Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Imperialist Implications and Other Negative Inflections in Children Literature: A Study on Curious George

Sometimes children's literature really bothers me, and it seems like those are the books that Abby always wants to read over and over again. So to make her happy and to satisfy my discontent, I'll paraphrase. Right now, I have one specific book in my sites: Curious George by H. A. Rey, published 1941. In fact, my in-laws, who still have a handful of books from when their children were little, have some of the books that bother me the most. Peter Cottontail, seemingly innocuous, has a page in their where the mother rabbit tells Peter and his siblings to stay out of Mr. McGregor's garden because that's where their father was shot and put in a pie. What the what?? This is a book for little munchkins--how do you explain that to a 2-year old?

We are also choosing to raise our children in a pacifist environment, and it makes me really uncomfortable to have blatant references to violence and death in these stories. But Abby really likes Peter and his bunny exploits when she visits her grandparents. What does a parent do? Tonight, I was reading a book with her that I hadn't read yet that she'd just brought home from the library a few days ago--Elmer and the Lost Teddy. This seemed to be a innocent enough tale. But Elmer has a cousin, Wilmer, who is a ventriloquist. C'mon now. What's the point of having an elephant who is a ventriloquist and then how do you explain that to a child? Unlike guns, this isn't a harmful detail, but how is it possibly necessary? It's just bad writing, and who ever accepted this at the publishing house?

In the last library visit, Abby and Daddy came home with the original Curious George book. They're obviously dated (and frankly, I find the stories pretty ludicrous and stupid) and very formulaic, but neither of those qualities are turn-offs for children now. Abby enjoys "reading" the books herself once in a while, and I like to switch up the story and have her correct me. But the first time I read through this one with her, I couldn't believe it. On the second page, the story states that the man with the yellow hat saw George and declared "What a nice little monkey...I would like to take him home with me." So the white man in the jungles of Africa (as was pointed out on the previous page) lured George over, took advantage of his curiosity, and "picked him [George] up quickly and popped him into a bag. George was caught" (4). And there is an original illustration of a very distraught George tied up in a bag up to his head. This is a classic example of Imperialism, which is generally considered to be problematic...now. I realize that in 1941, our view of the world was different, but this is a perfect study of what our society was 70 years ago. You can hide rhetoric in adult contexts or manipulate it as you want, but there's no purpose to do so in children's literature, and I see it as a pure representation of societal viewpoints.

But it continues. On page five, the man with the yellow hat has captured George and is taking him to his boat (obviously, without asking George's permission...sound familiar??), but the text specifically says "George was sad;" subtly, the text implies that the white man has captured what he wants and has disregarded the person's wants and needs in favor of his own desires. The next page, he usurps his control again over George (who is sitting dutifully at his feet in the illustration), telling his monkey that "I am going to take you to a big Zoo in a big city. You will like it there." This is somewhat contradictory as he first claimed earlier that he was capturing George because he wanted to take him home, but now he is again choosing what George really wants, by removing him from his freedom and limitless environment only to cage George and tell him that he will be happy in his captivity. On page 10, the pair embarks from their ocean liner and according to the text, head off "to the man's house" (not the "Zoo"), which is again, contradictory--is he a pet? is he to be a caged animal, a curiosity? can you trust what the man in the yellow hat says? if the man in the yellow hat represents white men, then can you trust any white man?

And while they're back at the man in the yellow hat's house (who, speaking of Imperialism, is always dressed in safari gear no matter the situation) on page 11, George has "a good meal and a good pipe." This is complete with illustrations of George eating, smoking a pipe luxuriously in an armchair and trying on pajamas in preparation of going to bed. Again, what the what? George is a creature roughly the size of the children for whom the stories are intended, and by demonstrating that George enjoys smoking a pipe, doesn't this send an implicit message to children as well about what they can and should enjoy? Even in 1941, I can't believe that this was a standard message in society.

Finally, one more disturbing image--page 17. George has accidentally called the fire department while playing with the telephone, they rush to his house, become upset that it there was no fire, and "a thin fireman caught one arm and a fat fireman caught the other" (why the need to focus on body types here?) and they drug George away because "You fooled the fire department...We will have to shut you up where you can't do any more harm," again, reverting to the mentality that we must cage the Other, the weaker being (and now that I think of it, again, children identify with the size and curiosity of George, so what message are we sending them that when they are at all naughty, even accidentally, that they are to be caged up?). In fact, the text specifically states, and this message is reiterated in the corresponding illustration, that "They took him away and shut him in a prison." How does this crime fit the punishment? The illustration is definitely a stereotypical dungeon cell, complete with wooden cot, small stool, bucket on the floor, and a plate of what is ostensibly food and several mice eating off of it. And there is a very despondent George sitting my himself on the wooden cot underneath the tiny barred window high up in the wall.

As he always does, George escaped his predicament and 8 pages later, he ends up apparently right where he wants to be "the ZOO! What a nice place for George to live!" The accompanying illustration shows a frolicking happy zoo where animals are barely contained between really short, completely inadequate fences, and George reigns over them all in the top of a leaf-less tree with the biggest smile on his little monkey face.

Think about that last image. Personally, it makes me cringe a little. Maybe it's just me, but I hope that it's not.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Potato Cheddar Soup

I have definitely NOT been following up on my resolutions this year to a) get meals stashed away into our freezer every month and b) write up recipes on here correspondingly. Be that as it may, here's one that I've found fairly recently that I really like for its clean flavors and simplicity. It came to me via E-Mealz, a weekly online subscription that we started in January that sends us 7 days' worth of recipes and a weekly shopping list every week. I've made this recipe 3-4 times already, and I, personally, love it. It's perfect with some good crusty bread, and it freezes well. Here it is: potato cheddar soup.

1/3 c. onion, chopped
1/3 c. celery, chopped
4 diced potatoes
3 c. stock
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
2 c. milk
salt & pepper

(I also like to add some chopped carrots with the onion and celery.)

In a large pot, saute onion & celery in 2 T butter or olive oil until tender. Add potatoes and stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer until potatoes are soft. Puree potatoes in a food processor / blender until smooth (I like to leave a few chunks left in the pot). Return to pot. Stir in cheese, milk, salt, and pepper. If too thick, add a little water.


Friday, March 23, 2012

This kid pays attention

Like all little tykes, ours is one that pays attention, even when you don't think she is. Case in point--a new tactic I'm using to encourage her to help pick up her things more, and WANT to help, is the empathy route. I've got a butterball belly right now, and while I can bend down, it's not the most comfortable thing to do. So I've used the old "I need help picking that up because I can't bend over very well" routine. Twice, our munchkin has used that on us as well.

Me: Please pick up your shoes; you know we don't leave them in the middle of the floor.
Abby: I can't. I'm having trouble bending over.

How do you not laugh??

And it's always amazing to me how well she remember details, like where we left something hours ago or things that were vaguely promised to her in the hopes that she would forget and move on with life. My favorite is when we drive places and she remembers random landmarks. Kids pay attention!

She tried to put our cat in time-out yesterday for making a "cat mess" on the floor. "Leo, if you make one more mess, you will have to go to TIME OUT. We. Don't. Do. That!"

And this was typical of her personality:
She was "signing" her name in Grandpa's birthday card in the car on the way to the post office a few days ago and was happily chattering away about it while doing so. She really likes to trace her own hands, so that was proudly featured in the card. And as she was finishing up and handing it back to me, she chirped "Happy birthday Grandpa. Here's a card for you. I hope you like it!" This was after she helped me pick it out while belting out a medley of "Abby's Greatest Hits, Volume II" in the store (and I mean with NO inhibitions). Frankly, I let her. Happy kid, not many people in the store, enjoyable shopping trip.

Two is just a fun age...almost always. :-)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Funny as in ironic

By the way, we read A Porcupine named Fluffy today and talked about irony. I figure that my kids should know all of their rhetorical devices by the time they start going to school for full-days, right? Oh my...

So this is a bit of a sob story in a couple of ways. First, the Abb-stigator came down with a super unexpected case of the pukes last night. Second, I'm felt on the brink of a mental collapse for a couple of weeks now. To understand the irony of the former, we must begin with the latter, however. I just didn't want to put ME first cause, seriously, not worse than waking up puking, right?

This week was the end of the 3rd 9 weeks, which is always a busy time as you scramble to get any and all last minute grading done and in the gradebook. Plus, I ever so cleverly gave 2 tests last week in 4 different classes, and I don't give many tests. So this has also been a lot bit of struggle getting them all written (it takes TIME to write tests!!) and graded, and that's before tracking down the large handful of students who are inevitably gone for whatever reasons the day of the test and then have every excuse there is before they actually make it up. Add this into a situation where I had too many failing grades (though I staunchly believe that these were and always are earned grades) makes for a stressful time at school. If you're the teacher of seniors in a core class, such as I am, there's a lot of pressure to get kids into the realm of passing, so you have to figure out how to hold some students hands without them knowing it and how to say the right pep talk to others. It's a lot of mental games at times. And, track season is going again, which means that Ben is not around nearly as much and swamped when he is. There are 2 times of the school year that are particularly challenging, and this is one of the two--and the longer one of the two. That's not cool that when the weather starts to turn nice again, I feel like I miss a lot of it because of demands of my job and keeping the house together. On top of that, we're in the midst of maintaining a showroom house as we're back on the market, and those showings, while always appreciated, never fall at an opportune time when you feel like you can afford to devote several hours to spit shining the place. Toddlers are awesome at trailing behind the cleaning process, subtly undoing much of the order and calm, too.

So this takes me to the invalid. We've b een struggling through something with her since about the beginning of February where she intermittently complains quite vociferously about her "hips" hurting, though that pain seems to be more of a lower abdomen/groin pain. And with toddlers, how much can you diagnose something that's fairly vague like that? It could be a large number of issues. But I've taken time off twice to check in at the doctor's about it and nothing concrete has ever been determined, yet it lingers. Could it be a mental issue? A controling game? Abby has hit the stage where she is having some separation anxiety when we immediately drop her off at her sitters' houses, though she thoroughly enjoys both places and the kids that are there. I always pick her up, and if she's awake, it's constant giggles and chasing and "Mommy, mommy, look at this!" She's broken down a few times with the sitters, admitting that "I miss Mommy and Daddy!" THAT is heartbreaking and really makes me want to quit my job and somehow figure out how to live on one teacher's salary. It's really affecting Ben as well, so the worry about the child has not helped the mental fatigue.

But then, Abby came down with a snotty nosed cold early last week, which meant that we each took a day off of work (count how many times I've said I've taken off of work since the beginning of February for this kid--up to three right now) and stayed home with her so that she would not spread the love with her healthy friend at the sitter's. This was good times insofar as it was nice to be with her, but when is it ever fun chasing a goopy nose all over the place, constantly wiping and fighting the tears around the "snot sucker"? Plus, she barely napped and my work time was sorely reduced. Remember how it's the end of the 9 weeks and everyone is frantically...????

She got over that with nothing more than a bit of a lingering cough. Until last night. I'm tucking in to enjoy The Office by myself while Abby has been asleep for an hour and Ben's at a church council meeting only to be interrupted by seriously frantic screams of "MOMMY!! MOMMY!! MOMMY!!!!!" And the fun times began. That not only reeks badly, but in a small kid's room, the smell is easy to be confined and hard to dissipate, AND my super preggo sniffer makes it even more toxic. But this kid is a champ when it comes to unpleasant nighttime puking. This is our second episode of it, and both times no fever, about 2 hours of constant unfun, and then the recuperation is already well underway by breakfast the next day. Still, the left both Ben and myself with uber restless nights--not sure what his problem was exactly. First, I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I couldn't mentally settle down even though it was way past my bedtime, and then I just laid there waiting for Abby to call for me, and then preggo pain settled into my legs good and solidly last night...uncomfortable no matter what way you lay! I know that I slept from about 1-3, but other than that, it was nothing more than dozing and shifting.

Back to the irony--I got my mental health day today. Yeah, Abby isn't near 100%, but it's been a day of solid cuddling. We even spent a good 30-45 minutes just sitting on the living room floor chatting. It was fun! This kid hasn't wanted to play and has been content for a good part of the morning to just sit on my lap staring at nothing. She's wiped out (the night we had last night is apparently what it takes to help her sleep until 7!) and it's been one seriously low-key day. Barely any whining, few complaints, no pressure to do anything or be anywhere, not much to pick up, and one soft head snuggled against me all day. She's a wiggle pants on most days, but even today, she has been pretty mellow. And NOW, I find myself with a sleeping child, time on my hands, no fatigue (I was really hoping to nap this afternoon!), and an absolutely gorgeous day to just sit and enjoy in silence. So I'm doing just that, knowing that Ben is bringing me grading home tonight and that I'll be called back into the role of Mommy soon enough. And to thnk, I could be working right now...!!!