Threescore and ten

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.

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?

3 thoughts on “Threescore and ten

  1. Ya know the cookie commercial, where the big chocolate chunk cookie (cooky) is driving along with his friends in a convertible, and one by one they get snatched? or the annual joke in the “Sally Forth” comic strip, where Hillary tries to hide her chocolate Easter bunny long enough to prevent her mom from biting off its ears? What I want to know before I read it is, will this book make me want to eat ginger cookies, or save them to hang on the Christmas tree?!? because I really LIKE to eat ginger cookies…

  2. The days of Dick and Jane are gone. Ginger Bear is a reflection of our modern world. Children, however, have always read or heard tales that are harsh or scary and if they are done with humor, like Ginger Bear, all the better. Thanks for sharing an interesting new book.

  3. Somewhere here we learn to prioritize the depth of feeling over the harshness of life in order to somehow isolate ourselves for survival. The tragedy lies in becoming too isolated and therefor

Comments are closed.