A Failure to Screen

Bama reads a lot of books. A lot. She picks up a half dozen every trip to the library, and wants to read many of them at that moment. A more competent parent might screen all those books before getting them home. Me, I'm happy I've got all three of us, haven't inadvertently dropped extra (not checked out) books in the bag, and haven't fallen down the treacherous stairs from the children's room.

image from ecx.images-amazon.com

My wilding, or irresponsible, approach to reading has brought us Zathura (lots of brotherly fighting), Cosmo and the Robot (name calling), Earth to Clunk (more name calling), among others. Sometimes, as with Cosmo and the Robot, I edit out the name and carry on because there's more in the book that I like. Zathura, I put aside for when she is older.

image from ecx.images-amazon.com
image from ecx.images-amazon.com

We've also brought home The Widow's Broom (loved the dark brilliance of it), Gossie (and all the gosling books), the beautiful friendship of Toot & Puddle, the humanist All the World, When Carmen Learned English, and the list goes on. Many are way above her comprehension level (Two of a Kind, Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride), but she's curious and asks good questions and uses the pictures to sort out some of what she doesn't understand. A friend said, Oh, you didn't read the books ahead of time? Not always, no. I wish I did, but I don't. Sometimes, we sit and read and there you have it. Me, editing out "stupid" on the fly.

Today, after a night interrupted by wet beds, teething, sheet changes, and sobs we had a play-date and whirling trip to the library. I almost never say yes to television, but today I offered it. Something new, and sweet. I flipped through netflix screens hoping she wouldn't spot an image like Dora and ask to watch it. Babar! Yes! 

image from ecx.images-amazon.com

Babar, King of Elephants. How bad could it be? We already knew about Babar's mother murder and that the king dies from eating a poisonous mushroom. Yeah. Except in this drawn out version, Babar's mother is shot while he's on her back.

image from www.cinemotions.com
(image: cinemotions)

As she falls dead, he's hurtled from her shoulders to go bouncing through a jungle clearing. He goes back to her, calling to her, finds her dead. Birds chirp louder, the monkey screams, and the hunter returns with his double-barrel shotgun. Babar, in a panic, runs, as he does in the book. But in the book, he runs for a page and finds himself in the ciyt with the kindly old lady. In this movie, he runs across a desert, through mountains, in the night, into a cave (to be chased out be a leopard), into another cave (to be frightened off by a cobra), swept away by a flash flood. Each element sent Bama into new panic — he's never going to stop running! What's going on with the water? Why can't he run? What's happening? 

Later, I explain that some snakes are poisonous and will bite things to hurt them — this after the kindly old woman is bit by a cobra. Bama thinks snakes are nice. I do not, in fact, want to dispel her of this idea. Ditto spiders. I'd like her to be interested in creatures that generally freak me out in part because I think my own oogies are lame, in part because she's a girl and I'd like her to be of hte 1% that doesn't get creeped out by bugs and snakes.

Then comes the rhino battle. Doesn't bother her, we move ahead. Cornelius' house burns down, the old lady is bit, and Alexander — one of Babar's children — nearly drowns. Mired by worries, Babar has a nightmare. 

The second the video showed a glowing door I told Bama to close her eyes. Too late. 

image from hilobrow.com
See the scary thing on the far left, the white thing with the nose on the back of something? She saw that before I got it together and turned off the television. She's been asking about the ghost on the alligator all night. Would it come to our house, would it live here, why did it go to Babar. She didn't see the sequence, when the elephants chase the demons away, but I tried to tell her Babar chased it away.

Then she read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. A book I chose, but wasn't 100 percent about and had set aside. She found it and gave it to Mister, who hadn't read it but thought it must be okay if I'd brought it home from the library and it was sitting around.

image from 1.bp.blogspot.com(Image from Sam and Boo Book Reviews as well as a good write-up and discussion on this as a banned book.)

Anyone read Sylvester? He is an only child, a collector of rocks. He finds a magic pebble that grants wishes. An encounter with a lion, he wishes to be a rock so the lion doesn't eat him. Bam. He's a rock. His parents don't know where he is, the police can't find him, he's vanished. (Sylvester needs to be touching the pebble to work its magic.) In the end, after a long while, the pebble rolls near enough and everything works out.

But when they read it, I was out of the house. It was enough for our girl and sent her over the edge. Dead mother? Scary ghost things? Babar running endlessly and nowhere? A goddamn rock?

There are growth moments here, somewhere. But now I need a new safety trick for her, because I'd relied on magic rocks as her security (under the pillow, in her pocket) and after tonight, I'm not sure she'll be so keen. The big takeaway? It may be as easy as no TV, but could be watch everything first.

Doesn't that idea just make you retch? 

A Failure to Screen

2 thoughts on “A Failure to Screen

  1. Haven’t told you the Mulan story yet. I, as a rule, avoid Disney films, mostly because of the excessive princess themes, but also on account of the villians. Too much for our kiddos. J picked it out though one night, recalling that the dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy was a hoot. True, but he failed to remember the epic battle scenes. We should have turned it off the moment B asked, “Why did China need to build a big wall?”
    I barely have time to get the kids dressed, fed, and out the door in a timely fashion. Have no time to read for myself and am certainly not going to spend my precious minutes pre-reading their books. You learn to edit on the fly. They take what they need from the stories. I figure that at least 50% of the reading experience is about the snuggling, so if I get that right we’re at least halfway OK.


  2. Babar is horrid, but then again my mom read them to me as a kid and I didn’t realize how pro-colonial they were until I was an adult. Also, BORING. The boring is almost as bad as the racism.


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