Friday, February 18, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

"Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book" has been a favorite in our house since it was given to us.  It is about a child who wants a pet and their truly remarkable zoo sends him an animal.  Would your zoo send a child an animal to be a pet?  Clearly this book isn't about teaching the realities of life. 

The first animal is an elephant and quickly sent back because it is too big.  The giraffe is sent back for being too tall.  The snake is too scary.  The camel is too grumpy.  The lion is too fierce.  The frog is too jumpy.  And here's the biggest problem--the monkey is sent back because it is too naughty.

Finally the zoo sends a dog and it is kept because "he was perfect!"

Perhaps you are wondering why this book was ever a favorite.  Well, because it is a flap book and the kids love saying which animal is in each box and flipping the flap.  Also, every page only has about 13 words and with a drive-by listener like Sunflower short books score some major points at our house.

However, after reading about racism, I think this book has to go.  Sure, animals are not people.  Some facts about animals are just facts.  An elephant is too big to be a pet.  A giraffe is too tall.  But some of the differences this books teaches about animals falls more into the stereotyping category--camels are grumpy, lions are fierce--granted for animals these stereotypes are mostly true.  However, a snake is too scary?  Who says so?  Well, I do, but still...

And then the book calls for actual judgment.  A frog is too jumpy to be a pet, but a dog is perfect.  Really?  Perfect?  I would sooooo prefer a pet frog to a pet dog.  Frogs go in cages.  Now my children don't get to have either animal for a pet, but still...

Now maybe I am overreacting and the book won't teach children that differences are bad.  After all, animals are not people.  However, when most childrens' books designed to teach children that diversity is good use animals to teach that lesson, I'm not sure I'm willing to risk this book countering that lesson.

However, the negative way differences are portrayed is not the only problem in the book.  It is the phrase "I sent it back" which is repeated on every page except the last one about the dog.  My children have no problem with it, but after watching "Despicable Me" I cannot bear it.  After we adopt, I think I'll like it even less.

Can I convince my daughter that she is going to be kept because she is like the dog, perfect?  Do I want to?  Can anyone promise me that no one will call my daughter (or any of my kids for that matter) naughty...ever?  Does being naughty mean they should go back?

Yep.  I've convinced myself.  This book has to go.  There are lots of books that fall into the gray area, but this one isn't one for me.  Aside from teaching children that Elephants are big and giraffes are tall--both facts we can learn at the zoo with better visuals--I don't see this book as having anything of value to teach my children.  

At minimum, do I really want 4 out of every 13 words to be "I sent it back"--especially with my drive-by listener?  I'd much rather those 4 words be "I love you so."

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