Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Questionable choices in children's literature

Because we're pretty seriously into limiting screen time for Sophie (very little television, a few movies, no Nintendo or any of those funny games I don't understand), I went to the local public library and checked out a stack of books on tape when we went on our long driving trip this summer. She got to watch a few dvds, but there's only so much Sponge Bob a mom can take. The tapes were a great alternative that we could all enjoy while watching the scenery at the same time. And I found them useful for filling in the cavernous gaps in Husband's childhood reading.

Here's what we listened to and I returned to the library the other day:
Because of Win-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo
Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
The Cricket in Times Square, George Selden
Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry
Remember those last two? They were two of my favorite books when I was a kid. Sophie loved them too, and they passed many hours on the road.

However, I have still to return this:

Did you ever read this?

It's quite a whopper: 12 disks, totally something like 40 hours of listening. Ok, maybe not quite that much, but we listened to this all the way through Nevada, and we still aren't done. We've got a weekend trip up to Mendocino coming up, and I've saved it for that.

But I have to admit, it's not quite what I thought it would be. I didn't read it as a child, but it's known to be a significant children's classic. It's about a boy and his pet deer. "Great!" I thought. "Sophie likes animals! We all like animals!" And there are a lot of animals in this book in addition to the deer. Thing is though that the humans occupying this story blast them away at a rate leaving a body count comparable to a Schwarzenegger movie. Context is important here: They live the Florida backwoods at the turn of the century and hunt (constantly) for what they eat (yum—bear!). Granted, the boy's father is quite clear that they don't kill for recreation. But when he need panther oil for his rheumatism he thinks "I'll go shoot me a panther!" When he requires grease for his boots, it's a gator he needs. And when they're not hunting, they're fishing. They take a little time out to plant a bit, but all in all, they spend most of their time killing shit.

Here's the funny part. Or really not so funny if you're me. Husband, a very sensitive guy, was disturbed by this story. All the killing upset him. I explained that it's how people lived their lives in that part of the country at that time. Realism, you know.

But now. We are going this weekend to a house party of friends up in Mendocino County. It's their weekend house, and every summer they invite everyone up to camp in their meadow, watch kids swim in the pond and coat themselves in mud, play and listen to music, and EAT. They usually have roast a pig or a lamb on a big spit, which turns all day and is a lot of fun for everyone to watch. But this year our friend informs us that someone is giving him a goat. LIVE. Recognizing that Sophie is a curious, adventurous girl, he wants to know if we would like to come up the night before when they will be BUTCHERING the goat. What I am unclear on is whether the goat will be dead when we arrive. Or will it be walking around being patted by the kids until . . . ? Husband is having the last laugh at how upset I am about this. Animals just don't appear on one's plate, he points out. They have to be killed. Just like in that really long book.

Maybe I can be off picking berries while this happens. And thank goodness there's always lots of vegetarian dishes at this party.


Red Flashlight said...

This post reminds me of the Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Good reading. It's a conservationist's classic from the 1950s, but with, ironically, killing.
Its theme is that we should protect wild places, but the author comes across as a bit too entitled for my taste. He seems to be saying "we should protect these places because if we don't, we won't be able to go there and kill stuff."
His reverent descriptions of the land and its inhabitants are really well done, however. Authentic.
I'm sure it wouldn't seem at all ironic to people who hunt.
I hope the goat has 'passed on' before you get there. Plenty of time for the philosophy of meat when your kids are in college.

lisagh said...

I read The Cricket in Times Square way back in elementary school. I don't remember the story at all, but I totally remember that book cover! So cool.

Midge said...

Kudos to you for listening to books on tape instead of caving for the modern need to watch movies/tv at all times. It is beyond me why people feel the need to have tvs in their car. What's wrong with looking outside and enjoying your surroundings?

NJDecorator said...

I don't know that I would want to let my DS see a goat being killed - even for food. I understand hunting for one's food and I understand that animals need to be killed in order for us to eat nowadays, but I certainly don't need to exposed to it. And I am way older than your daughter.

KK said...

Oh, I remember The Cricket in Times Square!!!

I cannot imagine watching them butcher a goat, that I'm supposed to eat. However, I have no problems watching people catch fish to eat??? This makes no sense does it?!

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Reminds me of the "harvest day" sequence in the Kingsolver book. Sophie is older than my girls, so that makes your choice a bit different, but I am certain that I wouldn't expose my girls to that experience (they are only 5 and 3 after all). You could use it as a "teaching moment" without her actually witnessing the butchering process, I suppose. Have you asked her how she feels about it?

Polo Mama to Girls said...

Righto - we listened to Where the Red Fern Grows on CD a few months back, and even though it's a great piece of children's literature, it made me cringe every time Billy caught a 'coon.

Angelina said...

I am of two minds on this issue. I am a vegetarian because I was raised that way, but have remained one by choice. I don't like killing of anything, yet I don't think it's wrong to kill for food. Especially when you kill that something yourself. There is just as much value in seeing beings get born as there is in seeing them die.

However, I couldn't watch it myself so I'm not sure I could present the killing of an animal to my kid.

But not seeing the reality of food keeps us from having any kind of integrity in our spot on the food chain.

jilly said...

The boy and I got into books on CD this summer as well. We are on our fourth and we love it. One of the challenges that we have when we go on trips is that one is driving and one is reading, not fair, this solves that problem! The Cricket in Times Square is one of my favorites!