Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Picture books have changed

A friend just gave me a vintage children's book called Timothy Tiger by Marjorie Barrows. Timothy's head is formed plastic and appears on all the pages through a cutout. The extra cool part is that his eyes glow. At least, that was probably cool in 1943. With age, it looks a little creepy.

The plot is a Are You My Mother? story -- a category that I find a bit disturbing. Why do we tell children stories that seem to say you could get separated from all you love and consider safe?

Here's the first paragraph of Timothy Tiger: "Timothy was a dear little tidy tiger who did not have a mother. He lived all by himself in the Great Big Jungle."

I don't think that would fly in today's market!

What's more, every time Timothy approaches a potential mother, he says, "I'm tidy. I can obey. I can work hard." Neatness and obedience, that's what we want from children.

But what do Mrs. Elephant and Mrs. Crocodile (and even Mrs. Monkey) say? "You don't suit me AT ALL. Go 'way!" Mrs. Elephant even blows a trunkful of water -- SPLASH -- right into Timothy's face.

Maybe our generation of parents is too indulgent of our children. Certainly, our ideas about how to raise healthy kids with a sense of security and confidence are different than they were a few decades ago. I won't claim that we've got it right and our parents and grandparents had it all wrong, but I'm glad we're telling our children different stories.

By the way, Timothy's eyes still glow.