


posted by Jimmy Havok I'm not very funny, and I hate anything funny.

So do you hate the part of you that is funny, or do you just hate yourself not very much overall?
posted by mattdidthat at 2:55 PM on August 28, 2010


Don't try to make me laugh.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:59 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other side of this coin, "Lost" was a thinly veiled version of "Are You My Mother?".
posted by HuronBob at 3:12 PM on August 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Is this a parody? I can't tell.

But the story does not end there. As was revealed in a November 1987 International Affairs exposé, “Roger Hargreaves” was a pseudonym for Choe Yong-Nam—the notorious former head of North Korea’s culture ministry. Mr. Clever, indeed.
posted by biffa at 3:31 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I sure hope he's paying his $300 Philadelphia business tax.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:54 PM on August 28, 2010


Can we talk about The Little Engine That Could and its message of utter obedience to the factory boss?
posted by The Whelk at 4:05 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Some people use their brains as if they had chewing gum in their heads.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:41 PM on August 28, 2010


Yeah, that theory about Oz as a populist parable is really a load of tosh.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on August 28, 2010


Looks like SOMEbody needs a time out!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 4:53 PM on August 28, 2010


"Blueberries For Sal follows a young girl and her mother as they pick blueberries, an activity that will allow them, somewhat disconcertingly, to “have food for winter.” (A sequel, Anemia For Sal, was rejected by Viking Press in 1951.) "

Hahahahahaha.... how can anyone NOT realize this is hilarious deadpan parody? Chavenet, mind not the haters, for they have pulled too deeply on their draughts of Hatorade.
posted by FatherDagon at 5:03 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I don’t have any philosophical argument against Curious George Flies a Kite. My complaint is more basic: the book is unrepentantly, almost diabolically, boring; it’s the sort of thing Jigsaw might read to his victims as they writhe in a maggoty pit. This is the first book I read to Conor, choosing it out of lazy brand loyalty, I suppose—because what’s more fun than Curious George? As it turns out, there are a few things: being jabbed in the armpit with a rusty sewing needle. Vomiting wing sauce into a concert-lot Port-a-John. Watching Elizabethtown with a corpse on your lap. I’d eagerly choose any of these before again entering the episodic, joy-killing world of that insipid little chimp. I’d try to explain the plot, but that would only make me exhale sadly and rest my head against the wall."

HAHAHAHA oh my lords I haven't laughed this hard all day.
posted by FatherDagon at 5:05 PM on August 28, 2010


Goodnight Moon can be an extremely creepy and disturbing book. I guess it's not popular in Ireland, so I'd never heard of it and had no idea about any words on the page. The first time I had to read it out aloud, it was dark and I just kind of made up stuff, remembering hearing a lot of "Goodbyes" during the reading. So I improvised. Now my wife has banned me from narrating any more Lovecraftian interpretations of it to our baby girl.
posted by meehawl at 5:24 PM on August 28, 2010


I feel sorry for this guy's kid.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:04 PM on August 28, 2010


It is parady. Of Roger Hargreaves is the author of the Mr.Men series of children's books and cartoons, he states:
As was revealed in a November 1987 International Affairs exposé, “Roger Hargreaves” was a pseudonym for Choe Yong-Nam—the notorious former head of North Korea’s culture ministry

I think this is supposed to be funny.
posted by eye of newt at 6:29 PM on August 28, 2010


Why don't jag off post-modern academics go back to reading the back of cereal boxes like thhey should.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:32 PM on August 28, 2010


the rigidity of Miss Clavel

If you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend "Werner Herzog" reading/deconstructing Madeline.
posted by mothershock at 7:19 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops, I repeated biffa--so much for previewing before posting
posted by eye of newt at 7:33 PM on August 28, 2010


How hasn't read their kid Marx pretending to them it was the Poky Little Puppy, or Dostoyevsky mascarading as Dahl?
posted by From Bklyn at 7:36 PM on August 28, 2010


What about that damned story "The Puppy Who Lost His Way"? I didn't like the part where the kid just gives up looking after an hour. You gotta think: you've got a dog, you've got a responsibility. You don't just sit around like a goon, you get off your ass and you find that fucking dog!
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:09 PM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Saxon Kane, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on Metafilter is now dumber for having read it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:23 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The creepiest kids' book I have read is one called Goodnight, Mr. Night. The author basically personnified the night and has him sneak in the child's window and into bed, where "he whispers dreams to me" while the kid is asleep. I loved the cadence, the liquidness of the words and the whimsical drawings, but the content was just darn freaky.
posted by acoutu at 9:58 PM on August 28, 2010


Saxon Kane, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on Metafilter is now dumber for having read it.
The state is founded on violence, and your parents abused you! Wait, shit, no.

What thread is this?
posted by verb at 10:21 PM on August 28, 2010


I've always thought Dr Seuss warranted a more skeptical reading:

The unnamed protagonist of Dr. Seuss's illustrated story Green Eggs and Ham wants only to be left alone -- to sit in his chair and read his newspaper. He is content, his world is whole and complete. He is comfortable and complacent in his McLuhanesque media circuit. The only thing missing from his life is a name -- an identity.

Into this world bursts Sam, or "Sam-I-Am." Sam knows who he is; he even carries around a sign advertising himself. He has such a strong sense of identity he feels a need to bring change to those who have none.

In the past, people like this have brought religion, political change or military turmoil to others. Sam brings green eggs and ham.

(It is, perhaps, significant that the protagonist reads a newspaper -- movable type being, after all, the most important, world-shaking innovation in the history of the human pageant.)

posted by Sebmojo at 10:28 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, don't tell anyone, but this lady is absolutely my favorite way-too-sincere children's book reviewer ever, and I have to check in periodically to see if any new gems have appeared.

From "Inconsistencies and Ill-Advised Activities Mar The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday" (I like the festival atmosphere of this story and the fact that Papa has a chance to talk about tree rings and how they can be used to determine a tree's age. There's also a good lesson in there about overexerting oneself. But the inconsistencies in this book are such that I recommend The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday only with hesitation. I'm still shaking my head over Spin the Bottle. Honestly, Berenstains... Too much.)...

...to Clifford's Pals Are Bad Influences ("Pros: introduces several other canine characters. Cons: they're all a bunch of hooligans. The Bottom Line: Though some of Clifford's actions are for the benefit of his friends, all of them are badly behaved."); I get a kick out of the commentary.

However, my personal favorite is probably:
"Angela's Airplane Celebrates an Accidental Hi-jacking" "(The back cover flap indicates that Munsch created this story on the spot at a daycare. I can understand that being the case, and in that context, the story isn't quite so ridiculous. But it doesn't seem like a tale that should then have been published as a book. First and foremost, if a five-year-old is capable of getting into an airplane and flying it down the runway, that's a major security issue, which I have trouble finding too funny in light of September 11th. If it's that easy for a kindergartener, surely it would be pretty simple for a terrorist as well.)

Oh, I love her.
posted by redsparkler at 10:32 PM on August 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is this where I complain that I want to kill that kid in The Giving Tree?
posted by KingEdRa at 12:32 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is this where I complain that I want to kill that kid in The Giving Tree?
lemme know, I'll tell 'em you were at my house the whole time.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:21 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a movie with this same premise: Closet Land. Madeline Stowe is emotionally tortured into believing she was actually penning anarchist children's books by ruthless interrogator, Alan Rickman. Good luck finding a copy, though.
posted by ikahime at 8:56 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This guy would hate the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
posted by blucevalo at 10:09 AM on August 29, 2010


Children's books are getting much more explicitly political these days. Why, in 2004 Grandfather Twilight endorsed Kucinich for President. And on a slightly more serious note, I'd love to read Tom Tomorrow's The Very Silly Mayor.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:11 AM on August 29, 2010


Perhaps the ultimately readable masterwork of childrens story-deconstruction must be Cat People, by the New Yorker's Louis Menand:

Every reader of “The Cat in the Hat” will feel that the story revolves around a piece of withheld information: what private demons or desires compelled this mother to leave two young children at home all day, with the front door unlocked, under the supervision of a fish? Terrible as the cat is, the woman is lucky that her children do not fall prey to some more insidious intruder. The mother’s abandonment is the psychic wound for which the antics of the cat make so useless a palliative. The children hate the cat. They take no joy in his stupid pet tricks, and they resent his attempt to distract them from what they really want to be doing, which is staring out the window for a sign of their mother’s return. Next to that consummation, a cake on a rake is a pretty feeble entertainment.

This is the fish’s continually iterated point, and the fish is not wrong. The cat’s pursuit of its peculiar idea of fun only cranks up the children’s anxiety. It raises our anxiety level as well, since it keeps us from doing what we really want to be doing, which is accompanying the mother on her murderous or erotic errand. Possibly the mother has engaged the cat herself, in order to throw the burden of suspicion onto the children. “What did you do?” she asks them when she returns home, knowing that the children cannot put the same question to her without disclosing their own violation of domestic taboos. They are each other’s alibi. When you cheat, you lie.

posted by KokuRyu at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2010


Tom Tomorrow's The Very Silly Mayor looks to be exceedingly priggish and particularly unfunny; the people who buy this book for their kids surely also buy them carob instead of chocolate.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:51 PM on August 29, 2010


My preschoolers asked why the Cat in the Hat mother left the kids at home. I asked them why they assumed no one else was home and why they assumed that the mother was the one tasked with looking after them all day. We came up with explanations of where other interested parties might have been. My kids seem to think someone else, such as a father, was in the basement. They also determined that Thing 1 and Thing 2 were the kids. And they decided they would tell me if a Cat in a Hat appeared, since there are no secrets, only surprises. You can turn that book into quite a discussion, really, especially once you've read it 50 times.
posted by acoutu at 9:54 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you actually do want to lead children "astray", may I suggest Tales for Little Rebels? Not itself targeted at children, but a catalog of reviews and suggestions for radical children's literature. (One of my faves is Farmer Duck, in which an overworked duck and his farmyard pals stage a worker's revolution and kick the lazy farmer out.)
posted by DU at 4:34 AM on August 30, 2010


acoutu, I had that same thought about Cat in the Hat. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are the kids when they're allowed to go crazy and do whatever they want even things they're usually not allowed to do, and then they realize that it's possible to get too crazy playing and they self-regulate. I kind of had the thought that the Cat was really the mom, but maybe the Cat is the other parent and when mom's home, the other parent enforces the rules but when she's out the other parent gets really lenient and lets them run wild with no rules?

I can't open the links for some reason, but I have issues with "Flap Your Wings", in which Mr. and Mrs. Bird look after an egg that obviously isn't theirs and then raises a baby that obviously isn't a bird, all because Mr. Bird says that if there's an egg in your nest you keep it warm and if there's a hungry baby you feed it. I mean, if a kid just showed up at my house, I would try to find out whose kid it was, not just decide to raise it as my own.
Also, Green Eggs and Ham. Is that book teaching kids that it's ok to badger until the other person gives in? I mean, is Green Eggs and Ham what's informing the "nice guys" of the world that they just have to bug the girl enough and she'll go out with him? Or am I reading way too much into it?
posted by zorrine at 7:56 AM on August 30, 2010


Some of this stuff is just ridiculous, but _The Giving Tree_ has always deeply offended me. That poor tree! Someone needs to slap that boy upside his head until he learns to care about something besides himself. And it killed me to charge out _The Rainbow Fish_. Talk about a lesson in conformity.

The stories we tell kids are important, and there should be a lot of variety, so they can get a good base on, but those two books...ick which doesn't mean I think they should be banned or anything.
posted by QIbHom at 10:41 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


For all you Giving Tree haters, perhaps the Taking Tree will provide some measure of balm?

I love just about everything that Shel Silverstein did, but the Giving Tree still confuses me. He seemed like a better person than that. I can't help but suspect that he meant it to be tongue in cheek.
posted by redsparkler at 11:00 AM on August 30, 2010


Nothing's much worse than Mother Goose in the modern era: in all my adolescence and adulthood I never said "cock" and "pussy" as much as I did when I picked that book up on my daughter's request. From a different era and all, but, c'mon: "I love little pussy?!?"
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:38 PM on August 30, 2010


The Giving Tree is about us and the world. And we're very near the last pages.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:35 PM on August 30, 2010


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