There are a certain kind people who make the big things simple.
These talented and vastly unappreciated folks seem to do, in a handful of words what most would struggle to do in thousands, or tens of thousands. They seek out the big thoughts, the ideas huge and hairy and monstrous, the notions with which men and nations have struggled and warred, and they reduce them, with well crafted words and images, unto their simplest and most entertaining form.
Big ideas are made small, for small (but growing) minds.
These are the writers of children’s books.
I don’t remember having many children’s books around when I was little. I certainly don’t remember having any favorites, although I have vague memories of a ‘Saggy Baggy Elephant’ who never felt comfortable in his own skin.
As I grew older I began to read voraciously and was drawn, like so many others, into the worlds of H.G. Wells and Tolkien, of Asimov, Poe, and Orwell. Yet, even as my tastes became more sophisticated, somewhere along the way, I began to really notice children’s books.
I became enchanted with them, so much so that I even took a random children’s lit class in my senior year of college. My, not entirely unrealistic, excuse for this, was that I was toying with the idea of a career in children’s literature – if not writing, then at least in illustration.
The Fates have led me, along with my writing and my art, down other paths. I must confess, however, that my mind still wanders in that general direction, from time to time.
I do take the occasional walk through the children’s section of the local bookstore, if only to explore the new wonders that have appeared there. I look forward to discovering which cover has been graced with that shiny gold Caldecott stamp, although I’m often more impressed with the silver stamp winners (just give ‘Sleep Like a Tiger’ a glance and tell me that I’m wrong). And each year, I make it a point to buy a new favorite, and then I give it to my mother, herself an aspiring children’s book author, as a gift for Yule.
I think that Children’s books are special because they speak to us in simple, easy to understand terms. And because most of us encounter them when we are children, we are able, as adults, to use them as a sort of literary shorthand, to express commonly understood ideas and concepts, often between otherwise disparate groups.
Or, at least, that was what I believed, until recently.
Just lately, I have begun to notice a disturbing trend.
I suppose I first picked up on it when someone pointed out the irony in Senator Ted Cruz, reading ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr. Seuss during his pretend filibuster against the Affordable Care Act in September. Here, was a man, stating very clearly that he did not like a thing, was not willing to try a thing, and could not be convinced to support a thing, while reading a story about a fictional fellow with similar objections who discovers, after finally trying some, that he quite likes Green Eggs and Ham.
Yeeeeeah…, okay. So maybe reading comprehension is not Ted’s forte.
Everyone know’s that story, right? I mean, walk into any crowd and say the words “Sam I Am” and see how many people respond with something along the lines of “I would not, could not, with a goat.”
Or is it that people just don’t remember the ending?
How can you forget the ending?!
So, okay, I first started to notice it with ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, but the phenomena seems to be spreading to other children’s classics and I find myself wondering exactly how it is that so many people seem to have no clue as to what “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is about.
As the days leading up to the Christian celebration of Christmas have ticked away, I’ve seen more and more references to the “Grinch”. In almost every case, the so called “Grinch” is either a school, business or government official, who dares suggest that, just maybe, the holiday season needn’t be exclusively Christian.
It’s a novel concept, I know, but ignoring for a moment the ‘totally legitimate’ rage certain groups seem to feel at the prospect of having ‘their’ holiday share the limelight, there is, to me, an even greater issue to consider.
These people are making a mockery of a Seuss Holiday Classic.
This will not stand!
And so I find myself addressing the following questions to any of my Christian friends who are of the “There’s a War on Christmas” persuasion:
When, exactly, did introducing a greater spirit of inclusiveness into a season that is supposed to be (if we believe the propaganda) about joy and giving and fellowship, become the equivalent of a furry green monster sweeping down out of the mountains and robbing you of your every possession?
Did you actually ever read the book? Or (allowing for those less enchanted with children’s literature than I) did you at least watch the animated special – I mean, it’s only been airing every year since 1966.
Most importantly of all, do you remember how it ends?
Think about it and then tell me who’s hearts are two sizes two small.
The story ends with every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, still singing their freaky little lungs out. Because, even the Whos know that if Christmas is everything that ‘you’ say it is, it will still come, without boxes, bows or state sponsored nativity scenes.
If you see fit to live with Christmas in your heart instead of wearing it on your sleeve, there will be nothing to stop you from celebrating the birth of your deity, even as we, your neighbors, honor Yule, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or even nothing at all except perhaps the genuinely human feelings of fellowship and generosity.
It’s a really big idea, made very small, just like Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than two.
So enough already!
Stop your “BOO-HOOing!”
Remember the story (or read it at least).
And then do me a favor and pass the Roast Beast.