Saturday, February 23, 2013

Are toddlers lonely? -- Blue Chameleon

A chameleon is the protagonist of Emily Gravett's simple-plotted story with minimalist illustrations and text. He enters the story in a blue state and with the lament "I'm lonely," after which he proceeds to change his colors and even shape as he goes about trying to make friends with a banana, a boot, a spotted ball, a sock, a fish, etc. until he gives up and becomes white and nearly invisible.

A colorful fellow chameleon eventually comes along and is the first to answer the lonely guy's minimal queries such as "Hello" and "Can we hang out together?"

I wouldn't read Blue Chameleon to my children or grandchildren because the social dynamics of the story are so unrealistic and foreign to the world of this age child.

Why introduce someone so young as to not know his colors to the concept of loneliness? If there is a deeper message to the book, it might be that if you are a Colorful Character you might make friends more easily -- yes, why not get the kids started early on, stressing over their self-image. It could be seen as a cautionary tale as well, a heads-up that inanimate objects or fish won't be likely to answer your greetings.

These messages are beyond the concerns of children I have known in my own family and in my day-care business. I haven't seen a child who was worried about friends until at least Kindergarten, and at that time I would rather teach them how to be a friend rather than start them off with the example of discontent and self-focus.

If a child has someone there to read this book to him, he is not alone and already has at least one other human in his life. But if friendlessness is truly a problem for a very young child, I can't see that this story would do anything to help.   

I'd prefer to teach colors with a book like The Color Kittens -- not that anyone is in dire need of a book to learn about this aspect of every single item in his environment.
The animal in this story is not a good representative of his species; real chameleons use their color-changing abilities in order to make themselves unseen, not the opposite. To hide from enemies, not to make friends. And I'm pretty sure they don't change their shape, or take on more than one color at a time, unlike these storybook creatures -- or the stuffed toy in my living room -- who go about with all their colors shining brilliantly at once.

I suppose the biggest problem with this book is that I find it boring, so I am annoyed with it and try to figure out what bothers me. Too many books for the very young aren't any fun for the adults and I suspect that that is one reason they don't read to the children as much as might be profitable. Next time I should write about a book I love to read to children. But you probably already know about all of those!


M.K. said...

What an excellent assessment on many levels. I don't think this is the only book that offends in this way -- trying very badly to instruct children in things they're really not interested in, at the age level indicated by the text and pictures. Do writers not consider these things? I imagine it's about sales -- b/c who buys a child a book? An adult. So, a parent or grandparent who's afraid Jimmy is lonely (at 3 years old!) buys him a book. Like you, I don't understand why some adults transfer their emotions on the very young. So damaging. And you are so right -- give a book that teaches him how to be friendly. That's not hard to do!

BrightSoul said...

I have read hundreds of hours of books that were uplifiting to ME as well as entertaining to the child.. I agree that this type of book is useless and doesn't help society either! My favourite for children is the Peter Rabbit tales. I never tire of the great illustrations ( encouraging art) or the people that populate the books. The animals are in their own surrounding, even if humanized with clothing. There is never a doubt about "bad" and "good", either, sly or generous, deceitful or artless...all is there with a gentle "poke" at society and human weakness, without getting all "oh, dear, how can we solve the whole world's problems" presented to one who cannot yet read!

James the Thickheaded said...

Haven't read "Me Too Iguana" in some time. Will have to go back and look at that. I liked it at the time. Thanks! for pointing out the subtleties.

Jo said...

Don't you hate stupid children's books? They make me so mad, because children should have marvellous, wondrous books that make their minds pop, not lukewarm, mediocre books or in this case, just plain wrong books.
So glad to see you are applying your not inconsiderable literary criticism skills to those board books now!

And yes, there are some books that definitely need to be used for kindling some cold winter's day.. everything with a disney princess on the cover, for instance..

Anna Ilona Mussmann said...

It's interesting that a very "PC" message ("be yourself") appears to also communicate a very non-PC moral (you can only be friends with your own kind/species).

Harmony said...

I appreciate your thinking through this humble but important subject of Books for the Very Young. It encourages me to do the same :) I find there is never enough time to read my child the books I myself enjoy and find interesting and educational, but I lack the courage to purge the shelves of all the books I avoid. Right now we'd be okay with only the Little House books for several months, I bet, but we have all these inferior distractors.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Wonderful post, Gretchen; it seems to be my hot topic lately but, remember the childhood song, "be careful little eyes what you see; be careful little ears what you hear; be careful little hands what you do...
I believe it was Khrushchev who said, "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man."