The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
— Ps. 90:10
It’s a hard world for little things. — The Night of the Hunter
Some people like to talk about how subversive children’s books are. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do see a lot of harsh reality in them–even in picture books. We’re all laughing and having a good time, but don’t kid yourself. …
Take for example, Mini Grey’s terrific new book, Ginger Bear.
For the past week, I’ve been forcing all my colleagues to read it. And while I’ve seen one reviewer who enjoyed its “barkingmad originality,” I‘ve yet to see anyone praise its gritty realism and dark humor—let me be the first.
Through a series of fortunate events, Ginger Bear, a cookie, escapes being eaten. When he wakes up in the night after all the humans are asleep, he creates an entire circus of cookie friends who gleefully engage in some very risky behavior. (Carpe noctem?) Enter: Bongo the dog (who loves cookies, but not in a way that is necessarily good for cookies) and it’s cookie carnage all over the kitchen floor. Ginger Bear escapes and finds a way he can live happily, and safely, ever after. Whew!
I love the way this story and its wild illustrations make you laugh and force you to confront the harsh truth we all must learn, “a cookie’s life is usually short and sweet.” The message is just as in-your-face as any of the old versions of the Three Little Pigs, but avoids being mean or bitter. There’s good with the bad. There’s joy. There’s hope. Life is short and sweet. And a clever cookie can live a long and happy life.
Too scary for storytime? I don’t think so. We start kids out with tales of cookie mortality like the Gingerbread Man, and before you know it, the dog dies, and Charlotte the spider and Bambi’s mother, and then it’s the grandfather and the girl who’s your best friend. It’s a hard world for little things, right from the start. And while I’m not advocating a steady stream of tear-jerkers (I’m pretty much done done with the dead dog books)—and I’m definitely a fan of zaniness like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Whales on Stilts— would you really want to come to King Lear without first knowing what can happen to a cookie in a harsh world?