Friday, August 26, 2005

Funny bunnies

What is it with bunnies and children’s books from the 40s?? Do you know what I’m talking about? We have the required smattering of classic children’s books, which we read to Heavy D (his 80s-throwback moniker) on a regular basis: Pat the Bunny, The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon. I love these books—apparently Goodnight Moon was my own favorite when I was a kid. But what’s with all the bunnies? I’ve been toying with explanations all day and had pretty much narrowed it down to the fact that bunnies must stand for something related to the Cold War (white bunnies have pink eyes, and during the Cold War everybody called Russians “pinko commies,” right?) or were a vehicle for spreading Aryan-nation-type propaganda (look, all the bunnies are pure white—-all of ‘em. That’s all I’m saying.) But I finally came to the conclusion that those explanations actually suggest something even more insidious—like that people with an MA in English should not be left alone all day with children’s books.

So even if you don’t buy my classic-children’s-books -as-social-commentary theory, these texts are pretty darn strange by today’s standards. For those of you who have been living in an underground bunker since, say, 1939, let me tell you what I mean: the plot in Goodnight Moon, for instance, is riddled with a number of strange events: one goes through the “great green room” with the narrator, saying goodnight to everything (socks, clocks, kittens, mittens, bears on chairs, etc.), and there’s a point where one says goodnight to nobody. That’s right, you say “Goodnight, nobody.” There’s nobody there, but you’re wishing that lack of a person good night. It gets better. You then say goodnight to air. You also say goodnight to a bowl of mush. Which apparently you need, since you must have a terrible case of the munchies after smoking whatever made you say goodnight to a. nobody and b. air.

In addition, something about these books turns my husband and me, who believe ourselves to be fairly mature 32-year-olds, into Mike Myers-esque 17-year-old boys (minus the flatulence jokes, of course). In The Runaway Bunny, the little bunny tells his mother all these different things he’s going to turn into, and she always counters with what she will turn into in order to catch up with him, and so then of course he says he’ll turn into something else. The bit in question is when said small bunny says he is going to turn into a sailboat and sail away from the mother bunny and she replies that she will turn into the wind and blow the little sailboat where she wants him to go. Well, the bunny’s next line is “‘If you become the wind and blow me,’” and I must say that even though I know this line isn’t meant as a double entendre, I can still barely suppress my urge to have the bunny continue by saying “then I will have you arrested for touching me in my swimsuit area! For the sake of all that’s holy, woman, this is a family show!” Usually I am able to restrain myself and simply read the line that’s written, which is that the bunny will then join the circus or whatever.

My husband has a similar reaction to Pat the Bunny. In this story, which is known as a “touch-and-feel book” (a tagline which I feel amps up the ick-factor considerably), one first observes Judy patting the bunny and then is invited to do the same: “Now YOU pat the bunny.” If my husband manages to get through this part without snapping “I don’t want to touch your bunny. The son-of-a-b*tch bit me,” then he always loses it on the next page, where the reader is invited to play peek-a-boo with Paul by lifting a cloth to reveal Paul’s smiling face underneath. Invariably, my husband reads “Now YOU play peek-a-boo with Paul,” and then whines “But I don’t want to play peek-a-boo with Paul. It makes my tummy feel funny.”

The really sad thing is that these books have clearly been fine for the generations of kids who treasured them and are obviously dear to us or we wouldn’t be reading them to our son, and yet they inspire this infantile sense of humor anyway. What will this teach our son? Will he get thrown out of kindergarten for raising his hand and asking why the teacher left out the part about the mother bunny getting a mandatory 10-20 years for seducing a minor? Will he just make jokes out of everything and find nothing sacred? Or will be just be comforted to know that when he reads his children modern classics like Olivia or Guess How Much I Love You? and finds something socially obsolete in it, that he can laugh at it and still make it a family favorite?

Who knows. Maybe all he will learn is that an advanced degree in English can’t trump a sick sense of humor and that both often buy you more trouble than they’re worth.