The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant: Fuse 8 n’ Kate Transcription
This week Kate and I didn’t release a new episode of our podcast. In lieu of that, she’s typed up a transcript of our Babar episode, for those of you that would prefer our banter in written form. Here then is the episode in full. Many thanks, indeed, to Kate for doing the dirty work of writing this all down:
Two sisters lived on separate sides of the States
One in NYC and the other L.A.
They both moved to Chicago and decided to stay
Now here’s their playful podcast packed with kid lit parley
Children’s books (are they really that great?)
Talking children’s books is, with Kate and Fuse 8
Children’s books (why, what, and how?)
Fuse 8 and Kate will break it down for you now…
Kate: Ah one… ah two… ah one two three! (singing) “I’ve got spuuuurs, that jingle jangle jingle…”
Betsy: (singing) “That jingle jangle!”
Kate: (singing) “And they’re…(mumbled singing because Kate forgot the words)… merrily along!” You know, I could just get the sheet music, it’s right over there.
Betsy: I have the sheet music. I don’t actually know the song. I just own it because I think the picture on the front looks funny.
Kate: I know it from “Fallout”.
Betsy: What is “Fallout”?
Kate: It’s a video game about… it’s a post-apocalyptic and it takes place… well, there’s, like, Fallout New Vegas…
Betsy: (interrupting) This seems like an awfully cheery song for a post-apocalyptic game.
Kate: Well, because when the world blew up because of atomic bombs…
Betsy: Right…with you so far.
Kate: …a whole bunch of people went into shelters underground in the 1950s.
Kate: And then when they came out, they come out for like food and whatever but all their music and entertainment is from the 50s.
Betsy: Wasn’t there a movie about that? Like a guy whose family goes into a bunker and then they come out… Alicia Silverstone was in it?
Kate: Oh… oh! “Blast from the Past”?
Betsy: That’s it!
Kate: Brendan Fraser?
Betsy: Brendan Fraser! I kept wanting to say a different Brendan but I knew it was wrong. Yes! Brendan Fraser.
Kate: This is the pointless information that I have in my head that will serve no one but you.
Betsy: What are you talking about? This serves a perfect point. It’s exactly what I need at this point in time and while we’re thinking about it, who are you?
Kate: I am Kate, the girl with useless information!
Betsy: That’s wonderful! I’m Betsy. I have equally useless information but in entirely different areas.
Kate: Well done.
Betsy: Hooray! Why are we here?
Kate: A, to discuss children’s picture books and whether we deem them worthy of being on someone’s bookshelf or not.
Betsy: That’s correct. I meant “why are we here?” in the greater sense of like, “Why are we here?”
Kate: Why are we in your basement?
Betsy: Oh, well, we’re in my basement because it sounds so good down here? Question mark, question mark? We’re going to go with that.
Kate: It’s not too bad.
Betsy: Yeah, I’m still not sure. Last time we were here we saw a crucifix was somewhere in here. Our previous owners had left it and I had never seen before. Now it seems to have disappeared again, so…uhhh…
Kate: It’s right over there.
Kate: Up there.
Betsy: Oh there it is! Yes, there it is. Okay, good.
Kate: (laughing) Don’t worry, the Jew will find the crucifix!
Betsy: (laughing) Exactly… as says Scripture? Very confused now.
Betsy: So last time, we did “Curious George”.
Betsy: I did not have a copy of “Furious George Goes Bananas” on hand. I have it now. It is lovely and I have it for you. And you’re not going to look at it now but at some point in the near future, I highly recommend that you look at it. Today’s book is very much along the same lines as “Curious George” but is not “Curious George”…
Betsy: …or its sequels. Or any of that because I like you still.
Betsy: And I thought I’d spare you at least a week. So don’t like you that much because guess what I book I did get you? It is… ta da!
Kate: “The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant”
Betsy: The little elephant… who’s it by?
Kate: By (in a bad French accent) Jean de Brunhoff.
Betsy: Oui! Jean de Brunhoff. Because apparently, when it comes to stories about animals in Africa having questionable relationships with people…
Kate: Wait, this is Africa?
Kate: It’s not France?
Betsy: Actually, it’s a little unclear. You’re just going to have to read it.
Kate: I like it already because he has a top hat. Who doesn’t like that top hat?
Betsy: I believe that should be a bowler… is it… no that’s a bowler, my friend. It’s very clear in the text that that is a bowler.
Kate: Alright, I like it.
Betsy: Alright then you better go read that thing.
Betsy: While Kate goes upstairs and reads the book, I have a fun fact for you today about “Babar”. It’s absolutely, I can guarantee, not what you were expecting. Here is your fun fact about “Babar” of the day: if you search for “Babar” in your local library catalogue and it brings up other titles alphabetically, the item that comes up right before ”Babar” is the Babadook. Just sit on that for a while. Smoke that one in your pipe. Think about the implications. Alrighty then.
Betsy: And we’re back.
Betsy: That’s a big long book.
Kate: Yes it is!
Betsy: It was a little surprising, wasn’t it?
Kate: Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it to be so long.
Betsy: It goes a while.
Betsy: So I’ve got a question for you: I know that we’ve done accents when you’ve described the plots of these books.
Betsy: We’ve done French, right?
Kate: I don’t think so.
Betsy: Have we not done French?
Kate: (in a bad French accent) I don’t think so.
Betsy: (in an even worse French accent) Well zen we better do it now!
Kate: (in the worst French accent) If we have, we’ll do it again!
Betsy: We have to do it!
(“Baby Elephant” song plays)
Kate: Zee story tells of a young elefaunt Babar, whose mamon is keeled by a hun-tear. Babar eh-scapes, and in zee process, leaves ze jungle, visits a big sea-tea, and returns to bring ze benefits of see-ville-eh-za-shun to his fellow elefaunt. Just az he returnz to his community of elefaunts, the keeng dies from eating a bad mushroom. Because of his travelzs and see-ville-eh-za-shun, Babar is appointed keeng of the elefaunt kingdom. He marriez his cuzin, and ze go on the honeymun aftervardz.
Betsy: So what’d’ya think?
Kate: This is so depressing.
Betsy: Oh yes!
Kate: And so screwed up. And it teaches so many awful lessons.
Betsy: Yes! Yes!
Kate: And I…it uses words that shouldn’t be in children’s books and I just don’t understand why this is a popular children’s book.
Kate: Cause I know it’s popular cause I’ve heard of it.
Betsy: So you loooove it then?
Betsy: I’m hearing love. I’m feeling waves of love emanating off of you.
Kate: There’s no amour, mon sœur. It is… somethin’, I’ll give it that.
Betsy: Mmmm hmmm. So what struck you as not entirely delightful about this…?
Kate: Well, I have so many notes with so many questions.
Betsy: Oh great!
Kate: I will try and plow through these as fast as I can…
Betsy: Go for it.
Kate: …cause there’s a lot going on here.
Betsy: There is. There’s a lot to unpack.
Kate: Yeah. So, first off…
Betsy: Oh! There’s a lot to unpack…aderm! Eh?? Eh??
Betsy: They’re elephants.
Betsy: Moving on…
Kate: Okay (laughing). So it starts with the mom rocking Babar with her trunk. It just…
Betsy: You know, that was a lot easier for me to read when I was a kid. Now that I’m a mom, I have a hard time with this.
Kate: Really, with the rocking?
Betsy: No! Just the mom… you know what’s going to happen to the mom and you’re just like, “Look…”
Kate: Well, it says she rocks him to sleep. It fails to mention, she rocks him to sleep in a hammock.
Betsy: In an elephant hammock.
Kate: Where did this hammock come from?
Betsy: I don’t know but if these elephants are so advanced that they’ve invented hammocks? I say go for it.
Kate: I don’t think so. I think it was leftover by a human and they should stay far, far away.
Betsy: Oh, that’s probably actually pretty right. They’re probably like, “Look, a hammock!”
Kate: And I don’t think this was written by a French man and I’ll tell you why.
Betsy: Okay, why is that?
Kate: Even though he has a very French name…
Betsy: He does.
Kate: Because I’m looking at all these elephants… there are zero anuses.
Kate: There are plenty of opportunities to put a little dot.
Betsy: We don’t know that the dots weren’t erased on the American publication. If I had the original French, we could compare but… besides, I feel like with elephants it’s less common and more with pets but I haven’t done a comprehensive anus study of children’s literature.
Kate: Everyone has an anus, Betsy.
Betsy: This is all hearsay and conjecture. Not everyone.
Kate: Anyways, so (laughing) all these elephants are playing around… la la la…Babar is on his mom’s back, everything’s happy, and all of a sudden… she’s dead.
Kate: I was like, “This is like Bambi!”
Betsy: It’s like Bambi without the buildup. At least in Bambi, the mom says a couple times, “Watch out for the hunter, Bambi. The hunter is near.” And you have a lot of, like, you know, there’s a hunter, there’s a hunter! Here, it’s just, “Everything’s cool. Everything’s cool. Everything’s cool. My mom is dead.”
Kate: And this got dark real quick.
Betsy: (laughing) I was walking by you as you were reading it and you actually said out loud, “That got dark real quick.”
Kate: Yeah, we’re seven pages in… dead elephant.
Kate: Okay. So Babar runs away, which is the smart..
Betsy: That is the logical thing to do.
Kate: Smart, correct thing to do. You run!
Betsy: Mmm hmmm.
Kate: And he runs into the city…
Kate: …where he runs into an old lady who (laughing) just thinks that this elephant wants a good suit! “I’m going to give him all my money cause I can, I can just tell.”
Betsy: Dude, she’s very rich. And very bored.
Kate: What old lady looks at an elephant and thinks, “I bet that elephant wants a suit”?
Betsy: Does she actually say he wants a suit or was that his idea? Because I know he’s staring at the gentlemen in their suits being like, “I want a piece of that.”
Kate: It says, “Luckily, a very rich old lady who has always been fond of little elephants, understands right away that he is longing for a fine suit.”
Betsy: (laughing) To be fair, he goes on his own. He doesn’t bring her with. She tosses him the purse and is like, “Go crazy!” and he do.
Kate: Yeah, and this is just teaching kids retail therapy.
Betsy: Oh, very much so. Yeah you wanna deal with your mom’s death? Buy yourself some spats.
Kate: If you’re sad, go buy something!
Betsy: Yeah.. how about a bowler hat? Get yourself something pretty.
Kate: Ahh, but it’s not a bowler hat. It is a derby hat.
Betsy: Oh! I stand corrected. I’m sorry. I was convinced it was bowler. You’re right. It is derby. Oh dear.
Kate: But this is just the long…
Betsy: …going to turn in my credentials…
Kate: … long series of questions I have. Starting with number one – why do they own elephant-size everything?
Betsy: He’s a little elephant (laughing)
Kate: And yet, this is still an elephant and they have a elephant-sized shirt, elephant-size suit…
Betsy: Maybe they have a very fat clientele.
Kate: Elephant-size brown socks…
Betsy: Okay, that’s where it gets a little…
Kate: Elephant-size spats!
Betsy: The spats… it’s where you get to the spats… look if they make spats for Scrooge McDuck’s webby feet, surely they can make spats for an elephant.
Kate: And they do.
Betsy: And so they do.
Kate: So he goes and he’s in his suit and he goes and gets his picture taken and then he dines with the old lady and decides to live with her.
Betsy: (pause) She likes elephants.
Kate: And he needs a place to live!
Betsy: He does. It’s actually…
Kate: It’s the perfect arrangement.
Betsy: …a pretty smart move on his part.
Kate: But (laughing) so he’s washing himself in green water.
Betsy: Well maybe…uhh…
Kate: Not blue, Betsy. Green.
Betsy: Oh, well, I’m sure the pipes at that time were not great… sure the filtration systems were not…
Kate: And he gets in her car, and he just goes out for a drive.
Betsy: It’s a roadster, like he’s Nancy Drew.
Kate: The boy can’t read…
Kate: …or write…
Betsy: No, he can’t.
Kate: …but he can drive a car?
Betsy: That’s his right. You gonna take that right away from him?
Kate: He can’t read the street signs but he can…
Betsy: They’re all in French! I couldn’t read the street signs. You gonna take my license away? (laughing)
Kate: But it’s totally fine, go drive this expensive car.
Betsy: Yeah, well she can buy another one if he crashes.
Kate: It’s at least 100 grand because she’s a rich old lady.
Betsy: At least. She’s a rich old lady and it is a snazzy little car.
Kate: But this is depressing. He’s driving along the road and there’s a tombstone?
Betsy: (looks at page) Well, that’s weird. I have never seen that.
Kate: Yeah. Just… la la la la…
Betsy: Alright, that’s bleak but maybe that was a thing. You know, hey there was an accident here, instead of those little crosses, we’ll just put an actual physical tombstone. That’s a bit much.
Kate: Maybe someone really wanted to get buried… along the road…
Betsy: I guess so.
Kate: …and the water.
Betsy: Maybe the road came later and the tombstone was there first! The water is a bit weird, though.
Betsy: Who would bury someone near a river?
Kate: I don’t know.
Betsy: It’s not a good idea. I don’t know much about burying people but I think I know that much.
Kate: Later on, as Babar and the old lady are walking along, his two cousins, his little cousins…
Betsy: Right, he’s only… he was a baby when he ran away.
Kate: At this point, two years have passed.
Betsy: So he’s like three, I’m going to say.
Kate: Right. And his little cousins…
Betsy: Right, who might be two…except he knows them so he must have been…
Kate: …maybe six months when he was a year?
Betsy: Yeah, so they might be six months younger than him.
Kate: Okay, so they come running towards him. My question: why did they run away?
Betsy: Oh, that we never know. We never know.
Kate: You know what my first instinct was?
Betsy: What’s that?
Kate: Their mom died.
Kate: Like, this is just a cycle!
Betsy: A systemic…yeah, I mean, you know…piano’s gotta have keys.
Kate: When your mom dies, you run away!
Betsy: Yeah no, I was thinking more along the lines of the story “The Elephant’s Child” and maybe they got spanked a lot but that’s a different elephant tale.
Kate: Yes, I was thinking. Or “Lonely Doll.”
Betsy: And as we find out, their moms are not dead.
Kate: Nope. Not dead.
Betsy: Not at all. Pissed off…
Kate: Yeah, a bird goes back to the jungle and says, “Hey I saw your kids, they’re over there with Babar in the city.”
Betsy: At no point did anyone go searching for Babar, by the way. I guess they just gave him up for lost.
Kate: Yeah, pretty much.
Betsy: …kinda like Simba.
Kate: So the mothers go and fetch Arthur and Celeste, the cousins, and scold them for running away…
Kate: …like ya do. But Babar decides, “I’m going to go with them! I’ve really enjoyed my time here but I think it’s time to go back to the forest and be, ya know, an elephant.” Ah-ah-ahem.
Betsy: Well look, he had a lot of stuff to unpack and to work through…
Kate: Mentally, emotionally…
Betsy: He had grief to completely ignore and just not think about and now it’s like Simba returning after eating grubs for so many years.
Kate: Simba returning in a $100,000 car because he takes her car… to the jungle!
Betsy: (laughing) No roads in the jungle!
Kate: She must be so rich that she’s like, “Take my car. Take whatever you want.”
Betsy: Yeah, she’s super rich and very bored and very lonely and the last we see of her is her…
Kate: And she’s wearing black so I think that’s a sign.
Betsy: Oh yeah, that’s a good point. But she still does her exercises every day… like she’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg or something.
Kate: Does she?
Kate: Maybe she dies? Maybe he kills all mothers. (laughing)
Betsy: Maybe he’s just death to moms.
Kate: Oh my gosh…
Betsy: Speaking of death!
Kate: (laughing) Right, speaking of death…
Betsy: Okay, we do not read many books that I had as a child. This is one of the very few classics for children that I was read. I know this because as a kid I was not disturbed by the mom being shot but I was horrifically disturbed by the king eating a bad mushroom…
Kate: Kids, don’t do drugs.
Betsy: …turning this sickening shade of green. This freaked me out and I suspect it’s why I didn’t eat mushrooms for quite some time. That, and I’m a picky eater.
Kate: I don’t think it’s the kind of mushrooms you would put in a salad, Betsy. I’m just sayin’ because on the next page, when you look at the old, the old elephants, I was like, “Wow this is trippy” because they’re all, like, wiggly lines…
Betsy: They’re very wiggly. I remember the dying elephant as being wiggly too but he doesn’t appear to be so…
Kate: Nope he’s…
Betsy: That’s memory for ya!
Kate: He just has some bad, bad mushrooms.
Betsy: He had a bad trip.
Kate: And then the three wiggly elephants… (laughing)
Betsy: (singing) “Picture yourself on a boat in a river…”
Kate: Right? They’re like, “We need a new king, because our old green king has died.”
Betsy: (laughing) The green king is dead! Long live the green king.
Kate: So they see an elephant in a green suit and they say, “That’s close enough!”
Betsy: (laughing) We only have one rule – gotta be green!
Kate: Gotta be green.
Betsy: Check that box.
Kate: So Babar pulls up in his Bentley and is like, “Hey… ummm… I guess I could be your king, as long as I can marry my cousin and be your king.” And your cousin…
Betsy: To be fair…
Kate: Probably your cousin. Probably everyone’s cousin here!
Betsy: Royalty marries cousins. We know one thing about royalty – they marry each other so that’s, so far yes, alright, checks out. Sure.
Kate: Right so as long my cousin, your cousin, everyone’s cousin gets to be the queen.
Kate: They’re like, “Yeah, that’s cool.”
Betsy: Okay, we’ll sign off on that. Yeah.
Kate: Off they go to get married. Okay, what children’s book has the word “dromedary” in it?
Kate: “Babar asks them to go and invite all the animals to the festivities and he tells the dromedary to go to the town…”
Betsy: Oh. I support that.
Kate: “…and buy some beautiful wedding clothes.”
Betsy: I support the use of.. anyone can say “camel”. Camel’s boring. Dromedary… gives it a bit of a weight. Gives it a bit of heft.
Kate: I just love this, I’m calling it a camel. I love this camel because, I don’t know if you can tell in this dark basement, but this camel’s facial expression is clearly saying, “….mmm hmmm…”
Betsy: (laughing) I’m not so sure about this wedding.
Kate: “….mmm hmmm…oh…ahem…suuuuure… whatever you say, king.”
Betsy: The dromedary, who for some reason, is in the same part of Africa as a bunch of elephants. Okay, I’m pretty, I don’t know my, I don’t know where animals live, but I’m pretty sure dromedaries and elephants don’t go…
Betsy: ..frolicking. This does not take place in Egypt.
Kate: No, there’s definitely a jungle. And there’s no desert.
Betsy: There’s no desert as far as I can see. It’s kind of a jungle, kind of a safari…whatever you wanna…
Kate: I don’t know but this, if this camel could be French it would be saying (French accent) “I don’t care. Je ne sais pas, and I don’t care.”
Betsy: That reminds me of a different picture book we should do. Anyway…
Kate: Right so, they have this wonderful wedding full of festivities and music and drums.
Kate: And I’m thinking, you guys… have you learned nothing? There were hunters that kill people (meant to say animals). You want to attract attention, why don’t you bust out a bass drum? And have all sorts of dancing and singing and… okay… alright…if it were me, this book would end with, “After the wedding and coronation, everyone dances merrily. And then the hunters come up and kill everyone. The end!”
Betsy: Now wait a minute, this is like the end of “Curious George”…
Betsy: …where you were convinced that all the animals are choking on the things and now everyone dies and the hunters…
Kate: Just like “Curious George”, this could have been avoided.
Betsy: (laughing) This is all preventable.
Betsy: I would like to point out I like this picture the most in the book because it is the strangest choice.
Kate: It’s black and white.
Betsy: It’s entirely black and white. Everything until now…
Kate: It’s the back of the king and queen looking out at the stars.
Betsy: It’s almost a different drawing style. It’s rather lovely.
Kate: I mean, it’s beautiful. And they go off to their honeymoon, the end.
Betsy: Au revoir!
Kate: Right. (sigh)
Betsy: Shooting elephants in a balloon…
Kate: Pretty sure they’re dead, though, because of all the loud ruckus they caused in the jungle and the hunters just made a lot of money.
Betsy: Right, well the 50 gazillion sequels would say that they’re not.
Betsy: By the way, can I just point out how cool is this cover where it appears to be… Babar’s carrying…
Kate: What is he wearing?
Betsy: I’m pretty sure that when they wanted to do advertisements back in the day they would wear these harnesses with these signs that say, like, “Eat at Joe’s”.
Betsy: But he’s wearing it for his own… so he’s basically, he’s advertising his own book…
Betsy: …on his own book.
Betsy: That’s… that’s interesting.
Kate: But that’s very… it’s very nice of him to have taken off the hat so we can see “Random House New York” otherwise that would have gotten covered up.
Betsy: Yeah, that’s true. That is true.
Kate: So it’s very courteous of him.
Betsy: This was originally done in French and all the words that are typed out here, I believe, were hand-written in cursive in the original French edition. Oh, he was French. I know you were saying you didn’t believe he was French…
Kate: Because there’s no anuses.
Betsy: …lack o’ anuses…
Kate: Yep. Sans anuses.
Betsy: I believe that is a universal European thing that they do.
Kate: I mean, they got dogs in here.
Betsy: No dog butts, no dog butts. But he, I thought he was Belgian. I was quite convinced of it so I had to look it up just now before we started being like, “Let me just make sure he’s Belgian.” Apparently not. He was French…
Kate: There is a dog anus!
Betsy: Okay. I’m sorry, did someone lead me astray? Who in this room… oh. That was you.
Kate: I feel so much better now.
Betsy: Okay, so there we are, thank goodness. We confirmed he is French.
Kate: This was written by a Frenchman, okay.
Betsy: Whew! Can’t get through it otherwise.
Kate: On the same spread as the tombstone.
Betsy: On the… what now? That’s right, that is on the page.
Kate: The same spread.
Betsy: You’re absolutely right, it is.
Betsy: So… sort of a sad little story here. The guy who wrote this died when he was 37.
Kate: Oh dear.
Betsy: He already managed somehow in that time to make seven of these books.
Betsy: So he worked fast. When he stopped, they were continued by his son, Laurent de Brunhoff, who was recently interviewed for the Wall Street Journal. Now, please bear in mind, this book came out in 1931.
Kate: Mmm hmmm.
Betsy: The man who wrote it died when he was 37 and his son continued afterwards. His son is 92.
Betsy: Yeah, I guess maybe 93 this year because the interview was last year and last year, the big news was, he’s not going to make them anymore.
Betsy: He seems to think they’ve run their course.
Kate & Betsy: Uhhhh… yeah.
Betsy: One might argue they ran their course a little earlier than that.
Betsy: So, what does this book have in common with, “Curious George”? Why do I pair these two together?
Kate: All the animals should have died at the end.
Betsy: Okay, there’s that.
Kate: They both have anuses.
Betsy: There may be more than that. More than that.
Kate: Uhhh…French, they’re both in France.
Betsy: Getting closer. Getting closer.
Kate: Ummm… that’s all I got.
Betsy: Okay, they’re animals in Africa.
Kate: Yeah, okay.
Betsy: Where clearly…
Kate: …ruined by white men.
Betsy: Ahhhh! In this case, more of a white woman but there’s a lot of…
Kate: Well I don’t know, it, it started with the white man killing…
Betsy: Oh, that’s true, there is a white man that kills..
Kate: The white man killing the mom.
Betsy: So then he runs away to “civilization” from Africa, adopts their ways and takes what he learns and applies it and becomes the ruler of his people back in Africa. Can we see where this might be somewhat problematic?
Betsy: A little bit of an apology for colonialism maybe maybe maybe maybe? People have actually argued many, many interpretations of this book. The justification for colonialism being but one. Others have argued that the French civilization described in these books had been destroyed already by World War I and this was an exercise in nostalgia for pre-1914 France…. ehhhh maybe.
Betsy: I can’t figure out… this… he can’t have run away to Paris because he’s in Afri…isn’t he in Africa? There’s no elephants in France.
Kate: Did he… did it…did…okay now…
Betsy: Unless he ran really far….
Kate: You know there are parts of Africa who speak French maybe…
Betsy: Right and so…
Kate: Maybe he ran away to maybe like Côte d’Ivoire or…
Betsy: Yeah, which is hugely problematic in its own way. That’s why I thought he was Belgian, which would be particularly like, “Are we in the Congo? I don’t want to be in the Congo.”
Kate: I’m pretty sure there’s an Eiffel Tower in here.
Betsy: Wha… no, no, there can’t be an Eiffel Tower, that’d be too crazy. You look for the Eiffel Tower and I’ll give a little more background on this.
Betsy: In 1995 a book came out called, “Should We Burn Babar? Essays on Children’s Literature and the Power of Stories” by Herbert Kohl, which in its title anyway was sort of a predecessor to 2017’s “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?”, I would argue. It was sort of ahead of its time. Highlighted incidences of racism, sexism, and condescension in different stories for young people and taught kids to think critically about what they read. That is on everyone’s lips these days. Kirkus had a very strange review of it where they said it was “the essence of PC educational ideals, that it includes a series of prescriptions reminiscent of old social realist proletarian and Soviet-style utopianism.” They also couldn’t seem to decide if it was meandering and utterly predictable or too radical. I suspect they liked Babar. Maurice Sendak loved this book. Big time fan! Here’s a quote from him: “Like an extravagant piece of poetry, the interplay between few words and many pictures, commonly called the picture book, is a difficult, exquisite, and most easily collapsible form that few have mastered. Jean de Brunhoff was a master of this form. Between 1931 and 1937 he completed a body of work that forever changed the face of the illustrated book.” Okay… Sendak just talked like that, by the way. I can’t figure out how the man did that.
Kate: I found an Eiffel Tower.
Betsy: No! Did you really?
Kate: But it’s under “TOYS”
Betsy: Oh no no, see, okay, very good, you did fine one.
Kate: But where would you sell the Eiffel Tower as a toy? Would you sell it in Africa? Probably not. Would you sell it in France? Ya.
Betsy: No no no no. You’re nostalgic for France. You are in the colonies, you desperately wish to return to France someday and so you buy yourself an Eiffel Tower for your children saying, “This is where we’re really from.” You see all the problems with this book. So many problems with the colonialism of the book!
Betsy: So here’s the fun fact of the day: when I ran my “100 Picture Books for Children” poll, Babar did not show up.
Betsy: Did not show up.
Kate: Cause it’s got some issues!
Betsy: And so here’s my thinking: I’m thinking it’s becoming less popular.
Kate: Yep, yep I think that old man has gotten it right by not making them anymore because they have run their course.
Betsy: Yeah, well, you’d think. Now you recognized the name which was interesting.
Betsy: And so there is that. The Wall Street Journal, last year, in that interview with the creator, the son of the creator, quote said, “Babar is one of the three or four most popular Kidlit characters of the modern age.”
Betsy: I disagree with that entirely. Entirely. Because, and I have many reasons for this, let’s just look at pop culture. The television show of Babar ran from 1989 to 1991 and then did another couple of episodes in 2000 and then since then, nothing. There’s no big Babar movie that we all think about. The last book came out last year – “Babar’s Guide to Paris”. I can’t help but think that…
Kate: I think when you, sometimes when you learn other languages, like when you learn French, there’s like Babar books to help you, like…
Betsy: Oh yeah, there’s a Babar book of yoga! For kids!
Kate: There you go.
Betsy: Cause he does do exercises in this book.
Betsy: In his Charles Atlas-like underwear, which I was admiring. Uhh… yeah, no, I can’t say that it’s unpopular now because when I was trying to find this book, all the copies of this book, and we had, like, five in the library, were checked out but this one. And there were a bunch of other ones that had been returned. Sequels and such. So… there you go.
Betsy: But I think it is on its way out. I do think that, not least because it’s problematic. I did read it to my children tonight, out of curiosity.
Kate: What’d they think?
Betsy: They were not disturbed by the mother being killed. They were far more dis… heh…my son…
Kate: Was it the mushrooms?
Betsy: No! The mushrooms didn’t get them either. They… my three-year-old was bored. He conked out.
Kate: Yeah, cause it’s super long.
Betsy: Yeah he conked out halfway through. He was like, “Ahh! I want my food!” We were in a restaurant. My daughter who is six stayed, stuck with it all the way. I don’t know if it made much of an impression but she did not notice that the cousins got married. So, there ya go.
Kate: That’s… that’s good…
Betsy: She actually was very pleased that they got married, which I thought was interesting.
Betsy: Like when they announce, “Well I’m going to get married to Celeste and you’ll have to make her queen”, she made a little coo of pleasure. Like a little “aww”. That made her happy. So there ya go.
Betsy (to the tune of “Hollywood”): Ratings time! Bah bah bah bah bah ratings time!
Kate: Sigh. Just because something has been around a long time…
Betsy: We keep saying that!
Kate: …does not necessarily make it a classic.
Betsy: We keep saying that…yeah, I know.
Kate: I’m not going to give this one high marks.
Betsy: Mmm hmmm… how low a marks are you giving it?
Kate: You know, I don’t hate it…
Betsy: No! It is charming!
Kate: It doesn’t teach bad lessons, other than retail therapy, and marrying your cousins, and doing drugs, but other than that…
Betsy: That is a “Just say no!” book. Nothing good comes from the mushrooms!
Kate: That’s true.
Kate: Not doing drugs…
Betsy: That is a “just say no” book.
Kate: And, well, learning to drive…
Betsy: Nancy Reagan approved of this book.
Kate: …driving without being able to read any of signs…
Betsy: Okay, sure.
Kate: You know, I’m… I’m not a huge fan of this one. It’s just too long.
Betsy: Yeah. It’s pretty long.
Kate: I’m going to go with, like, a 3.
Betsy: Okay. Wow! Lower than George.
Kate: I’m actually doing 2.5.
Betsy: It had spats. It did have spats.
Kate: Yeah, I know, but I’m doing…
Betsy: It had him going into the little elevator and going up and down 10 times because it was so much fun. That’s adorable.
Kate: Eh. 2… 2.5.
Kate: Cause it brings nothing to the table.
Betsy: I was actually going a little higher than George. I’m going to make it a solid 5 if only because it does read aloud very well…
Kate: Are you kidding me? This thing is ridiculously long!
Betsy: It’s ridiculously long…
Kate: How does that read well if your three-year-old conked out halfway through?
Betsy: Well, it’s not made for 3-year0olds. It’s made for 6-year-olds.
Betsy: 6-year-old liked it just fine.
Betsy: But you know, but I love his outfit. You know what this is? This could be wrapped up in childhood nostalgia which almost never comes into play with us. Because I can see the racial problems with this book…
Kate: Uhhh, yeah.
Betsy: …very clearly. Alright, I’m sinking down, 4.5. I’ll do 4.5.
Betsy: It didn’t matter, it wasn’t going to be a classic anyway.
Kate: Yeah no, this is definitely
Betsy and Kate: not a classic!
(sad trombone sound)
Betsy: That’s okay, it’s doing alright anyway. It will continue for at least a little longer until it doesn’t anymore.
Betsy: So there ya go. Mmm hmmm.
Betsy: Alright.. grown up things we like! Grown up things we like! Can I start this week?
Betsy: Alright! So this is a grown up thing because, it is about children’s books, but grown-ups decided this. We had our big announcements! The recent awards! The Caldecotts and the Newberys. And you and I liked two books that we thought would both… you thought the Caldecott award would go to “Crown”. I thought it would go to “Wolf in the Snow”. Uhh… I was right. It went to “Wolf in the Snow.” And “After the Fall” got nothing. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Kate: That’s too bad.
Betsy: It is too bad. I like that book but it was a strong year. It was a very strong year. There were some great books, all of which won Honors, so that was nice. And “Crown” just got 50 bazillion honors. The Coretta Scott King Awards and it got Ezra Jack Keats Awards and it’s gotten this award, and that award, and the other award. So it’s doing very well.
Kate: Which it rightly deserves.
Betsy: As it most rightly deserves.
Betsy: And won a Newbery Honor which was a bit of a surprise but uhh… sure.
Kate: I liked… that’s for the text, right?
Betsy: That’s for the text. The text was great!
Kate: Yeah, I loved the text. I thought that was awesome.
Betsy: I had not even considered that the text was a possibility for the Newbery until a friend of mine wrote and said, “Hey maybe it’ll win a Newbery” and I was like, “(gasp) What a good idea!”
Kate: The guy who’s like, looked like the CEO of a tech company that “sold cool”?
Betsy: “Manufactures cool.”
Kate: Yeah, that was awesome. I love that. If I can remember parts of the book, that says something about the text.
Betsy: That does say something about the text, that’s a good call. Yeah, all the winners, they were announced, they were great. The Newbery was weird because it was a weak Newbery year. So two young adult novels (this is an award for children, mind you) two young adult novels got Honors as did a picture book and then the middle-grade book won. I was trying to figure out why this particular, it’s a book called, “Hello, Universe” …it was okay. I had nothin’ fer it, I had nothin’ again’t it. But I finally figured out why it won. Because in the book, there’s a villain: he’s a big, blonde, boy bully. He hates anyone who is different.
Kate: (snort laughs)
Betsy: He particularly hates strong girls who aren’t intimidated by him.
Betsy: There may be some other interpretation of this book. That… yeah…
Kate: Does he have, like, any orange tint to him?
Betsy: Oh, I’m sure… he loves himself soooooo much.
Kate: I bet he does.
Betsy: My problem with the book is that he had been so two-dimensional.
Kate: Wait, it was a novel you said, right?
Betsy: A novel, yeah.
Kate: So it’s not a picture book.
Betsy: No no no, but you can see a picture of him on the back of the book.
Kate: Does he have little hands?
Betsy: (giggling) He may have little hands. Yeah, he’s not too bright.
Betsy: So. Yeah. Interesting. Oh, what’s your grown-up thing you like?
Kate: Alright, two different venues of social media, two different people, one thing in common.
Kate: The Olympics.
Kate: Two different people: we got Leslie Jones, who is on SNL and on Instagram she’s high-larious. She will… she’ll take her phone, and she will videotape commentary, like 30-second commentary while watching the Olympics.
Betsy: Oh, I gotta see this.
Kate: And it’s, everything she says is what you’re thinking and feeling and I can’t stop laughing every time I hear or see her (laughing) because, there was the ice skating pair where the guy just, like, threw the girl up in the air and she just landed horribly on the ice and she’s like, “That’s what happens when your man throws you away.” It’s like, get it girl. Get it. And then on Twitter, I don’t have Twitter, but I found this Buzzfeed article that has Adam Rippon who is a figure skater, and he tweets the most hilarious things. Like, for example, on being… he’s an LGBT athlete, there’s only one of, I think it’s him and maybe another athlete that are the first two openly gay athletes at the, that are at the Olympics.
Kate: Yeah. Everyone else has been closeted up until now.
Kate: And they are fully out in the open…
Betsy: What about the figure skaters?
Kate: I know, well he’s an ice skater so…I know… so on being an LGBT athlete at the Olympics, he tweeted, “I was recently asked in an interview what it’s like to be a gay athlete in sports. I said that it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work but usually done with better eyebrows.” Like, everything has a little …I don’t know, a little sass to it and I appreciate his sass. He wrote, “I wrote ‘wash healing crystals’ on my to-do list today and the moment I read it back to myself I realized L.A. has turned me into the man I’m meant to be.” (laughing). He’s very sassy and I love him to death and I think he won a bronze medal so yes, Leslie and Adam, two different kinds of social media, both about the Olympics, very high-larious. So…
Kate: She’s lesdogggg – l-e-s-d-o-g-g-g-g. Four g’s. And on Twitter he is a-d-a-r-i-p-p. Adaripp.
Betsy: Adaripp. Excellent. Well done.
(exit music plays)
Kate: So… U-S-A!
Betsy and Kate: U-S-A!
Betsy: U-S…aaaa… (Kate laughs)
Kate: Not France!
Betsy: Not France!…or whatever country Babar is supposedly set in.
Kate: Or Belgium.
Betsy: Or Belgium or the Congo or anything! Sigh….
Betsy: I’ve been Betsy.
Kate: I’m Kate.
Betsy: Fuse 8 n’ Kate is a Fuse #8 production. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Betsy on Twitter at FuseEight. That’s Fuse and eight – e-i-g-h-t. Follow us on iTunes and rate our podcast if you’re so inclined. Our music is by Haddon Givens Kime and our Director of Animal Husbandry is Drew Atienza. Fuse 8 n’ Kate is a creation of Kate Ramsey and Betsy Bird and does not reflect the views of School Library Journal.
(music fades out)
Betsy and Kate: ….u-s-a…u-s-a…
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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