Sunday, June 04, 2006

Masterpiece Picturebook Theatre

You know how when you watch some of those old movies on Masterpiece theatre, you realize how times have changed in the last 40 or 50 years? Well, I'm finding that the same is true of kids' picture books. Let me give you a few examples of classic moments I've discovered in classic picture books.

"Madeline and the Bad Hat" -- what would you think this book would be about? Perhaps Madeline's fashion faux pas? Madeline's adventures shopping in Paris? No, sir. The Bad Hat referred to in the title is Pepito, the bratty son of the Spanish Ambassador who moves in next door. I guess a Bad Hat is someone who misbehaves.

"Madeline and the Gypsies" -- aside from the fact that you would never find a modern book with this title, there is the plot. Madeline and the now reformed Pepito (see above) are kidnapped by gypsies. When Miss Clavel finds out and tries to rescue them, they are sewn into the skin of a lion. Which would be very uncomfortable, impractical and well, wouldn't really work. The gypsies, although not particularly villainish are well, gypsies, and so are simply doing what gypsies do -- steal small children and tour around the country using them as circus perfomers.

"Curious George" -- have you looked at this classic from 1947 recently? I'm amazed animal rights activists even allow it to be reprinted. No only is George stolen from the jungle by the Man with the Yellow Hat, he is then left to roam about and jump off of a steamer ship. When he gets back to the city, he and the Man with the Yellow Hat have a meal (including wine) and a smoke. It seriously says something along the lines of "After some supper, and a pipe, and a good night sleep, George felt much better". After this George creates untold mischeif and chaos in the city (of course) and is then placed into a happy place -- a zoo.

"Curious George Takes a Job" -- after escaping from the zoo (he steals the zookeeper's keys while the zookeeer is -- you guessed it -- lighting his pipe), George finds himself a job washing windows. Essentially, because he is a monkey, he has no need of a scaffolding or safety belt -- instead he just hangs off the sill with a squeegee in one hand and a bucket hanging from a belt around his waist. After getting too curious and doing the George version of "While You Were Out" on a lady's house (he paints a jungle in her living room while the painters go our for lunch) he jumps off the fire escape and breaks his leg on the pavement below. Then when the story breaks in the newspaper, the Man with the Yellow Hat finds him. But not before he has an interesting experience with a bottle of ether (George felt dizzy. Then he saw stars and swirls. After this George felt like he was flying. Then everything went dark.). The Man with the Yellow Hat decided that he has not capitalized enough on his stolen imported monkey, so he signs a movie contract on George's behalf and makes a movie about his life. My favorite picture in this part of the book is one where George sits, blissfully happy and unaware, on the lap of the MWTYH while he and the movie producer smoke fat cigars and smile contentedly.

"Curious George and the Animal Rights Activists" -- oh, sorry, this book wasn't really written. But I'm sure we can all imagine what adventures that curious little monkey could get up to with his new friends, the animal rights activists, who rescue him from his new home, the cosmetics testing laboratory, where the Man with theYellow Hat has put him when he imports his latest pet -- Annie the Lemur -- and pays for his expenses by selling George.

These are my favorite examples of very dated, but still delightful, children's literature. My son LOVES these books and asks for them every time we go to the library. And I oblige him, because I like them better than the insipid childrens' books from the 80s with titles like "Jackie Learns About Sharing" or "The Bully". And after all, the first time I read the Old Testament as an adult, I was way more shocked by what I found than these few tidbits I've discovered in these classics. Seriously, read the whole book of Judges some time.

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