So I’ve probably read “Little Bear’s Little Boat” dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Partly because the boy seems to like it pretty well, partly because it’s not overlong or overshort for his age (20 months), and partly because I don’t want to set fire to my head at the thought of having to read it again. But I did notice something recently (on read number fifty or so): Big Bear chats with Otter at one point. But during that conversation, Otter appears to be eating saltwater shellfish. And appears to be a sea otter, not a river otter. So I ask: what in blazes is he doing in Huckleberry Lake?
When we went to Bellingham for Thanksgiving this year, we weren’t entirely certain the hosts–my aunt and uncle, who’s grandchildren are now between seven and seventeen years of age–would have much in the way of age appropriate toys for T. So we thought to bring some of T’s toys along for the ride. Only thing was, we were driving D’s Impreza, which isn’t exactly the largest vehicle in the world, and we had an assortment of other, somewhat more necessary things to bring along. Like a portable crib. And a booster seat. And my brother. So we had to be choosy.
[As it turns out, this was patently unnecessary, because somehow there was a collection of toddler-appropriate toys and books that had collected in my aunt and uncle's house over the years.]
D’s solution was to purchase a Fisher Price Little People bus. Which, it turns out, actually comes with batteries. Which made it quite a bit more annoying than I was hoping. But it seemed to occupy him pretty well for a few minutes. Success.
Thing is, when I hear the word “bus” now, my brain immediately starts playing 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” As in, “could you love me on a bus?” Fucking earworm-recording motherfucker ruined another Thanksgiving. But it dovetailed nicely with the copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” we brought along.
So one of T’s favorite books is Little Blue Truck. Which is all well and good, because it is a wonderful book with great cadence and lovely pictures. However. I’ve been bothered by its moral ever since we brought it into the house a year or so ago. Because on the surface it is met by Dump’s “now I see a lot depends on a helping hand from a few good friends” line. Yet there’s more going on than is apparent at first blush.
For the uninitiated, the book has title character moseying around an agrarian region, beeping in friendly tones to various animals. The animals respond in kind. They have a rapport. Then a dump truck comes along. And almost runs a duck off the road. Generally unpleasant fellow. But he gets stuck in the mud. Because in this particular rural region, they don’t have a robust transportation budget. So when Dump asks for help, none of the animals respond. Then Blue comes to the rescue. Because he’s a good-natured truck that gets along with animals, but he’s also willing to go above and beyond for strangers. At least ones that also happen to be fellow trucks.
Only thing is, Blue gets stuck as well. And he has enough of a relationship with the animals that when he calls for help, they come. The Horse, Goat, Sheep, Duck, Hen, Chick, Cow, and Pig all come and push. Only Blue isn’t just soliciting their assistance for himself–with whom the animals are presumably on friendly terms–but also to help Dump, who these animals already declined to assist. And moreover, these animals cannot get Blue and Dump out. Until the appearance of a particularly burly toad, who adds enough umph to get everyone out.
So here’s my issue: if Toad hadn’t come along, would the animals have tried to rescue Blue and abandoned Dump to his fate? Moreover, did Blue think he could get Dump unstuck when he entered the mud, or was he planning on soliciting assistance from the animals the whole time? I ask because this seems like a weird set-up, whereby Blue endears himself to a group of people to later exploit them into assisting, well, The Man (as represented by Dump). And although Dump does express gratitude, it is Blue that provides the “ride” reward.
One reading certainly concerns the benefits of teamwork and helping strangers, which is a good lesson. But another, more cynical reading concerns the ways in which exploitation occurs by way of consent. The powers-that-be, knowing they’ve screwed over most people sufficiently that a direct appeal will likely fall on deaf ears, instead utilize plants (or at least the few steadfast sympathetics) to act as go-betweens when assistance is required.
So fuck you Blue for conning your animal friends into helping Dump-the-asshole over their better judgment.