Or, as Elisabeth would have me write, Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Parents.
Caveat 1: I admit that sometimes I have no taste. Case in point, I hate The Big Lebowski. I find it stupid, unfunny and basically pointless. I hear other people think it's great. They're wrong, of course, but that's their opinion.
Caveat 2: I'm about to criticize a bunch of gifts. No offence is meant to the gift-givers, I know that this was done in good faith. I want you to know that your gift was a) appreciated for the gesture and b) appreciated for the rant it provided me. To be honest, I don't much remember who has given us what.
So, with that in mind, I come to Sandra Boynton. An author I'd never heard of a few months ago and whose name I now curse. And not just me, Henry recoils like an adder when he sees a cover of one of her books. I've brought his reaction up with the owner of the local book store for kids who has told me he's too young to get it and will grow into them, but I feel that the way the aging process works, where a person becomes smarter over time (Until thirty and then you become your parents), this runs counter intuitive to logic and if indeed these books are for older kids, then why are they so stupidly, utterly dumb and offensive?
In all fairness, I'm sure there are stupider things. Like toy poodles, Juggalo's and de-alcoholized beer. But these aren't marketed to sensitive, developing brains. People who buy toy poodles are already functionally retarded. This is the kind of banal humour for people who thought Family Matters was piss-your-pants funny and who can help but go "Aww," whenever a toddler vomits out its catch phrase in Steve Guttenberg's latest attempt at prime-time relevance.
I thank you all who gave us these books as gifts but they are atrocious and poor old Henry hates them. The literally make him cry. They are also horribly morally suspect. Case in point:
Throughout this book, the animals gaze into nothingness, do not attempt to help the unfortunate who has crossed their paths and through their passivity let him die.
The Turkey is portrayed as a species (As opposed to the elephant, moose or small cute furry whatever) to be imbecilic, lemming-like and disposable.
The punchline is that as soon as the hippopotamus is allowed into the circle, an armadillo it excluded from it. Any opportunity to turn this book into a message of inclusivity or to contextualize why it's not okay to ostracize someone is lost for a cheap joke that actually makes light of shyness/exclusion/ favouritism/ racism. I don't want to go so far as to say the book actually encourages racism but Ms. Boynton has, according to Wikipedia, written more than forty book and four thousand fucking greeting cards. It's not like she's new at this or learning the ropes or this is her difficult second novel, she's literally produced thousands of works. She either thinks racism is funny or she is the stupidest children's writer since Chuck VonNasty wrote It's Okay to Poke Your Eye Out, It'll Grow Back in Time For Supper Now Smile and Eat Your Plate of Broken Glass.
But I digress...
This is a lazy book with a lazy story and lazy pictures. It commits the cardinal sin of children's books in being utterly forgettable. I honestly didn't know we had it for at least a month.
It also features Ms. Boynton's most irritating flourish: The weird circular belly button. I don't know if it's meant to be cute but it draws unnecessary attention to her creatures nether-regions as well as looks like a sadistic cork lodged in the bellies of all her cute kiddy animals; ready to pop at any moment and spill out their guts until the inbred uncles of Horns to Toes are little more that carpets of a middle-class couples basement.
This is a book geared for older kids (You know this because it's slightly larger than all her other books) to force them to act like younger kids.
Here, the hippopotamus (No longer an ostracized freak) acts like a freak that I'd like to ostracize by devoting its time to loving their so-called bee bo's and going to bee bo positive beaches where they sing songs about their bee bo. There is a level of forced saccharine jokey wholesomeness that is thrust down your throat throughout this book that I'm left feeling hostile towards Ms. Boynton. The book itself is pointless. It's just an attempt to push a catch-phrase that is neither witty or clever or makes any sense at all.
It's here that I might think that the lady in the bookstore had a point. Maybe Ms. Boynton's books are indeed for kids a mite older then Henry. But if this is so then why is she writing about such simple notions? Why is she making dumbed down books for dumbed down kids (Who's parents see nothing wrong with a quaint touch of racism)? It literally baffles me.
This book worked for a while. Henry enjoyed it and we enjoyed reading it to him. The thing is, unlike Sandra Boynton's other books, this book is a poem with pictures and the thing that he clues in on is the cadence and rhythm of the voice reading to him. He's too young to grasp the pictures (Hell, he's too young to grasp anything) but he's able to bounce along with the voice saying stuff. This is absent in all Susan Boynton's other books (That we own) and were they there, then perhaps Henry would like them as well.
Personally, I don't care for her artistic style (Though literally millions would disagree) but it's irritating that she doesn't ever vary it to reflect the age range that she's writing for. If the words, pictures and layouts changed for a child's capacity to understand, I might feel very differently. But they're not. They're too complicated for young kids and too simple for older ones. They feel like they've been written by someone who's never had, raised or met children but has a kind of vague understanding of what children are and has geared a career towards that misunderstanding.