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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Book Review: Marsupial Sue

I've been hard at work on finishing up a paper, and there hasn't been anything in the news that's been egregious enough for me to want to write about here. I'm taking a day off from paper-writing (well, maybe), so I figure I should feed the blog. But what to write about? Well, when all else fails, when there's nothing else to read, read the cereal box.

And therefore I present this review of the book Marsupial Sue, by John Lithgow (yes, that John Lithgow), which I got in a box of Cheerios. Currently Cheerios is running a promotion where you get one of five (I think) children's books in slim paperback form right inside your cereal box. I love getting stuff for free in breakfast cereal, except usually it's something you have no earthly use for. Um, not that this is any different, but at least it's slightly better than a bobble-head sports figure.

Anyhow, the book:

Marsupial Sue,
A young kangaroo,
Hated the hopping that kangaroos do.

It rattled her brain,
It gave her migraine,
A backache, a sideache, tummyache too.

So Sue wanders off one May morning to find a more congenial lifestyle. First she runs into some koalas, and thinks living in a tree would be nice. But she falls out, and that puts an end to that.

Later, she comes upon a platypus, and decides that frolicking in the sea [sic] is just the thing. They sea makes her sick, however:

By quarter to two,
The poor kangaroo
Had typhoid, pneumonia, colic, and gout.

Finally, Sue comes across a tribe of wallabies (for the uninitiated, just like kangaroos, only smaller), and there she is happy, although it is unclear exactly how the wallaby life suits her better than the kangaroo. Throughout the book, the narrator harangues Sue:

Marsupial Sue.
A lesson or two:
Be happy with who you are.
Don't ever stray too far from you.
If you're a kangaroo through and through,
Just do what kangaroos do.

First let's dispense with the trivia. While Marsupial Sue is a charming title, both koalas and wallabies are marsupials, and therefore it's odd that Sue is singled out as a Marsupial.

Secondly, I do not believe platypuses live in salt water, but in rivers and streams.

Thirdly, both illustrator and author seem ignorant of the kangaroo homeland. The text places Sue's visit to the koalas in May, her expedition to the seashore in summer, and her adoption by the wallabies in the fall, suggesting that these events followed hard upon one another, or at least that they took place in the same year. Yet May is late autumn in Australia, and Sue would have to wait six or seven months to visit the platypus in summer.

Furthermore, the koalas are shown with baseball(!) equipment, and the wallabies are shown carving Halloween pumpkins in autumn (though of course Halloween is in the austral spring).

Finally, I doubt that even a kangaroo would contract "typhoid, pneumonia,...and gout" in two hours at the seashore (colic is possible, I suppose), and it might be unwise to suggest to children that this is possible. I would worry that they would be put off eating seafood (Sue contracts these diseases by swallowing "a scallop, a shrimp, and a trout"), except that I do not eat seafood (tastes nasty) and therefore have no brief for the practice.

I'll also point out that some of the words seem kind of hard for young children. I always shudder to see "pneumonia" in a children's book because when I was young I was reading an interesting book about an eccentric woman who had a monkey who died of pneumonia, and I couldn't figure out what that word was. Sounding it out did no good, and I returned the book to the library unread, saddened that it was too hard for me. That scarred me for life. Well, OK, for a day or two, but really, shouldn't children be able to read children's books on their own?

Silliness aside, however, the message of the book seems to be that ethnicity is destiny: If you're a kangaroo through and through, Just do what kangaroos do. Even if all that hopping makes you sick, other ways of living will make you sicker. So hop along with the crowd. Do not deny your 'roomanity. This is presented as a message of "self-acceptance". Sad.

(The book also features charming illustrations by Jack E. Davis. Aside from the above-mentioned ignorance of Australia, I find no fault with them.)