Everyone’s A Critic
The next book we’re borrowing from the library is ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.
Right now one of May Blossom’s favourite books is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. It has been in painfully high rotation for about a month now, which means we read it to her at least twice every day.
To its credit, Bear Hunt is not yet shitting me to tears in the way some of her previous favourites have – the day she didn’t ask for Oxenbury and Mem Fox’s Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes as the last book of the evening, after SIX SOLID MONTHS OF IT, I wept with gratitude. But it has only been a month of the bear so we shall see.
May Blossom, on the other hand, is beginning to be seriously irritated by a couple of points in Bear Hunt. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it, a thousand times, it’s the retelling of a traditional children’s rhyme about looking for a bear. On the way, we encounter obstacles, none of which can be gone over or under, and which we must simply go through, as hard as that might be. So we have to go through long grass (swishy swashy), a big dark forest (stumble trip) and a deep cold river (splash splosh) and so on. Rosen and Oxenbury’s version of the book stars a rather gormless father and his four children, who look to be roughly around ten, eight, six and one year old. They are accompanied on this fool’s venture by their dog, a border collie. They are, as far as the illustrations reveal, unarmed.
The first thing that causes May Blossom great consternation is why the father doesn’t carry the baby more often. The baby is of toddling age, but certainly isn’t big enough to be entrusted to even the most capable ten year old when traipsing through thick oozy mud or a swirling whirling snowstorm. Sheer negligence, according to May Blossom, who stops me each time, with a very worried look, and asks, ‘Daddy carry baby?’ ‘No, my love,’ I have to answer. ‘He doesn’t carry the baby. I don’t know why.’ Maybe he’s a complete moron, is what I don’t say. And also, it’s a book, I don’t add.
To give this fictional dad his due, he does carry the baby on his shoulders over the deep cold river, and through the long grass, but when it comes to entering the cave where there is clearly going to be a scary great bear hiding, Daddy is safely third in the line of bear hunters. This man lets his young son, accompanied by a dog, go in first, before he timidly enters with one of his daughters clutching him around the waist, letting his oldest child bring up the rear, with the baby holding her hand. The baby has a look on its face that says, and there is no mistaking it: ‘What the FUCK would we go in that bear’s cave for? I want no part in this madness.’
Then of course they meet the bear, who is in its own cave minding its own business, and who quite rightfully chases off the intruders, back through all the obstacles they have overcome, in reverse order. This time the dad carries the baby though the snowstorm, the mud and the river, but he’s always at the front of the pack. Maybe when you have four children you can afford to throw one or two to a marauding bear to ensure your own safe getaway.
Every time the dad doesn’t carry the baby, May Blossom and I have to have a discussion about what she perceives as his negligence. We do a lot of tut-tutting, mixed in with some half-hearted commentary from me about how everyone makes different parenting choices and that’s okay (as long as none of your kids gets eaten by a bear, I think it goes without saying).
Then, to make matters worse, she gets really annoyed at the dog. For when the family finally makes it back to the house, with the bear getting ever closer, they run in though the front door and up the stairs. But then they have to go back down because the last one in (the dog) didn’t shut the door and the bear is now at the gate. May Blossom needs to know, every time, why the goddamn dog didn’t shut the door on its way in.
She doesn’t have a lot of experience with dogs, but May Blossom knows enough to realise they are supposed to be loyal and faithful and perform amazing feats to save their beloved masters. Not this lurcher. This dog is only looking out for number one and that, according to May Blossom, is not cool. There is no dog in team, I remind her.
I won’t spoil the ending for you: it might do you good to wonder if this family of utter nincompoops gets eaten by a bear, which they richly deserve, or whether they live to torment the bear again another day.
To me, the lesson that can be taken away from this is that all books should come from the library so they can go the hell back there before this level of close reading can take place and cause such angst.