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Category Archives: Consumerism

People want you to buy stuff. People really want you to buy stuff for your kids.

My child may be psychic

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So this post may be along the lines of “things one shouldn’t admit aloud, let alone write for the whole world to see.” Sometimes I think my daughter can read my mind. We’ll be walking along and she asks me about someone I was just randomly thinking about, even though we weren’t walking by anything connected to the person. She’ll ask me about something I am thinking to myself that I do not understand how she could guess or know that I was thinking. Anyway, she has also (a more commercial, less unnerving, more annoying personality trait) figured out that representations of stuff represents stuff that can be acquired. She’ll point to a picture of a toy or book and tell me she wants it. So far I have had a few answers: “Great” (hoping she’ll forget about it). “Why don’t you tell your aunt?” (Hoping my sisters will just find this cute and not materialistically horribly spoiled AND hoping my daughter will forget about it by the time she sees them). “Why don’t you tell your grandma?” (hoping my daughter will forget by the time she sees her and because I am kind of interested to see what my mom would do, this would not have worked for me as a kid at all, but grandchildren are different). “Okay, maybe for your birthday” (Which is in about a year). I have also made a few exceptions and gotten her some things, all of them monkey books. Three of them are Five Little Monkey books she mentioned wanting (already discussed this, frankly I wanted them as well) and the other is Curious George Goes to a Costume Party. She, for some strange reason, repeatedly pointed to this Curious George book (pictured on the back of one of her other Curious George books). Over and over again. I got it for her and discovered it involved Curious George (one of her top ten favorite monkeys) JUMPING ON A BED (one of her favorite things monkeys do). How did she know this book would have this in it? How did she choose this particular book? Answers: she somehow read it somewhere else (but her school tells us the books they read) and knew it, it is a coincidence, the cover of this Curious George is particularly interesting (below, would this be the one you would choose?) or she is psychic.

Clifford and Where are your posts?

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I know you’ve been sitting at your computer, hitting the refresh button (or something), waiting for more posts to show up. I am sure you have tons of free time to stare at my blog. I’ve written some posts but hadn’t had time to scan the pictures for them (vital). A post without a picture can just be rather sad. I’m scanning now and will have some posts up over the next couple of days. What exactly have I been doing instead of scanning children’s books? I’ve been packing, doing work, and trying to get to see people and things in the bay area that I won’t get to see anymore soon. Today we went to the Bay Area Discovery Museum (beautiful views and great museum) which is having a special Clifford exhibit. Clifford is a big red dog. My daughter’s father somehow hadn’t realized how big until today. I heard him say more than once “That really is a big dog; why is that dog so big?” Brian Danilo (“THE FIVE MOST DANGEROUS CHILDREN’S BOOKS EVER WRITTEN, ACCORDING TO SEAN HANNITY,” McSweeney’s) discusses how Clifford is dangerous because he represents Communism. Before you get upset, it is supposed to be funny (see below). I had always thought about Clifford as more of a Capitalist dog, because his owner who has the “biggest, reddest dog on our street” is really into her dog being really big. Big good. Get more. Crush others. Buy stuff. Clifford is really really popular. Here is a large crowd of people around a person dressed up like Clifford (the museum was not this crowded at all; Clifford just really draws a crowd).

1. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Birdwell

According to a reliable source,* Norman Birdwell, a close personal friend of Karl Marx and adviser to Pol Pot, was a card-carrying member of the American Communist Party. The metaphor is obvious: a big red canine teaches children the importance of sharing and working together. (While cleverly ignoring the consequences of such un-American behavior.)

Stories include “Clifford Goes to School” and “Clifford Goes to Work, Where He Organizes a Workers’ Revolution.” Noticeably absent from the collection of short stories are those resulting from the success of the red menace’s machinations, such as “Clifford Institutes a Five-Year Plan” or “Clifford Murders Political Dissidents.”

*Former Senator Joseph McCarthy

Tear the bunny into little pieces

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When I was little I thought Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny was about Pat, the bunny. Don’t blame me: I didn’t have a comprehensive understanding of correct comma use. Before my daughter was born we were lucky enough to be given two copies of Pat the Bunny. THANK GOODNESS, because she devoured/tore to pieces one of them! They appear to put something in the book that makes babies crazy. I think it is actually designed to maximize baby insanity, I mean enjoyment? First off, there is a little book in the book, so if you didn’t already feel like ripping apart the main book, a couple of good tugs on the mini-book will probably get you (if you are nine months old) to a point where you feel ready for destruction. Then there are the flowers you are supposed to smell. They really smell and somehow their scent gets stronger over time. It gives me a headache that makes me want to rip apart the book. There is a mirror and a lot of little ones love mirrors. But not a mirror in which is easy to see yourself (like in awesome Peek-a-who by Nina Laden), but a really little mirror. In fact you feel like if you pulled at the page around the mirror, maybe the mirror underneath is bigger, then you could see yourself better in it. And, suddenly, the book is being ripped to shreds again. You are supposed to stick your finger in a a hole that claims to be mommy’s ring, but is actually the perfect sized hole to start from if you wanted to tear the page apart. Then there is the plastic spiral binding which also seems to be asking for a little tug. Do you think it may actually be designed to be torn apart so that people have to purchase more?

My daughter’s second copy has survived reasonably well, but we are still finding bits of the one she “looked” at when she was younger in weird places. See Judy’s head! See a piece of Paul’s hand! The copy we have now is missing its cover, but is otherwise intact and I think my daughter has outgrown ripping it apart.* But I am not completely sure. What are your experiences, past or present, with Pat the Bunny? Do you get a headache when you sniff the flowers?

*I wrote this and two days later she tried to destroy the book again, thanks to the  spiral binding. She then wanted it put together again. Great, a new game I am really excited to play.

Please please please go to sleep, in your own bed, for the night

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We just discovered the Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys books and are excitedly awaiting Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed’s arrival (and are planning to go to the library to look and see if they have others from the series). I have no idea how we have missed a children’s book that involves sleeping, reading, and monkeys, three of our favorite reading subjects.

I’ve mentioned that sometimes one’s books can reflect the problems one’s child has or has had. Despite the occasional book eating and kicking, our daughter has been relatively unproblematic, meaning I have never thought about picking up the other books that exist for the many, many problems little kids can have. There is time yet, I know. Well, and then there is the whole sleep issue. The kicking is in fact related to the sleeping because for a short time she used to kick the wall (our neighbors love us), her parents, anything she could when she was trying to go to sleep. Or rather when we were trying to get her to go to sleep. Because of the always changing and ever exciting sleep issues we have a large number of books about going to sleep. I am talking double digits and I mean things far more specific than Goodnight Moon. We have books by frustrated parents, psychiatrists, and people who obviously just wanted to make money (that’s right, Elmo book, I’m probably talking to you!). These books are directed at different sort of parents (and children), co-sleepers, children who never want to leave the crib, children who just never want to go to sleep, children who are scared to go to sleep, and so on. We’ll try anything.

A lot of people’s children have problems going to sleep. I know this not only because of the sheer number of books that exist, but also because sometimes I talk to other parents, about their kids. Maybe your child has never had any problems with sleeping, if so, wow. And, I hate you a little bit. No, I am joking. I am not. And, maybe it’s coming. And, perhaps you are lying? Parents telling me their kid is perfect I find bizarre (perfect? Seriously?). A friend/acquaintance wrote me that about his/her baby (perfect! Never cries!) and I haven’t written him/her back. It’s been about a year. Tell me your child is the most amazing person on earth, I am happy to listen. Tell me he/she has slept well every night since birth, I am scared and do not believe you.

This is something people do not tell you the full story of when you are pregnant. I am also guilty of this. I say, after three months it is so much better! (It is.) It gets so much easier! (It did for us.) They are so much more fun! (They are! Every day they get more fun, it is amazing.) I don’t say, and no one said to me, “You may never sleep again.” Although one person mentioned that she didn’t sleep well for two years after her son was born. As a pregnant lady, I didn’t understand. Now my daughter generally sleeps fine, it is the getting her to sleep (by herself) that can be a problem, which is what most of these books address. Just to clarify, by “problem” I mean it can be an epic struggle. Apparently, sleeping doesn’t stop being an issue. People with three year olds, five year old, thirteen year olds have told me how their child wakes them up at odd times of the night or refuses to go to bed. I didn’t always use to sleep well and sometimes I still get up in the night, I think this could still bother my parents when I visit. So, the sleep interruption your child causes you may continue into his/her thirties. But then, eventually, maybe, they’ll have a kid and you can play with your grandchild, who won’t keep you up.

As I got together the sleep books I wanted to address, I realized there would be too many images for one post, so this is going to be a series. All this week and into the next, I’ll be talking about sleep. I will not be talking about Go the Fuck to Sleep, because I do not own it and have never had a copy of it at my house. Honestly, I am glad because I am afraid I would have read it without irony and uncensored to my daughter at some point. Do you have a favorite going to sleep book (for yourself or for your child)? Do Elmo’s eyes scare you, just a little bit, in the photo below?

Grover, put Elmo down and walk away

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Alright, before I delve back into my Elmo problems, I want to say that I understand he is supposed to represent pure love. I don’t blame the puppeteer, subject of a recent documentary, for Elmo’s annoyingness. One of the reviewers said that “committed elmo-haters may be converted” by the film. I did find Kevin Clash’s story moving. It is not the puppeteer’s fault that Elmo (and Elmo products!) have taken over the toddler world* and are constantly in my face, on my daughter’s butt, and in her hand (it isn’t all my fault either,  the majority of my daughter’s Elmo products were not  purchased by me, she is really lucky that I have sisters). The classic 1970s Monster at the End of this Book features Grover who is freaking out about the monster at the end of his book (that ends up being him). It is adorable and fun. Then they wrote a sequel, in which Elmo harasses poor Grover, pushes him to do things he doesn’t want to do (like Elmo does with his mime, he is a bizarre control freak sometimes). What is Elmo doing on the cover? Making Grover carry him and adding in that he is just as cute as Grover! Elmo you don’t have to compare your cuteness level, it isn’t a competition! Heaven help Elmo if Grover is in the spotlight for two seconds, have you not realized it is Elmo’s world Grover? If I had a friend who had a friend like Elmo, I’d tell her to drop her Elmo-friend and find someone more supportive who cares about more than being the center of attention ALL THE TIME. Do you think Elmo is a good friend? Is being controlling, needy, and narcissistic part of pure love?

*Tellingly in the documentary Kevin Clash (Elmo’s puppeteer) mentions that tickle me Elmo (Elmo’s most famous product)  didn’t sound like Elmo.

I am so sorry, George!

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Tired of the often formulaic twenty-first century Curious George books, I sought out the originals, thinking they must be better and different. They are different. I am going to write about the first one for now. I had a vague memory of a picture of the man with the yellow hat’s hat taking up the entirety of a page and of the man getting to know Curious George. Why do you think the man with a yellow hat doesn’t have a name? Why is he just the “man”? I had thought it was because his primary importance was his relationship to George, his own identity hardly mattering. Or that he could represent anyone, any “man” (human) with a curious little monkey (“monkey,” or child ), so his identity is kept general. Now I think it may be because if his name were known his actions would be protested and he might even be prosecuted. Some people would be picketing the outside of the man in the yellow hat’s building, pleading for Curious George’s freedom.

I read the original Curious George growing ever more horrified at what was happening and not happy that I had identified with the man with the yellow hat. His trying to keep George in line isn’t really like my trying to keep my daughter from causing chaos, but more like a kidnapper trying to keep their abductee in line, and imprisoned. Perhaps I remembered the yellow hat the best, because the hat is what is used to lure George… into a bag. George is taken away from his home and then lives with the offender. The man with the yellow hat rips George from his homeland and forces him into a zoo.  Am I overreacting? When I was done reading and my daughter was busy playing with her monkeys, I googled “curious george problem” to see if I were alone. I am not. Is this some sort of overly sensitive twenty-first century reading? Overly p.c.? A lot of nursery rhymes are shocking if you think about what they are saying for more than a second, but I don’t have a problem with them. I love Barbar, remember it from when I was a kid and enjoy it now. In it a hunter shoots Barbar’s mother and Babar runs off, joining the human community (in some ways). But there is no franchise that focuses on the friendship between the hunter and Babar.

In good news, it has completely changed my view of Curious George’s mischief and I can go back to reading the more formulaic Curious George books, rooting for George to cause trouble. Did the man in the yellow hat tell you to sit quietly? Please, George, do the opposite of that and I am so sorry I misunderstood your situation. George’s curiosity is his last tie to his former identity. I should not have judged you so quickly. You are a good little monkey! Some people are displeased with the people who have a strong negative reaction to the original book point out that the Reys left Germany (and then France) to escape the Nazis (carrying the manuscript for Curious George). I am not claiming that the original shouldn’t be read (obviously Curious George is a classic that can withstand a little critique) or that the Reys themselves have issues, but it does fundamentally alter how I view the man in the yellow hat and his relationship with George. There is a lot more to say about the originals, I’ll be updating next week, on Monkey Monday.

Toys are real

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Speaking of The Velveteen Rabbit, there are several books that focus on the idea of toys (generally stuffed animals) as “real.” Like the Toy Story movies, in these works the stuffed animals have feelings and concerns. Most of these worries focus on their human owner not buying them, loving them enough, or giving them away. As a lot of little kids are, my daughter is imaginative and empathetic. She gets worried about portrayals of sad stuffed animals, dinosaurs, monsters, humans, trucks, etc. She worries when her stuffed animals are not given enough attention. She makes them take turns at school, lest they be left out. She got angry at her monkey the other day for “eating” (just to be clear: fake eating, it is a stuffed monkey) her food. Imagination and empathy are great, but . . . If she brings one monkey to bed, all of a sudden there are seven monkeys — because baby monkey cannot be without mommy monkey and mommy monkey needs daddy monkey and daddy monkey needs the other baby monkey, suddenly an extensive family has taken up residence, leaving little room for my daughter. Now you may be thinking, stop getting her monkeys or tell her to leave some of the monkeys out of the bed. We are trying (and we aren’t the only monkey givers in her life)! It can be hard when your daughter has read that the much-desired monkey is going to sob when left at the store (or alone on its shelf at home) and face a life of gloom. See Don Freeman’s Corduroy. In case you think I am reading too much into it, here is a picture book illustrator’s (Neva Austrew) analysis of poor poor Corduroy when the mother refuses to buy him: “His actions and inner dialogue throughout the story mimic what a little child might feel in a similar strange situation, with no friends or family to guide them. The feeling is fear.” The solution? Buying the bear. Photos of monkeys and sad stuffed animals to come!