Archive | November, 2012

The Taste of Others, part 6: Overrated?

30 Nov

Where the Wild Things Are is, to me, a genuine classic, one of the few children’s picture books that is lean and powerful with just enough ambiguity to make it intriguing. (I’ve written multiple entries on it. Read the first part here.) Yet, even Where the Wild Things Are isn’t immune to these mean-spirited one-star reviews. Some people seem offended when a book doesn’t live up to their expectations. Here’s a particularly frustrated reader who decides to take it out on everyone else. Note the strange excursion into the Swayze vehicle Ghost, and the oddball grammar, which I didn’t fix.

Title: Where the hyped stories rule

This is a fine example of how following the crowd will get you nowhere. Especially if the leader of that crowd has no idea where he is going. Many years ago it was decided that this was an exceptional book. It received a very prestigious award. And like the Emperor’s new clothes many gather around to praise it. But was it truly deserved or could it be that the author, whom had been nominated various times before was thrown a bone. Like Whoopi Goldberg performance in “The Color Purple” but winning for “Ghost” Who’s to say. When I read this story all I thought was “nice drawings,”  Yes those drawings stand out more than a single line in this story. Can anyone quote a verse from this story. If I read it to you would you recall it. Yet flash a picture and the memories flood back of library cards and book reports. If your looking for a classic story to read your children or grandkids. Keep searching because this tale doesn’t qualify.

Advertisements

The Taste of Others, part 5: Some cows are more equal than others.

29 Nov

Click, Clack, Moo is the most popular left-leaning children’s book I can think of. It tells of a group of overworked cows who decide to strike due to bad working conditions. They won’t give milk until they get electric blankets. Their weapon is a typewriter and, later, their own labor. It’s a very fine introduction to the concept of unions, as well as how collective bargaining works. How people respond to the book reveals oodles about their own beliefs. The book is sweet though, and pretty funny. There are no Molotov cocktails or Pinkertons blasting away at strikers with their six shooters; it’s just cows and ducks and an angry farmer.

Those cows are upsetting the natural order!

When Beth found these, she knew she had hit a goldmine. These are wonderful. My comments—I don’t know why I bother, really—are in boldface.

(This is the meanest and most predictable of the responses, blaming collective bargaining for many of the social ills of our country. The reviewer gives him/herself away with two key words, “pampered” and “uncompetitive.” I’ll paraphrase beforehand: outsourcing is the fault of the unions.)

Title: Union Propaganda.

OK, the book is cute, but the reason that it has received such acclaim and honor is because it celebrates and encourages Union activity. Certainly the media would not have fallen in love with this book if farmer brown turned the ungrateful, inefficient and pampered cows into hamburger and drumsticks and replaced them with more appreciative, hard working, and efficient cows and chickens. Or would it have received the same media and literary praise if it showed that farmer brown had to move his farm to Mexico or lay off farm hands because the increased electrical costs caused by the cows and chickens made his farm uncompetitive?

(Oh, God, this next review is hysterical, and indicative of the mindset of the anti-union folks. You should be grateful you have a job at all!)

Title: Cute way to subtly teach children how to act like spoiled brats

This story definitely has an agenda. It is very cute, I must admit, but I would never read this to my child because it promotes values that I do not want to instill in my children. The cows (and chickens) in the story become discontent with living like every other cow lives. It is not enough that the cows are fed, live in a barn, and are well provided for…they want more! So they appeal to the farmer, refusing to do their part to contribute, until the farmer meets their “demands.” In my opinion, this story teaches children that making unrealistic demands is okay and, even worse, that you can act like a spoiled brat and get your way! Too bad the cows aren’t being grateful for what they have and trying to help less fortunate cows by welcoming them into their barn at night instead…then I might read this story to my children.

(This reviewer lays it out in brass tacks: unions are misguided and wrong.)

Title: WRONG Message for Children

Perhaps the book is amusing and filled with laughter but teaching our children how to strike and how to organize and create a Union is WRONG! We are a capitalist society. (You are buying this book from a company that is making $$$ right???) Let’s teach children how to be responsible, do the best they can and how to succeed such as the Little Engine that Could!! I DO NOT Recommend this Book!

(This next review is elegant and straightforward. And nuts.)

Title: Leftwing Propaganda

The book focuses on promoting strikes, fair labor practices and is really not appropriate for kids. I hope the author stops writing about leftist ideals and focuses on letting the children think for themselves.

(This is the best of the bunch, and overly literal reading of a children’s book that seems so agitated by talking animals. This also seems like a joke, but perhaps not.)

Title: OUTRAGED

I thought this would be a wonderful book to read to my children. I can’t believe how wrong I was. First of all, Ms. Cronin seems to take her readers for fools, thinking that we’ll just nod and look away as she spoon-feeds us… TALKING COWS. I kid you not. And these aren’t just any talking cows. They have typing skills and even stage a strike. You can’t even be gullible to buy this, you’ve got to be downright stupid, and even that’s a stretch. I would most definitely not recommend this book to any parent, unless for some reason you want your children to grow up believing in talking cows and cow strikes that result in milk shortages and whatnot. Utterly terrible – pun intended.

My life with Ayn Rand and Steve Ditko.

26 Nov

1.

I’ve been a busy beaver over Thanksgiving. I read Woes of the True Policeman, by Roberto Bolano—it’s superb, but more on that in another post—and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I also finished Heaven’s Gate, the notorious nearly four hour flop by Michael Cimino[1]. I finally got around to watching Bunuel’s The Avenging Angel, a movie I’ve wanted to see for ten years.

And I finished reading Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. It’s a coffee table book that examines the odd life and even odder work of one of the great comic book illustrators of the 20th century.

I cut my teeth on Steve Ditko’s comics. I bought the reprint digests of the first fifty Spiderman comics[2]. They were little pocket books and I loved them.

Ditko insisted on Peter Parker’s personal life sharing half the time with Spiderman, and even more importantly, he insisted that Parker’s personal life be negatively impacted by his superhero alter-ego. Unlike all his costumed counterparts, Parker’s powers ruined his life; they shackled him with an unwanted responsibility, and led to the death of his uncle. Fearing for the health of his aunt, he couldn’t take credit for any of his good deeds. He was misunderstood, maligned and mistreated. And when he did do something right, it often came at the expense of Parker the teen. It was brilliant, and so powerful a storytelling device that all four of the big-budget Spiderman films continued with this same theme.

Parker wins and Spiderman loses. Spiderman wins and Parker is caput. Parker is so hopelessly inept at balancing his two lives that he skirts by in each, an anxious wreck. Good writers toy with this psychic dissonance in the character.

Ditko’s artwork was elegant but strange. Odd perspectives, jagged otherworldly dimensions and simple but disturbed faces. He was marvelous at pacing his stories and draw action scenes with a spare panache.

An example of Ditko’s funky yet elegant artwork.

His scripting partner on the series was Stan Lee.

Ditko and Lee were an odd pair. Lee was a shameless self-promoter, left-leaning, and hip to the sixties counterculture. Ditko scorned publicity, despised liberal politics and had nothing but disdain for many of the causes of the 1960s. Their working relationship deteriorated quickly, and soon they were hardly speaking. (Lee was busy with other Marvel titles, adding jokes and gags to Jack Kirby’s grim, Gnostic, despairing stories in the Fantastic Four, among other titles.)

Ditko did the plotting, the layouts and the story ideas. Lee filled in the dialogue in the word bubbles. This is an essential point: Ditko did the creating; Lee was scripting in existing comic pages. Ditko created the Vulture, Mysterio, the Tinkerer, Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, Kraven, the Scorpion, Chameleon, Sandman and Electro. These are more or less still the major villains in the Spiderman universe. He created Dr. Strange, Dormammu, the Hulk, and the Leader. For Charlton Comics he created Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Question and the Creeper. These Charlton characters are the basis and inspiration for Alan Moore’s Watchmen, arguably the most influential comic of all time.

A creepy old dude who can fly; one of Ditko’s greatest characters.

Lee became rich and famous, Ditko poor and unknown. Just as Spiderman was becoming a major hit, Ditko walked away from the project and never looked back. It’s one of the big injustices in a system that thrived on stealing ideas from the creators. The answer to why he left is straight-forward, if strange. He became a hardline objectivist.

2.

You can’t kill an idea, not even a terrible one. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is silly, elitist, unsustainable and, well, wacky. She marries antiquated notions of chivalry and heroics while eschewing the moral, religious, and cultural fabric—the things that left-leaning people feel need to be strengthened, not weakened—that holds society together. Her novels are creaky morality tales with little morality. Her heroes are the elite, venture capitalists, bankers. Her characters withdraw; her characters subvert; her characters destroy their work instead of agreeing to any compromise. No welfare, no social security, no empathy, no pity. No common cause, no greater good, no treatment for inter-generational poverty, no understanding, nothing but the relentless pursuit of personal gain. She codifies selfish acts in a way that makes them seem noble. She argues that we have a moral obligation to be selfish. Only in this way can we make the most of our potential and make the world a better place. The world of business is an ambiguous place, yet somehow Rand and her acolytes see it as the most moral of undertakings. She turns most of our assumptions on their head, presenting a potent challenge to conventional liberal thinking. On the surface anyway.

It’s a simplistic, and self-serving paradigm that allows its adherents to act like, well, assholes, and challenges them to live a life without compromise. It’s the cult of the individual, what Alan Moore calls, “white supremacist dreams of the master race, burnt in an early-20th century form.”

Boo. Hiss. Boo.

Ditko picked up on Rand’s Objectivism sometime in the 1950s. He wasn’t alone. Reagan bought into aspects of her philosophy around this time, wedding them (strangely, as Rand was an aggressive opponent to all religions) to conservative Christianity of Randian ideas bubble up from the philosophical sub-basement every fifteen years or so, cause plenty of silly talk about the role of government, equating some baseline for the good of the many ideas—ideas that almost every human being basically agrees with; for instance, I’ve never met anyone who would argue that as a society we should just let people starve to death in the streets—with the food shortages and gulags of her Soviet-collectivist childhood. People are selfish. Governments attempting to abridge this selfishness cause harm to everyone. No one ever made a great scientific discovery, one acolyte of hers told me some ten years ago, out of some sense of helping other people[3]. She utilized a kind of simpler form of existentialism. There is no such thing as fate. We are free agents acting out our grandiose lives on an untethered stage.

How conservative Christians glommed onto this materialistic philosophy—antithetical to the gospels—is material worthy of a book. The Biblical gospels are, at their essence, socialist texts. Jesus and his disciples live in a communal way. There’s no advertising or publicity, no exchange of money for Jesus’s services, no ownership of land. It’s heal and help the poor, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and a more than apparent disdain for the wealthy.

Right wing thinkers have over the years extrapolated a free market cosmology from a single phrase in the new testament, ignoring the pages and pages of caring for the poor,  So Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the temple gets book-length exegetical treatment. But his advice to discard material things is passed over.

We’re still living with Rand’s ideas today. The core of her political beliefs is that governments are evil, and only in a free market system, with no external control or meddling, can people achieve their true potential. She’s a tough nut: no regulations, no welfare, no taxes, no social security, no charity, and no pity. I haven’t read her deeply enough to discover what she thinks should be done about the disabled, or trans-generational poverty, slums, environmental catastrophes, sweat shops and the like.

I’m not giving Rand a totally fair shake—she was quite funny in interviews—but I don’t think I need to. Her ideas harm individuals and the boy politic. I should know. I was a follower myself, I just didn’t know it.

3.

As a teenager, I flirted with Rand’s ideas. I was raised in the Southern Baptist milieu. I went to a conservative Christian school as a child, and a (mostly) conservative Catholic high school. I moved to Montgomery, Alabama, for college, a more conservative town than Pensacola, which was a shock.

At 19, I went out to Colorado Springs to Summit, a two-week conference for burgeoning Christian intellectuals. There I was bombarded with Christian and far-right political doctrine. One speaker would rail against the (communist-backed) environmental movement, and the next would give tips on how to minister to strangers. Christian charity could solve all of the social ills of our country if the government would just stop preventing young people from praying in schools.

The big threat to us, the Summit speakers kept hammering home, was moral relativism, secular humanism, and the cult of liberal thinking.

It was an intense time. I read Stormer, Bastiat, Jobe Martin and the like. I quit drinking. I bought into an ascetic lifestyle. Joy was for wimps. Pleasure was for sinners. I would walk the golden road.

I took these ideas back to college and became a vocal opponent of many of my professors. I argued against evolution. I bickered about moral relativism[4]. I combated every instance of bias I perceived in the classroom. I was a little David Horowitz, a junior neo-conservative in long pants. I dismissed the U.N., had contempt for foreign intervention. I complained of government spending. I obsessed over the national debt. I brooded over the immorality of taxes. I deified the founding fathers[5]. I subscribed to the cult of the individual. It was a house built on sand. I would say things like, “You can’t legislate morality,” and then I would give my own moral take on things. I would complain of activist judges, but laud judges who ruled in a way that aligned with my beliefs.

I was full of disgust. I was a machine of raw resentment. I carried a bilious taste in my mouth. I operated with a negative enlightenment. I was a libertarian, and proud of it, with a penchant for Coors Light and trangressive literature. I’ve discussed this elsewhere (read it here) but there’s one immutable fact to my Randian beliefs and its cruel disconnectedness to community, history: these beliefs did not make me happy at all. I felt removed from the people around me. Lucky for me, literature saved me.

4.

Back to Ditko. He operates as a cipher to understanding how bad ideas can ruin a person’s talents. Ditko’s intransigence has soiled his gifts. He refused to collaborate in a collaborative medium, and he abandoned his vast storytelling abilities for preachy didacticism.

Rand’s hooks in Ditko ruined his career. He sabotaged good projects, refused to even minute changes, refused to budge. His later comics are didactic and boring; characters preach Rand’s precepts with just the slightest veneer of a story. He denied help, he shrugged off praise, he intentionally turned in inferior work, he distanced himself from the most popular comic book character of all time, a character he created. It’s infuriating, rooting for him, and puzzling.

Ditko at his finest.

Still, Ditko is a sad case. He’s been denied proper credit for his role in creating Spider-man. He’s made next to nothing on the character he invented. He lives off of a military pension, while Spiderman continues to be one of the most recognized and powerful fictional characters in the world. Rumor has it that for a while he lived in a common rented room at a New York Y.

He is one of the greatest innovators in comics history. Yet he spent much of the 1980s doing cheap television knock-off books, and even did a Transformers coloring book for the Marvel television division. It breaks the heart.

He could make a living selling his original artwork, or even prints, but his philosophy prevents him. He has deprived the world of his art, and inflicted decades of financial hardship on himself. And all for nothing. He’s changed no hearts, altered no minds. He’s Sisyphus, and the stone is his own absurd beliefs.

postscript:

There’s a very entertaining documentary on Ditko made for BBC television. You can watch it here.


[1] A pretty good movie, and at times, absolutely stunning.

[2] John Romita was the second artist on the book, and a very fine artist, too, probably better in his technique, but more straight-forward in his renditions. With Romita, Stan Lee did all the writing and plotting himself. Spiderman lost some of its essential strangeness.

[3] I tried arguing with him but saw quickly that you can’t argue with an objectivist. They refuse to see any trace of logic in any position other than their own.

[4] I still do.

[5] Except Jefferson.

The taste of others, part 4: Freedom-hating, anti-pigeon propaganda.

26 Nov

Writer-illustrator Mo Willems is an extraordinary talent in picture books, a critical and popular success. He’s created a number of very fine books that children love and adults can tolerate. The Knuffle Bunny books in particular are fun, rich, and pleasant. His Elephant and Pig books are excellent beginner books: silly and wise and a touch melancholy.

Willems has multiple modes, including the sardonic hipster books about a pigeon who can’t control his emotions. The books are funny, anarchic and free-form a la the old Warner Brothers cartoons. They are silly and funny and light as air, and tough to take seriously, but that doesn’t stop our reviewers. Here’s two reviews of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

My wife found these two weeks ago; they are superb. As usual, I’ve put my comments in bold-face, the original review in italics.

(This first review reaches heights of ecstatic hilarity. The author sees the book as some type of left-wing smear against freedom-loving libertarians. Or, part of a right-wing conspiracy against lefties who value their civil liberties. I’m on the fence on this review; it might be a joke. But something in the tenor of the piece makes me think the reviewer is serious. I love this stuff.) 

The title character in the series of books that will crush your children’s dreams and ensure we live in chains forever.

Title: A Charming Paean to Fascism and Bureaucracy

I am distressed by the number of reviewers who take sick pleasure in being mean to the poor pigeon. If the pigeon wants to drive the bus, why shouldn’t the pigeon drive the bus? Does the bus driver at any point tell us that the pigeon would drive the bus poorly? Does the bus driver even give ANY reason at all for his cruel edict? (Pigeons don’t have opposable thumbs or even fingers, and their little feet can’t possibly reach the pedals. Please continue.)

The book teaches one lesson: Obey the rules, because they are the rules. This is the bureaucrat’s mantra, and it is deeply pernicious. (For an excellent study of how rigid rule-following can corrode both individuals and institutions, read Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America) While it’s understandable that frazzled parents exhausted by the cloying demands of their bratty younglings might be unconcerned with the long-term effects of the endless chanting of “NO!”, they should at least be aware that each read of this book steals a little of their child’s will, humanity, and decency. It teaches them to be ashamed of their dreams, ashamed of spontaneity and joy. (Oh my God.)

I find it interesting that this book was written in 2003, when War Fever had its tightest grip on the United States. “Don’t Let The Pigeon” seems the perfect parable of post-9/11 hysteria, with its prioritization of security over liberty, and its wartime ethic of “Keep your mouth shut and don’t make waves.” Well, the pigeon and I fancy a bit of wave-making and fun, thank you, and the time for fear and paranoia has got to end. We can’t live in a petrified War on Terror mindset for the rest of our lives. Let the pigeon drive the bus! Otherwise, we give in to our demons and give up on reason. (Because reason and spontaneity go hand in hand.)

The author has written a series of these books, so that your child may exercise his/her inner petty tyrant in a variety of scenarios. It will be perfect practice for a successful career as a claims adjuster, denying coverage to the desperate family whose house has just been burned to the ground or who have all become stricken with terminal cancer.

Your children will hate this book, because children enjoy adventure and are disgusted by arbitrary exercises of authority. If your children do enjoy this book, your children are dim-witted and servile, perfect prey for the despots and demagogues of their generation.

(My response. One, the main character is a talking pigeon. Two, the book has fuck-all to do with terrorism. Three, children love this book, uniformly. Four, you need to get outside once in a while. Five, the book has no fear or paranoia in it, you’re providing all of that yourself. Six, please keep writing reviews like this for amazon. Seven, please don’t put me on a kill list. Eight, reading children’s books while whacked out on meth must be problematic. Nine, please don’t have children of your own. Ten, please read number seven again.)

(This has to be a put-on, but I’m including it anyway, just in case. Nothing I can say can top this review, so I’ll let it speak for itself.)

Title: I am not sure who this is for…

Honestly as a member of the intelligentsia and academia, I found this book quite shallow and pedantic. The story isn’t complex enough and should have tried more advanced techniques such as allusion and the art of nuance. The character development was weak and left a number of holes in the plot which was obvious from the outset, and for an award winning book, completely unforgivable. I am not sure who the target demographic audience is for this book but I hope they are not college students, with the exception of Alabama University.

(Here’s one for good measure, and a real groan-inducer it is, a great example of the mindset, “They don’t make them like they used to.”)

Title: For Budding “Hipsters”?

I’m going to begin my review with a quote from another one: “…And some of the dialogue is clearly aimed at the parents rather than the kids.” I have to agree. Why can’t kids’ books be just that, these days – FOR KIDS? I’m tired of all the sarcastic, “hipper-than-thou” irony inserted into children’s entertainment these days. (Probably has a lot to do with the fact that lots of parents these days still have the mentality of children.) Mind you, I’m fine with old-fashioned irony of the more thoughtful kind, as found in (for instance) some of the Victorian and post-Victorian books of children’s nonsense rhymes – but why was I not surprised to see  Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus!  in the window of Urban Outfitters? I guess it’s it’s a step up from scatology, but not a very big one.

 

The taste of others, part 3: Eloise

26 Nov

Well, I’m continuing with my fool’s errand, wandering the digital hallways of online reviewing. Looking for gems. As a way to spend ten minutes, it’s satisfying, yet strangely irritating. Not sure why I’m continuing with it. I guess it’s reviews like the one below.

Eloise is a very fine children’s book, one of the finest. Simone loves Eloise. The book has great writing and all manner of subtleties for older readers to sink their teeth into. Eloise is a rich character, funny and mischievous and intelligent and yet often alone, combating her loneliness with imagination.

The titular star, and a terrible role model for decent, god-fearing, obedient little children.

This reviewer disagrees. You can tell he/she means it by the plethora of exclamation points. I’m seeing a pattern in the negative reviews. They seem to fall into two categories. The first is the cautionary response: these books are bad for your children and here’s how they will cause them harm. The second is the close read: these books harbor secret, coded messages of evil, and I’ve figured them out and will now share them with you. Both approaches seem to involve unhealthy doses of rage and disgust. There’s a third approach, which is less common; it deals with a kind of reverse snobbery that goes something like this: “Critics” say this book is good! Well, it sucks!

More to come.

Title: Don’t bother!!! Inappropriate for recommended age group!!!

The book is out of date and inappropriate for children. I don’t approve of adults smoking in the presence of children especially a NANNY! In addition, if a child copied Eloise’s antics, it could put him/her in harms way.

The Taste of Others, part 2: Down with Santa.

19 Nov

Reading online reviews from (mostly) anonymous reviewers is infuriating, addictive, and strangely satisfying. Like best-of lists, these reviews are often subjective screeds that cause a passing self-righteous anger that feels good[1]. Still, it’s another way to waste time on the Internet that isn’t really giving much in return[2]. It’s like bubble gum. Or pop rocks. A little tickle and then nothing but the void.

Anyway, here’s a second dose of reviews for The Polar Express. My comments are in boldface type.

This in some sense is the funniest review I’ve seen. The reviewer wants to “teach” how other parents convey values to their children. The emphasis on somehow not lying to the child about Santa, when the adult world lies consistently to children on a whole array of issues—such as lying, politics, history, the afterlife and so on—is a rich subject indeed. Stephen King has a whole diatribe about this, how parents who will let their children believe all manner of fantastical things in different religions will crack down on the harmless belief in Santa. Enjoy.

Title: OK, but a bad representation of “Faith”

It’s my observation that the underlying message of this book is to present the idea of faith to a child. Santa is a terrible example of Faith. Santa is NOT real, if the child takes this book to heart, this example will eventually let him/her down. If his/her faith is shattered here, where does it end? (I honestly don’t know. Hell?)

Untitled

I STRONGLY disagree with the reviewer who said to use this book when your child questions Santa. To use this book to enforce the belief in Santa is to lie to your child. Children have “faith” in what their parents tell them. If you directly mislead them, how would you feel when you discovered the truth? It would hurt A LOT more than finding out Santa isn’t real! I’m not suggesting answering their query by revealing that he’s make believe, but maybe respond indirectly, possibly in the form of a question, leaving the final answer up to them. (Um, no. This isn’t how a child’s mind works at all. Children are sophisticated enough to know why lying about the existence of Santa is different than lying about other things. Most children want magic and wonder in their lives. Adults would do well by them to leave some mystery to things. We have our whole lives to be miserable cynics.)


[1] More about this in a later post.

[2] I would put upcoming movie previews and stupid/funny youtube clips in this category.

The Taste of Others, part 1: Nazis at the North Pole.

19 Nov

My wife has found a new way of entertaining herself online. She looks up picture books on Amazon, and then pokes around the lowest ratings. She’s started forwarding me the best of these, a kind of menagerie of crazed, chronically bored people. The criticism seems to span the political spectrum. On the right there’s the fear of communist (or other insidious leftwing ideological) indoctrination; on the left there’s the concerns of harmful stereotypes and gender roles. Fascinatingly, the reviewers often seem to have spent a lot of time in crafting their reviews.

I know a lot about children’s books. I read picture books to children as part of my job—as well as to Simone, every night—and spend a fair amount of time perusing their content, thinking on the message, and ordering books for the library. I’ve even studied them academically. They are often political, this much is true. But more often that not, the message of children’s picture books is plucked from Mr. Rogers. Let’s be nice. Other people have feelings. We don’t want to hurt others. The world is a big, wondrous place.

These readers see something else.

So here’s the first post, profiling the best of the worst, and part of a semi-regular feature. I’ve edited out people’s names, and fixed spelling and punctuation errors when necessary. I’ve provided my own commentary in boldface type.

The book in question here is The Polar Express. I didn’t realize it, but according to these reviewers, this sweet-natured tale of a Christmas jaunt with Santa is a vicious, fascist, anti-feminist slog that encourages children to get into cars with strangers. Read on.

The story of a little boy and Santa Claus. Filled with hateful propaganda.

These first two take umbrage with the story as somehow being a recruiting tool for Nazi ideology. I’m not kidding.

Title: Fascist Images Are Not Appropriate For Children

We took this book out of the public library for our three year old child expecting a nice, warm story about Christmas. This is not what we got. Apparently, Santa has become a 1930s style fascist leader who speaks in front of large crowds and raises his hand in a gesture that looks disturbingly like a Hitler salute. I never knew St. Nicholas made it to Nuremberg. (Weird. Santa here picks up a young boy and whisks him off to the north pole. Nuremburg has nothing to do with anything.)


Title: Perfect children’s tale for the Material Age

Bland unimaginative story about a tyke who doesn’t believe that someone up north doesn’t pump out toys for all the little girls and boys. Santa and his village as portrayed in this book would have fit in perfectly in Nazi Germany. A perfect book for the entitled and spoiled American child of the Uberclass of consumerist American drones. (Ouch.)

Here’s a self-serious take on the book, thankfully moving us away from comparisons to Goring or Himmler. The war on Christmas continues.

Title: Well…

A pleasure to read but has nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas. It makes me sad when people talk about Christmas meaning giving and showing kindness but leave out the birth of Jesus. If I would say no one knows the true meaning I’m sure I would be told that many people do. So why do almost every movie, tv show, and book, especially made for children, never mention Jesus’s birth? Instead of teaching about Santa, why not also teach children what Christmas is about. The book was sweet, but missed the meaning. (This reminds me of my childhood, and not in a good way.)

Here’s a decidedly feminist critique of the story, somehow telescoping the entire western canon’s diffidence towards female heroes into a battering ram to smash Allsberg’s book. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but there’s the silly self-seriousness.

Title: Polar Express: Yet another boy’s tale

Have we learned nothing from the 60’s and 70’s studies of childrens’ books? Studies that showed that most children’s books, and textbooks, had boys as the heroes, as the active ones, while girls and women were relegated to minor ‘helping’ roles. I was about to buy this book for my 5 year old granddaughter, but when I read that it was just another story about a boy and his quest for whatever, I decided not to buy it. Where are the millennium’s great stories with girls as heroes? About a girl’s quest for knowledge and wisdom? Oh bother! I won’t be shelling out bucks for this one. How sad.

I have to think this one is a joke, but I’m not so sure. The stuff I’ve heard other parents say can be pretty wild. This reviewer clearly sees the wide-eyed wonder that defines much of children’s literature to be a bad thing. My response would be, why limit yourself to fairy tales? Why not just show them the first thirty minutes of Bad Lieutenant, over and over? Or the rape scene in Irreversible?

Title: stranger danger

Why is it okay to teach children that getting out of their beds, leaving the house, and getting on a train with a stranger in the middle of the night is a grand, desirable, adventure? I threw out a similar story about leaving the house and flying through the air with a snowman last year. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is another example. I have been searching for a copy of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to counter-effect the message. My goal in teaching my children about the world is to instill a healthy dose of caution at least, about going off with strangers, forget political correctness.

More to come . . .