Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | November 12, 2009

Doomer Childrens’ Literature

News:  Ithaca is Doomed is now updated every Thursday morning!  Also, I’d like to give a big shout out to my amazingly talented wife, who used her skillz to make a new banner for the blog.  For those who don’t live around here, it’s a take off on the ever popular “Ithaca is Gorges” slogan that adorns t-shirts and bumper stickers in our region.  Now, on to this week’s post:

Most parents want their children to adopt their values.  Doomers are no exception.  Does this mean I want my son to grow up with  an all-pervasive sense of pessimism and vague dread?  Of course not!  What I do hope is that he will develop a mindset and a host of thinking skills that will serve him well no matter what reality dishes up for his future.  With that in mind, one thing I tend to do is use words like “civilized,” “consumer,” “development,” and “progress” in pejorative contexts with a sneering inflection to my voice.  Another, is to read age- appropriate literature with doom related themes.  Here are a few such books and their related thematic contexts.   All of these have been in heavy rotation in our household without any undue exertion on the parental side.

Farewell to Shady Glade, Bill Peet:  A group of animals hop a train to find a new home after their Shady Glade is destroyed by encroaching development.  Doomer theme:  Learn how to do effective monkeywrenching.

The Caboose Who Got Loose, Bill Peet:  A Red Caboose tires of her life as a utilitarian object and longs to be a cabin in the woods.  One lucky day, her coupling breaks on a big hill and she jumps the tracks.  Doomer theme:  Don’t rationalize your role in society.  Always be on the lookout for the fortunate set of circumstances that might allow you to break free.

The Wump World, Bill Peet:  The Moose-like Wumps live peacefully on their small planet until the Pollutians arrive.  The Pollutians,who believe strongly in Manifest Destiny, have left their decaying world in order to start a new life.  The Wumps are driven underground while the Pollutians set on a course of rampant development that quickly renders the Wump World inhospitable.  The Pollutians blame each other for the fact that they can’t breathe the air or drink the water, and demand that their idiotic leader find them a new world.  Fortunately for the Wumps, the Pollutians blast off, leaving them a world forever changed, but with one last glimmer of wild hope.  Doomer theme:  Infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet.  Congratulations!  Now your child can learn a lesson most Ivy League educated economists don’t appear to grasp.

Bill Peet’s books are replete with doomer themes.  In his illustrations, he tends to portray the world of nature in a sympathetic light.  Nature tends to represent freedom and sustenance for his characters, both human and non-human.  Cities and machines, on the other hand, are portrayed as dark monstrosities, belching smoke and oozing with pollution.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories Dr. Seuss:  Yertle, the Fascist Dictator of Sala-ma-sond pond, decides his throne must be higher.  He orders his fellow turtles to pile themselves up, one atop the other so that he can rule over an ever-expanding domain.  When he decides he must get higher than the moon, his hubris leads to his downfall as Mack, a lowly turtle at the bottom, decides he’s not going to take it anymore.  Doomer theme:  Don’t listen to anyone above you who tries to justify your place in the hierarchy.  The book also features Gertrude McFuzz which cautions against the dangers of vanity and prescription drug abuse.

Weslandia, Paul Fleischmann:  Wesley doesn’t fit in with the other kids in his soulless suburban neighborhood.  For his summer project, he decides to found his own civilization, based around the idea that each great civilization has relied on a staple food crop.  A magical fruit seed blows into Wesley’s backyard which serves his “civilization” for food crop, fiber, building material, bug repellent (which he sells at outrageous prices to the kids who used to torment him in a great bit of Schadenfreude), and fuel.  In the end, many of the neighborhood kids adopt Wesley’s way of life.  Doomer lesson:  The book highlights the permaculture principle of planting for multiple use.

The Runaway Squash, Gale Wiersum:  A boy plants a squash seed obtained from a “shady” character.  The Butternut Squash that results is  a monstrosity that ends up taking the boy for a wild ride.  Doomer theme:  Save your own seed!  Genetic engineering is bad, very bad.

To close, a poem:  The other night, my five-year old son was worried about the idea of helicopters dropping bombs on our house.  While I was able to soothe his fears by reassuring him that this sort of thing doesn’t happen around Ithaca, New York, it was disquieting that a child who has never even seen an Apache helicopter in action would lay awake at night worrying about one.  What really made me sad was the thought of all the children in  the world for whom this is a daily concern.  I thought this poem by William Stafford would be a good response to such worries:

Yes

It could happen any time,

tornado, earthquake, Armageddon.

It could happen.

Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know.  That’s why we wake

and look out–no guarantees

in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,

like right now, like noon,

like evening.

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Responses

  1. Hi Glen —

    The new look is good… props to your wife 😉

    I LOVE Yertle… we mostly read the shorter stories when my sone was young, but that was always a favorite when we had time. He’s too old for kids books now, but its nice to know that there are some for the younger gen…

    tp


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