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.



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