Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cabbages and History Books

There is a tedious vacuity on the shelves of the children's section at the public library. I listlessly picked out one book after another, turned the pages then re-shelved it. I started with authors whose last names began with "F" and moved methodically along the shelves to "S."

Are there that many morally objectionable books in the childrens's section? A few, certainly. More commonly the books are cheaply illustrated, or worse, poorly written. There is only subtle variation between the tired, predictable plots. Bear goes to bed. Chipmunk goes to bed. Bear goes to kindergarten. So does chipmunk. Bear makes a new friend. Tractor makes a new friend.  Bear learns to share. Chipmunk shares. Tractor shares. Oh help! Rabbits not only receive a bowl of cabbage soup, they then plant a garden full of cabbages and share with the whole town. Ughh! Our society's moral compass righted by generous servings of cabbage soup, served hot until it is coming out of our nose. (I didn't like that book.)

My finger listlessly trailed the book spines until "H." There I picked out Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek by Deborah Hopkinson. At least, I thought, this is a book about a real person. At least, it doesn't pretend to be what it is not. Right there on the cover I read, "A Tall, Thin Tale." I figured I could live with a tall tale, just not one involving cabbages. (But I have nothing against cabbage.)

After dinner Arden and I sat to read. Abe and his friend try to cross a creek, Abe falls in, his friend fishes him out. This certainly won't be the cornerstone of anyone's history curriculum but the book is based on a tidbit of historical fact. I didn't care for the narrator speaking to the reader, though it was fun to read aloud. I didn't care for the reference to movie soundtracks or the rewritten scene. I did like the illustrations. I did appreciate a children's book that freely admitted, "For that's the thing about history-if you weren't there, you can't know for sure." Some of us are still learning that as adults.

Arden thought we were done. He had already begun preparing the next book. I still had one more page, the one announcing itself as the last page. And the moral. Not more moralizing!
"Listen to your mother and don't go near any swollen creeks."
 If you live, make cabbage soup for the friend who saved you. You'll be a better person. Not in this book.
"A mite weak, perhaps? Like Abe, a bit thin? Then how about this: Remember Austin Gollaher, because what we do matters, even if we don't end up in history books."
That is a moral far more refreshing than coleslaw, and it gives us more to chew on besides.

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