Lighten Up: This Children’s Book is Messed Up: The Story of Babar
Memory is a fickle thing, sometimes failing us when we hold it up against the indisputable facts of our past experiences. This was certainly true for Matt Ufford and his recollection of Jean de Brunhoff's The Story of Babar. In a hilarious post for Deadspin, he recalls (with horror) how his take on the story changed once he revisited it as an adult:
The Story of Babar begins with Babar as a baby elephant who loves his mother. His mother loves him. He is carefree and plays with the other elephants and gets elephant-back rides. Then you turn the page, and …
BLAMMO! Mama gets straight-up murdered before you’ve even settled into your chair. Bambi’s mom had a long and rich life by comparison. Credit the de Brunhoffs for tapping into one of the very few issues of 1931 that are relevant in 2018. Honestly, the entire list is probably: elephant poaching, fascism, and, like, the Yankees.
Not that I’m trying to shield my children from the reality of death, mind you. My daughter, age 3, relies on books to relate to the world around her, and this sledgehammer of a plot point provides an inconvenient but worthwhile impetus to talk about how everything that lives eventually dies, and that death is part of life. When we finish the book, she’ll often turn back to the page where Babar’s mother dies and absorb the scene, eyes darting over the details with concern.
Her: Why is he crying?
Me: Because he’s sad.
Why is he sad?
Because his mother died.
Why did she die?
Because the hunter killed her.
Why did he kill her?
Well, some hunters kill animals for food. But the hunters that kill elephants think that they’re trophies.
But they’re not.
No, I don’t think so.
Do I LIKE having that conversation with my daughter? I do not. I just want to tickle her and sing songs from Moana while the world around us burns. But our dog is gonna die. Grandma and Grandpa are gonna die, and Mom and Dad too, eventually. I’d rather my kids have a familiarity with death—intellectually, at least, if not emotionally—when it inevitably makes its introduction to our family.
Besides, Jean de Brunhoff was in World War I and died of tuberculosis at age 37. I’m willing to cut the guy some slack on the subject of premature death.
Read (and weep from laughing) Matt’s entire post here.