On Sunday I read a pile of story books to my grandson G, aged 3½. Here are my reviews of four of them.
Moose and Mouse by Colin West
This book owes much to Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel and Fred and Ted’s Road Trip by Peter Eastman (both of which are lovely, thoughtful books). The first story opens by describing the contrasts between Moose and Mouse’s characters (similar to the opening of Fred and Ted). We are told that Moose is strong, practical, good-hearted, an outdoor type and that Mouse is brainy, likes staying indoors, a nerd.
In the first story, Moose does kind things for Mouse, but Mouse is short tempered with Moose and tells him not to interrupt his writing. Moose doesn’t seem to mind and continues doing good things. It turns out that Mouse has been writing a poem describing Moose’s virtues.
In the second story Moose drags Mouse off camping, but Mouse, in the dark, uses his map-reading skills to lead Moose to a camping place next to Mouse’s house. He sneaks back to his own bed as soon as lights are out.
G understood that Mouse’s behaviour was poor. I doubt that G grasped the subtext that Moose appreciated Mouse despite his poor social skills, and that maybe Moose wasn’t all that stupid, and knew what was going on all along.
My only concern about all three of these books (Fred and Ted, Frog and Toad, and Moose and Mouse) is that all the characters are male. Moose was published in 2004, when awareness of these issues could have been higher.
Verdict: Full marks apart from the maleness.
Horton Hears A Who by Dr Seuss
Horton, an elephant, hears a sound coming from a speck of dust floating by on the wind. He realises that this is a tiny world inhabited by creatures called Whos. He places the speck of dust on a clover. A sour kangaroo sees this but can’t hear the sounds (as her ears are not as sensitive as Horton’s) and decides that Horton has lost his senses. Horton protests that “a person’s a person no matter how small.” With the help of some monkeys the kangaroo gets a black bottomed eagle to drop the clover in a massive field of clovers, 24 hours flying time away. Horton, with much sweat and perseverance, eventually finds the clover and promises the Whos that he’ll stick by them. Then the sour kangaroo, with the help of the monkeys, tries to cage Horton and threatens to boil the clover in “a hot steaming kettle of beezle-nut oil!”
Horton tells the Whos to make as much noise as possible but still the others can’t hear it. Until the Mayor of Whoville found:
a very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo was standing, and bouncing a Yo-Yo! Not making a sound!
He takes Jo-Jo to a tower, and
the lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, “Yopp!” And that Yopp… That one small extra Yopp put it over! Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover their voices were heard!
Then the kangaroo decides to join Horton in protecting the clover.
In this story people are judgmental and attack Horton for being different in ways that they don’t understand. That’s realistic. In looking after the Whos whatever the personal cost, Horton is a hero. Jo-Jo, the smallest person in the story, makes a world-saving contribution, and between them they overcome the kangaroo’s bigotry. The heroism and the making-a-difference are not so realistic, but it’s a lovely story and I’m sure G couldn’t care less about the moral content. On the downside, all the characters except the kangaroo are male. And the kangaroo is not very nice. But this book was published in 1954 so I’m willing to give Dr Seuss a break on that one.
Verdict: Full marks but optimistic
The Princess And The Porcupines by Damian Harvey
In this story the King and Queen are looking for an appropriate Prince to marry their daughter the Princess. A series of ludicrous suitors are rejected, and then Prince Aldini is put to the test of sleeping on a bed of porcupines. He sleeps well, to everyone’s surprise. The princess on her wedding night finds that Aldini always sleeps on a bed of nails.
Apart from the rather weak joke of the story, I dislike the uncritical presentation of arranged marriages settled by arbitrary tests, and the heteronormative assumptions that go with it. When talking to G I am very aware of these issues, mostly immediately after I have said something absurdly sexist or heteronormative. This stuff does not help.
Verdict: Nice pictures, slightly funny, baggage is a pain. Not recommended.
Little Duck On The Moon by Mark Burgess
This is an absurd story in which a duck gets blown by the wind onto the moon. She meets the Man-in-the-moon (who seems to be a correlate of Santa) and his dog, who make rainbows to fix all the lies that have been told on earth.
This story is deliberately ludicrous. Without prompting G told me that this story wasn’t real, but I don’t know if he noticed that it was content free.
Verdict: Total bollocks. A waste of time.