In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Is it leftist?

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Taking the political message-bearing kids' book modern, I'm reminded of Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type.  It's the first in what has become a series of stories about Farmer Brown and the animals on his farm: a rowdy bunch of cows, chickens, pigs, and ducks who he views with suspicion but can never quite outsmart.

It's the cows who start trouble in Click, Clack, Moo.  They find an old typewriter in the barn, and loud typing is followed quickly by articulated demands.  Farmer Brown finds a note nailed to the barn door:

Dear Farmer Brown, 
The barn is very cold 
at night.  
We'd like some electric 
The Cows

When Farmer Brown refuses their demand, the cows go on strike ("Sorry.  We're closed.  No milk today."), followed soon after by the chickens, who stop producing eggs because they want electric blankets too.

Farmer Brown counters with his own typewritten note:

Dear Cows and Hens:
There will be no electric blankets.
You are cows and hens.
I demand milk and eggs.
Farmer Brown

Duck is chosen as the neutral party to communicate this ultimatum (in later books, Duck becomes the animals' ringleader; here, he's just getting started).  The Cows counter-offer to give Farmer Brown the typewriter in exchange for the electric blankets.  He agrees.  In the last two pages, the ducks seize the typewriter for their own use....

There's something deeply pleasing about the total daffiness of the book: electric blankets?  Typewriters?  Cronin's text is deadpan and very funny, and Lewin's big-eyed animals and crotchety farmer incredibly expressive.  But just below the daffiness, it's not hard to find a message about the power of collective bargaining.  The cows, chickens, and ducks work together to make quality-of-life demands from their employer, and they succeed.

This idea hasn't gone unnoticed, on either the right or the left.  Click, Clack, Moo appears as a recommended resource on the Zinn Education Project website with the tags "Labor" and "Organizing."  A couple of months ago, a conservative radio talk show accused elementary school teachers of using the book as part of a larger "left-wing indoctrination." They also found it "anti-creationist," because the animals are depicted as being on the same level as humans, rather than subordinate to them.  (I don't think these guys read very many children's books.)

As with so many books, for children and adults alike, I feel like the message that comes through has to do as much with the context of the reading as the text itself.  We've said it before: the conversations you have with your kids about a book help cement the meaning they take from it.  And we've said it before: sometimes the meaning they take from a book isn't the one the book is promoting at all.  Hard to tell, at this age, what will stick.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Annie! And THIS is why we use Click Clack Moo to discuss with our girls the need for military intervention with farm animals. Especially ducks.

    Seriously, though, it's one of our favorites -- this and the others in the series.