Raising Chamberlain’s Kids

Filed under:Children's Books,Church of Liberalism,Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on July 26, 2006 @ 8:30 pm

Today’s installment of the ongoing object lesson, Read Your Kids’ Books Before They Do, is the Little Golden Book Tawny Scrawny Lion, by Kathryn Jackson. If Chamberlain had had half the appeasement chops with Hitler that Our Hero, the rabbit, has with the lion in this story, Poland would have been begging for Hitler to cross the borders and annex it, because Germany would have been just so much sweetness and light.

Synopsis: Hungry lion terrorizes (eats) animals. Animals, desperate for ceasefire (ceasedigestion), send rabbit out for diplomatic mission (dinner) with lion. Rabbit invites lion for dinner (carrot stew, we’re told) at his home, where there will be a big bunch of other rabbits (lightbulb over lion’s head). Lion goes home with rabbit, who stops on the way for fish to put in the carrot stew. Rabbits feed lion to bursting with fishy carrot stew, then all gather ’round the cookfire to sing the cautionary tale of “Little Bunny Foo-Foo.” Big animals stand in awe of little rabbit’s diplomacy skills (continued possession of tasty innards).

What bothers me most about this book is not the analogy itself (although that in itself is pacifistic rant enough) but the deceptive nature of it. Because it uses animals, the tale finds itself in distress right at the start: lions are carnivores. Thus their “terrorism” can’t even be compared to that of humans, as to eat animals is necessary to lions’ survival and just a part of their nature. No carrot stew in the world will sustain a lion, and the book admits this–the rabbit has to put meat in the stew. Fish. Fish being, you know, other animals, which for the purposes of this book are not considered to be on an even footing with the rest of the animals, who can talk, make fire, use liberal philosophy to save themselves from digestion, etc.

So the appeasement of the lion really becomes an all-too-human tale: the big animals offer up OH, the rabbit, in hopes that the lion will leave them alone long enough for them to effect an escape, while the rabbit has to offer up fish, though the book hopes you will not notice its apples-and-oranges treatment of the fish with respect to the other animals. I wonder, in such an obvious fantasy tale, why they didn’t just leave it at the carrot stew. Isn’t it a liberal’s fondest dream that troublemakers at all levels can be satisfied with something other than their goal? If that were true of the current conflict in the Middle East, there wouldn’t be a conflict in the Middle East, because somebody would have found out long ago what would satisfy jihadists other than the deaths of Jews and other infidels and given it to them. Instead, liberals are left with offering them Jews (fish), hoping they will then overlook the rest of us infidels.

Sadly for liberals, Neville Chamberlain, and the author of this book, it just doesn’t work that way.

Blockheads at Melissa & Doug

Filed under:Toys, Children's — posted by Anwyn @ 7:14 pm

I was long on the lookout for some really good wooden blocks. You know, the??classic kind??with the letters in colors on two sides and other stuff on the other sides. Specifically, I wanted ones with pictures that matched the letters. These aren’t them.

Unfortunately I didn’t catch the cognitive dissonance of these blocks until I got them home. I let my son play with them for a while anyway, as he was already learning his letters through other means and I didn’t think these blocks would necessarily affect him. Within the last two days I caught him saying something like “A is for duck” (paraphrased because I can’t remember which wrong block he was actually parsing). Blocks are now removed from toy rotation, I’m on the lookout for a new set, and an email has gone to the manufacturer to ask, basically, what they were thinking.

Notice in the link this reviewer:

It doesn’t bother me that the block letters don’t match the subsequent pictures displayed on each cube; I like the freestyle approach.

I trust she will appreciate the freestyle approach just as much when her son’s teacher is sending home notes about his poor reading. But wait, she goes on:

I also don’t plan for him to play with these for the rest of his life; I figure by the time he’s really learning his letters and sounds he’ll have moved on to more challenging toys. So my current expectation for these little blocks is being met.

Her son was one at the time she wrote this. My son is nearly three and still enjoys stacking and knocking down the blocks, has learned his letters, is starting in on the sounds letters make, and was starting to be misled by the “freestyle” approach to phonics. It’s nice that the blocks fulfill her objectives now, but wouldn’t it be a bit nicer if she didn’t have to be on the watch to remove them from the rotation when her son does begin learning his letters? That’s really the question: in a product with both letters and pictures, so ideally suited to link one to the other, why would you put a stumbling block (har!) in the kids’ way by deliberately making letters and pictures not match?

And just for grins, there’s one more wrinkle to the story: a very few of the blocks do have matching pictures and letters, and a few others have letters and pictures that could match if you stretch a bit. The “A” block has an apple (but an “N” and a dog for its other picture-letter set); the “L” block has a leaf (but a “Y” and a pretzel for its other set). The “B” block has a cow, which I can stretch to “bovine,” but the other set is “O” and a pineapple.

But by far my favorite block is the one containing the picture of an elephant. Its letters? “E”–and “R.”

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace