Bad Picture Book

Young LarryGenerally, I can find something that appeals to me in picture books.  For example, if I don’t particularly enjoy the story, then the art work usually is beautiful.  Last week, though, my dd picked up Young Larry by Daniel Pinkwater, and I read a few pages and refused to read more.

This book is about a young polar bear cub that enjoys eating muffins.  After his mother kicks him out and he is alone he accidentally drifts away on an ice slab and finds himself in New Jersey.  Larry must then figure out what he will do to earn enough money for tasty muffins.  The story line is amusing and the illustrations are so-so, but it is the manner with which the story opens that I do not agree with.  I certainly understand that polar bears are not cuddly and that life in the wild can be harsh at times, but this is a children’s book and these facts can be presented in a better way, imo.

Snippets from the beginning of the story:

“Some day, when we are big polar bears, maybe we can hunt with our father, ” Larry said.

“I doubt it,” their mother said. “He would probably give you a hit on the head, and tell you to get lost.”

“One day, I will give you a hit in the head myself, ” their mother said.  “And send you off to take care of yourselves.”

“Wow.  That is harsh,” Larry and Roy said.

“It is Nature’s way,” Larry and Roy’s mother said.

“Well, I don’t like it,” Larry said.

“Nobody is asking you to like it.  You are bears.  Get used to it.”

“Those are humans,” Larry and Roy’s mother said.  It is OK to eat them, but they taste funny.”

“Maybe I will eat one some time,” Roy said.

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7 thoughts on “Bad Picture Book

  1. Hi. I am the author. I have written a number of books with polar bears as characters, which my wife has brilliantly illustrated. In her illustrations, she makes a point of always drawing the bears’ claws, and although no people are eaten, and in fact they are nice bears, I usually include mention of the fact that polar bears might eat people. We do this mainly because, as unlikely as it may be, we don’t want to feel responsible for some child making a serious mistake with a real polar bear. (Recently, I saw a picture book about a friendly rattlesnake that plays with children–this struck me as irresponsible on the part of the publisher). Thousands of children have read, and love, Young Larry and the other books in the series. I don’t think any children have been traumatized by it. They can be given credit for being able to understand, and the adult reading the book with them, can make sure it’s clear that these are bears, not people, and this is what their life in the wild is like. I am glad no one protected me from Hansel and Gretel, all of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and so many wonderful children’s stories which also have difficult and scary elements. I am even more glad that whoever is objecting to Young Larry was not in charge of my early reading experiences.

    1. I am certainly grateful that you have added your point of view. I would like to point out that my child does enjoy fairy tales and has no problem with “difficult and scary elements.” We have read the Lang, Anderson, and Grimms tales. I routinely read non-fiction books to her and we are about ready to begin on basic dissections.
      My problem with your book is in the first few pages. I believe that you could have worded those (for me) problematic passages in such a way that your point that polar bears are not cuddly animals would have been conveyed in a more child-friendly manner. Having a story where the father wants nothing to do with the cubs and that the mother tells her children to get over the fact that she will shun them at some point in the near future does not serve any point in this book. You go on to write a story where a polar bear becomes a lifeguard in New Jersey so that he can afford to buy muffins! Why bother writing the first part about polar bears potentially eating people when later on in the story the polar bear is rescuing a person? That is what makes no sense to me.
      I am sorry that you have taken this critique so personally. I did not like the book and I did not find the illustrations to be special. However, this is the only book of yours that I have read (out of hundreds of books) and I hope that your others may be more worthy of my reading.

      1. I assure you, I don’t take the critique personally. But to try to explain to you why the book is written the way it is would be to explain how writing is done, and would serve no purpose. I have written about 100 books, and from what I can infer of your taste, there are only one or two that you might possibly not object to. I suggest you steer clear of them all–there are plenty of books by other authors more worthy of your reading. Oh, and the illustrations are special–you just don’t have an educated eye.

        1. *Sigh* I believe we shall have to agree to disagree. I am sorry that you are so upset about my review, and I wish that you had taken a more civil tone in your reply.

          I am not sure where you get the idea that I only approve of a few books, as this is simply not true. We follow a classical style of education and your book, I feel, will not make it onto the Great Books list. I will be more diligent in screening the books that my daughter picks out from the library to make sure that we do not bring home more twaddle. As to my education, it is true that my Ph.D. is in the sciences and not in the fine arts.

          1. I am not sure where you get the idea that I am upset. I found this exchange highly entertaining, and possibly instructive to some. Best of luck, and do continue your efforts to twaddle-proof your home.

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