Saturday, February 26, 2011

City kids, country kids, and books







I'm a big Mo Willems fan, and was delighted to be asked to read Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. In case you haven't read it: The heroine wakes up in the night and realizes that she has the WRONG KNUFFLE BUNNY. It's 2.30 in the morning, but her parents are about to call the other child's parents when BRNNG! BRNGG! The phone rings.

It's the other parents, calling to say THEIR child has the wrong knuffle bunny.

A dramatic exchange follows, with both sets of parents and their children rushing out into the night to return the knuffle bunnies to their rightful owners.

The child to whom I was reading (4) accepted all this as a matter of course, but I was horrified. Is this how parents are now? WIth some trepidation, I asked the parents if THEY would call someone up at 2.30 a.m. to exchange stuffed animals.

"Absolutely not," the mother said firmly. She said she too had been appalled.

But -- we live in a small, gossipy town, you call someone at 2.30 in the morning, the whole town is going to hear about it. Many will make comments ("Can you believe what a spoiled brat that _____ kid is? His parents called the _____s at 2.30 in the morning to get back a stuffed animal!").

The parents in the book lived in NY. Maybe there, this is exactly how parents, or some parents, would react. Or maybe Mo is just presenting things the way to a child, they OUGHT to be and of course, are. In the book.

I don't know -- but whatever the right answer to THAT is, I do know kids are raised differently in different parts of the country (Grace and I were talking about this, since she'd just come back from a visit to Mississippi).....and maybe the more interesting question is if hip urban children are over-represented in kids' books. Most editors do not after all live way out in the country, where not so many kids are hip.

8 comments:

Anna Alter said...

Interesting... I sort of thought he was presenting the way a kid thought his parents should react in that situation, emphasizing what a big deal it is for a kid to love their stuffed animal. But now that you mention it, I wonder if reading the book to a kid would create expectations that you would do such a thing? I definitely wouldn't.

alvina said...

I think this must be a fantasy-type thing, not a NYC thing, as I really can't imagine ANY parent calling another at 2:30 in the morning unless there was some kind of health emergency. Then again, I'm not a parent, and my friends in NYC who are parents mostly have babies, not little kids. I'm curious as to whether there are any parents reading this who can weigh in! I know as a kid I would have WANTED my parents to take my love of my stuffed dog more seriously...

Also, I think it's likely that NYC is overrepresented in children's books (I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on this?), but partially because I think there are more children's books creators living here than elsewhere, too. Combine that with most of the editors living in NY, and that's what you get. Although, I will add that although most editors don't live out in the country, most of us did not grow up IN the city, either. I think the majority of our editorial staff here grew up in small towns or suburbs.

Anyway, this is an interesting takeaway of the book! I haven't read it yet, and wonder if I would have had the same reaction...

Melissa S. said...

My boys are 5 and 3 and both have stuffed animals that are dearly loved and MUST be present at bedtime. However, I would never call another parent at 2:30 in the morning to arrange an exchange. I would be in for a rough, sleepless night of a child insisting that he CAN'T POSSIBLY sleep without Monkey/Froggie, but I would put off making the call until a reasonable hour. (Parents get little enough sleep as it is - I'm not going to deprive another parent of a good night's sleep! :) )

erin kono said...

Although it is possible, given an upset sleepless kid, that a parent might want to call in the middle of the nigt. It's doubtful any reasonable person would ever do it. (I’m pretty sure that in most places, city or country, 2:30 a.m. phone calls remain reserved for tragedies and drunk dials.)

I have, in the past, gone to other lengths. When my daughter’s first lovey was inadvertently thrown from her stroller we tacked up illustrated wanted posters throughout the neighborhood. Luckily a few days later we recieved the call that FuFu had been rescued.

Tanya said...

Absolutely not! I'm a little tough love, though, and not one to foster sentimental attachments to objects. I want my girls to be the types of tough girls who don't need their special bear or whatever. We "luckily" have an abundance of stuffed toys and dolls that are loved quite passionately and would hopefully suffice should a beloved doll become waylaid.

Abigail said...

I think wonderful books often take a realistic scenario to an unrealistic extreme -- and this is just an example of that. It wouldn't be funny if this drama occurred at afternoon nap time, even though that might be more realistic. Both parent and child can relate to the feelings in this story.

About NYC books -- I'm sure the city is over represented, though maybe not now as much as in the past. I know I grew up (in Oregon) with a powerful affinity for new york that was reinforced when I finally got to visit the city years later. I think between all the wonderful NY books that came out in the 70s and the set of Sesame Street, I just felt like it was a town I knew as well as my own. Which is a pretty cool thing, isn't it?

yamster said...

We have no idea how our children came to be attached to the items they're attached to, but spouse has gone on eBay to find a replica of S's bear. We know other parents who have bought multiples of their child's lovey and cleverly even washed them all at the same time so they have the same amount of wear! That said, I believe (and hope) Mo Willems is exaggerating for effect. At some point you have to put your foot down...

Libby Koponen said...

Thanks everyone. These are all really interesting comments -- and I'm relieved that none of you would call anyone at 2.30 a.m.! Also I agree that it wouldn't have been as exciting if it had happened in the middle of a nap...it would be interesting, too, to see a study on how different parts of the country are represented in children's books. Now there's a project for a grad student somewhere!

Anyhow, thanks for the interesting comments.