Friday, February 27, 2009

Children's Book Review: Cause and Effect

Both If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, and Goodnight Gorilla are children’s books that teach cause and effect in very different ways. If You Give A Mouse a Cookie claims that if you do indeed give a mouse a cookie, then he’ll want a glass of milk, and then he’ll want a straw, when he’s done, he’ll want a napkin, then he’ll want a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk moustache, then he’ll see his whiskers needs trimmed so he’ll ask for a pair of scissors, then he’ll want a broom to sweep up the trimmings, then he might get carried away and sweep every room in the house, then he’ll want to go to bed so you’ll need to fix him a place to sleep in a shoebox, then he’ll want a story, then he’ll get excited at the pictures in your book and want supplies to draw one of his own, then he’ll want a pen to sign his name, then he’ll want scotch tape to hang up the picture…looking at the fridge will remind him he’s thirsty, so he’ll ask for a glass of milk.

The boy who caters to the mouse’s whims is dirty and exhausted by the end of the book and would’ve saved himself a lot of trouble, seemingly, if he had not given the mouse a cookie in the first place.

This book annoyed me on several levels. First, I thought of a quote from Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 11

"If there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient resources for whatever he needs. For the poor will never disappear from the earth, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.”

Maybe I’m taking this a bit far…I don’t know. What harm can children’s books do? Well, a lot, I think. See The Poisonous Mushroom. I guess I was thinking of how prevalent the quote from Deuteronomy is supposed to be in Jewish communities, and then I thought of anti-Semetic propaganda like The Poisonous Mushroom. It’s unclear if the mouse in this book represents any ethnic people(s), but the story seems to be a critiquing the kind of generosity and open-door-policy most religious texts intend to inspire.

To further complicate my relationship with this book is the notion that it may be a critique of the welfare system… like Reganomics for kids, or something like that. Even more ironic is this notion that Conservatives and Neo-Cons alike are supposed to be religious. If that were wholly true, what about Deuteronomy? I'm familiar with the old cliche' "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime," but I can imagine that if the boy in this story had to first get out flour, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, baking rack, Crisco, that the tone of the narrative wouldn't change.

Goodnight Gorilla offers a more subtle lesson in cause and effect and manages to remain inoffensive to yours truly. The story goes like this: A gorilla swipes a zookeeper’s keyring as he passes by saying goodnight to all the animals. On the first page the gorilla lets himself out of his cage, a mouse uses a balloon string (setting the balloon free) and ties it to a banana, and they follow the zookeeper (Joe) on his rounds, letting out all the animals—elephant, giraffe, lion, hyena, armadillo, until they all follow him into his bedroom and hunker down to sleep. His wife says “goodnight,” and all the animals respond. She wakes up, alarmed and leads them all back to the zoo, with the exception of the gorilla and the mouse, who sneak back with her. In the end, the gorilla and mouse climb into bed with the zookeeper and his wife and the mouse says goodnight gorilla, but the gorilla is already asleep because he ate the banana the mouse had been dragging along with the balloon string. The end. The cool thing about this book is that the balloon floats farther and farther away in each frame, so you can make a game of hunting for it as the story unfolds. It’s a neat thread that kind of ties the book together, and the story is one that does not encourage niggardliness in the reader. I'm not even going to approach the ethnic critique, because I really don't think either story warrants one... I'll leave the offensive inferences to the New York Post.

No comments: