Home' LOTL : March 2005 Contents ARE THERE HIDDEN MEANINGS IN THE
STORIES WE TELL OUR CHILDREN?
BRIDGET HAIRE FINDS OUT.
Isn't it cute how Republicans -- and I
mean the US militarists, not our
homegrown Gough-for-president types --
get upset at the hint of a queer subtext in
children's stories? Murderous
stepmothers, absent and/or ineffectual
fathers, threats of starvation or exposure
in the forest, cannibalism, incarceration,
solitary confinement, slavery -- the
traditional fare of fairy tales -- is all
wholesome family fun, but a male
character with a handbag is just too
The nuclear family is interestingly absent
from classic fairy tales and nursery
rhymes, but there's no getting away from it
in modern children's literature. Mum, dad
and the kids are everywhere. This
has clearly been a subject of some
consideration for my two-and-a half-year
old who explained to me in a somewhat
condescending manner when we were
reading a new library book that the heroine's
Mama was in the toilet doing a massive poo,
and hence absent from the tale.
Of course we have some of Learn to
Include's lesbian family books, and one
featuring Fair Day has been on high
rotation recently. The reason is not the
'two mums' (Lucy finds the idea of
having two mums funny -- she has a
mummy and a mama). She likes the Fair
Day book, she tells me, because it's a bit
like Bob the Builder. There's a dog show
Relationships between fictional characters
form the basis of a lot of Lucy's creative
play, but this centres upon characters
whose relationships are not too rigidly
defined. This, I think, gives her room to
move between them and play out different
levels of control or dependency that, at
her stage of development, is pivotal. It's
more subtle than playing mother-and-
baby, which requires a huge burden of
The duck, squirrel and cat from Helen
Cooper's marvellous books Pumpkin Soup
and A Pipkin of Pepper are always
popping up at playtime. These creatures
all sleep together in a big bed and spend
their days cooking food and playing
music, but strong passions - ambition,
jealousy and love - simmer beneath the
surface of the soup pot. (There's even an
elegant Oedipal analogy as control of the
wooden stirring spoon is snatched, giving
occasion to the phrase most beloved of
two-year-olds: "That's mine!")
The drama in these books comes from the
creature negotiating their roles with
respect of each other, a parallel to the
development of independence in the
young child and the ongoing power
negotiations with the mother/s.
But for all the artistic rigour of Duck,
Squirrel and Cat, there's the mind-
numbing Bananas in Pyjamas. Amy,
Morgan and Lulu -- the teddies from
Bananas in Pyjamas -- are permanent
residents at our place.
I try to stay patient. I try to look on the
bright side. After all, Morgan is sexually
ambiguous, and that should be interesting.
I always assumed Morgan was a baby-
butch tom-teddy. Lulu is the high-femme,
stereotypically irritating (don't these
people realise that you can do 'girly-girl'
with irony?) and oddly inflected French, I
think, with a strange Scottish lilt. And she's
a bear of colour, but there's no exploration
of how that affects her life. Then there's
Amy, who seems to be just an ordinary girl
kind of teddy. There is no mother figure, no
father figure, no one works and everyone
seems to go out at any time of the day or
night and do exactly as they please.
The teddies famously hang out with a
couple of fruits with serious identity-
merger issues in a white-picket
fenced abode in Cuddles Avenue.
Nothing ever happens.
There are at least fifty Banana-inspired
children's books in every library,
playgroup and bookshop. None of these
have any plot, drama, suspense or other
textual attributes that we might identify as
desirable. And yet there is something
catchy about the way these characters
speak to each other.
At night, beloved daughter in my arms,
reading those same books over and over
again, the rhythm of Banana-speak starts
to make sense.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking,
"I think I am, M2."
"It's gin-and-tonic time." e
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