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September 05, 2002

Babar, Psycho King of the Elephants

As we were getting ready for bed tonight, Ngnat picked up her nighttime sippy cup and handed it to me.

"Daddy, I want fwesh wata."

"Fresh water?"

Nodding her head, "Fwesh wata."

"When did you start using adjectives?"

"uh-huh."

And that was all I could get out of her on the subject. It's always a mild surprise to me when I she tosses off a new word as if she's used it all her life. Adjectives are just shocking. Nouns I'm used to, as we entered the "what's that" phase a couple of weeks ago. Bedtime stories have become exercises in patience, as she has to point to each and every item on the page and have it identified before we can proceed.

"What's that?"
"That's a panda cub, honey."
"What's that?"
"That's a panda daddy."
"What's that?"
"That's a panda mommy."
"What's that?"
"That's the panda mommy's tail."
"What's that?"
"That's the panda mommy's ear."
"What's that?"
"That's the puffer belly."
........
"What's that?"
"That's the fifteenth rivet on the undercarriage on the right of the puffer belly."
"What's that?"
"That's the sixteenth rivet on the undercarriage on the right of the puffer belly, honey.*

And then I can turn the page. I try to read short books.

Not that I have much choice in the book reading department. Ngnat piles them in the middle of the bed and selects from the pile, and I have to read that one right then or there'll be hell to pay. The pile grows every larger with each passing day, as she explores the bookshelf in her closet, or brings another book home from the library. Her mother and I learned very quickly that to drive by the library means we also have to stop at the library.

"Liberry!"
"Honey, it's almost time for dinner."
"LIBERRY!"
"Taylor, we just went to the library yesterday."
"LIBERRY!!"

So we go to the liberry, and shush her when she screams "PAY PUZZLES" at the top of her lungs, and pay puzzles, and let her pick out a boog, and check out boog, and go home and read boog. She's picked out startlingly age-appropriate books so far, not that I wouldn't let her check out "A Children's Guide to The General Theory of Relativity" just to see the look on the librarian's face when she plunked it up onto the desk. They're not necessarily seasonally appropriate, which is why for the past two nights we've been singing "The Little Drummer Boy". She likes to do the descant.

"wum-pa-pum-pum"

After the song portion of the evening ritual is over comes the Naming of the Animals, in which I am to be the response part of the Animal Call and Response

"I wead the boog."
"Ok, honey."

She opens the books, seemingly at random, and points.
"Cacadile"
"Crocodile!"
"Hippawampus"
"Hippopatamus!"
"Dat's a goat."
"Goat!"
"Jiwaff"
"Giraffe!"
"Munkee"
"Monkey!"
"Ehfant!"
"Elephant!"

Then, as we have several books with elephants in them, we point out all those elephants. If this sounds like it takes a great deal of time, it does. I'd estimate we spend on average an hour a night between us doing various bedtime rituals, easing our parental guilt at sentencing her to daycare.

Aside: Not that she cares, of course. She loves daycare. Sometimes on the weekends she gets bored with us and asks to be taken to daycare.

Tonight, having finally clued in to the trend....Hey, she really likes elephants!...I remembered a really old copy of Babar that I'd put on the shelf a while back. It was one of a few that I had kept for years just on the off chance I'd get married and have a kid one day. Why I thought Babar might be out of print by then I don't remember. I have about 20 books in that same category, among them Little Black Sambo. Dunno what I'll do if she asks me to read that one day. Probably read it to her. Not reading it will feel like surrendering to the people who think niggardly is a racist term.

Anyway, Babar. Babar was another shock. I hadn't looked at in 30-odd years. How bad could it be, it's a kids' book, right? A kid's book for a tougher time, maybe, when children were dropping like flies from polio after working 8 hours down at the mill, and when one on't cross beams went owt askew on treadle, well, they fixed it themselves or they weren't paid. Reading Jazz Baby and Wemberly Worried doesn't adequately prepare a man for Babar. Babar is twisted. It's the Pulp Fiction of children's literature. Here's a quick jaunt through the highlights.

Page 1 - Babar is born.. His mother sings him to sleep each night. Baby Elephant Walk, I would think.
Page 4 - Babar's mother is shot, with what appears to be an Army and Navy double barreled .500 elephant gun. The bloody lazy illustrator failed to indicate the external hammers, so I am not positive on this point.
Page 5 - Babar's mother dies, and her murderer comes after Babar, presumably with visions of ivory billiard balls dancing in his head.
Page 11 - Babar finds an elderly lady who gives him money because she is sexually attracted to elephants and can read their minds. The book doesn't state this explicitly, but it's there. It's all about the subtext, people.
Page 12 - Babar rides the elevator until he is directed to a male prostitute.
Page 13 - Babar dresses up like a giant leprechaun with a spats fetish.
Page 14 - Babar gets his picture taken by Adolf Hitler.
Page 17 - Babar, in a thong, does tai chi with his elderly sugar mamma.
Page 19 - "The Old Lady has given him the car. She gives him whatever he wants."
Page 30 - The King of the Elephants overdoses on shrooms.
Page 36 - Babar agrees to become King of the Elephants, but only if they let him marry his cousin.
Page 37 - In his first act as King, Babar makes the elephant who nominated him for King his secretary of defense. This is why Judge Scalia expects to be Chief Justice one day soon.
Page 39 - Babar forces a camel to buy a wedding gown.
Page 41 - Babar gets married, goes into musth and tramples the other members of the wedding party! Wait, no, he just gets married. Damn.
Pages 42 and 43 - Mixed species dance party! This is obviously a clever commentary on the Jim Crow laws of the 1930's. Once again, subtext. Don't try this at home unless you're an English major, folks.

Ngnat got through it ok, which is more than I can say for me, alternating as I was between absolute horror "His mommy died! What the hell is this doing in a kid's book?" and Beavis "Shrooms, huh-huh huh-huh". She put it in her pile afterwards, so I suppose I'll be reading it again and again for a while, until she tires of it or asks Mommy if the hunter is going to shoot her, too.

Amazon tells me The Travels of Babar should be here in a week or so. I can't wait.


*Free No-prize to the first person to correctly guess the book we were reading.

See this post and others of better quality at Blog Critics!

Posted by Bigwig at September 5, 2002 09:50 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
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