Thursday, August 5, 2010

Controversial Children's Book Characters

As those of you who have been paying attention know, I love children's books. But some children's books cause more controversy than others. Let's take a look at the more sinister side of kid lit.

Mickey in the Night Kitchen

Mickey wanders out of his room and into the night kitchen where he cavorts naked in a gigantic bottle of milk. A tall, stiff bottle of milk. Containing a naked little boy. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Are your minds going to the same, dank, dark, perverse place where mine so often takes up residence?

Food contamination, people. Mickey, before leaping into the milk, did you wash your hands, feet, or tiny controversial appendage? Did you don a hair net or insert an anal plug? For shame, Night Kitchen Chefs! Perhaps it's growing up indoctrinated by the health habits of Niles Crane and Adrian Monk, but I disapprove of the staggering lack of hygiene. For that, I label Mickey the Typhoid Mary of children's literature.

The Lorax

The Dawn Schafer in me says, "Three cheers for ecology appreciation!" But the feminist in me? Says? Um? The Lorax? Naked? We've seen this before, people. All you have to do is google PETA to see it for yourself. Exploiting nude beings in the name of saving the environment? Nothing new here, folks.

Dr. Seuss? The point? You missed it? By objectifying one of your own creations, you've shown us that you care about the exploitation of the natural world but not about the exploitation of one of your beloved characters.

And why is it that we only see the Onceler's hands and hear his voice? He's not on display for the patriarchal gaze. Oh, and one more thing? The Lorax fondling himself when he grabbed himself by his ass and flew away? Made me vomit in my mouth from the sheer patriarchal arrogance on display. So. not. okay.


I've already written about Corduroy. Cuddly? Yes. But Corduroy has issues. He spends the whole book wanting a button which he finally acquires. And once he gets that, he spends the entire sequel hiding out in the laundromat, worrying his owner, just so he can find a pocket.

Corduroy, I can see why you're so beloved across generations. You're a teddy bear that symbolizes truly American values. Never be content with what you have and never stop putting yourself in dangerous situations to get what you think you want.

I see a little bit of Corduroy in the eyes of every parent who's sustained bodily injury waiting in line for a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, in the face of every young woman who spends three days on the streets waiting for her top model audition, and in the heart of middle aged guy who thinks that this sports car will distract him from his ever receding hairline. Corduroy, my capitalistic little teddy bear, I'm surprised Donald Trump and Steve Jobs haven't started bidding wars over using your likeness.

Mrs. Jeepers

Mrs. Jeepers was the title character of Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots. She often wore a polka dotted dress as seen on the cover. She paired that dress with a green brooch that she stroked in order to intimidate the children (poor dear lacked the upper body strength of Miss Trunchbull). The children all suspected, but could never prove, that Miss Jeepers was a vampire, because she kept a long coffin like box in her basement and was allergic to garlic.

I disapprove immensely of Miss Jeepers and will make it incredibly clear to all my stuffed toys when I read to them about her that she is not to be emulated. No, I don't have a vampire prejudice. But I've watched much too much What Not to Wear. Plus, in terms of my style gurus, Tim Gunn trumps Claudia Kishi. Pink and green polka dots on a pale redhead? Just say no, Mrs. Jeepers.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Yes, it's a great book. And I know I used it for crib notes on more than one exam day (on the butterfly section of my biology final in high school and the how to identify a bulimic by their diet section in abnormal psych).

But in this day and age, when everyone from Michelle Obama to Ronald McDonald is treating childhood obesity like it's the new red scare, is it really appropriate? I can't help but think of Donna Simpson, who eats to satisfy the laudable goals of hunger, boredom, and wanting to become the world's fattest woman. Should we really encourage children of our generation that snacking as they do will cause them to burst through their lard filled cocoons into proverbial butterflies? Food for thought!

The Little Engine That Could

I remember this one quite well and the lesson that it imparted to its readers: If you have faith in your own abilities, you can do anything. (Or the shorter and therefore more stitch sampler friendly versions, like Believe in yourself! or Reach for the stars!)

Of course, when taken to its logical conclusion, it's kind of a scary moral, isn't it? That is, if you are an anthropomorphic train who crashes and burns, you just didn't want it enough. I half suspect that the Little Engine took up writing when his locomotive days were over and, using the pen name Rhoda Byrne, authored The Secret, a book that tells you how to get what you want by thinking about it really hard.