Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is This An Archetype or What?

Over at Antique Mommy there has been a discussion going on in the comments, about Curious George. I keep going back to say more, because I find it a fascinating series of books and my boys have loved them. Buddy Boy is on a Curious George kick right now and asks for him every night. I remember loving him myself as a kid. What is it about George that is so appealing and also a bit frightening?

Another question rolling around in my head: why does it seem that adoption/abandonment/parenting seems to be an underlying theme for George?

After I did respite and interim foster care for infants and then adopted Buddy Boy and started reading children’s books to him I suddenly found these themes in many books that I never previously consciously thought of as adoption/foster-care-themed books. Examples:

1. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
2. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
3. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
4. Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
5. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
6. Corduroy by Don Freeman
7. Hugs by Jez Alborough
8. Paddington Bear by Michael Bond

Others that clearly have kids in foster care:
1. The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
2. In Which Tigger Comes to the Forest and Has Breadkfast; The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
3. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
4. Ruby Holler by Sharon Creach

Is it my imagination, or obsession with adoption, or is this a common theme? Has anyone else noticed that suddenly a lot of books are about kids losing/missing/longing for/finding parents?


Kohana said...

It does seem to be a very consistent theme. Also the theme of absent parents (for whatever reason)is found in The Chronicles of Narnia, of course Harry Potter, The Fabulous Five and other boarding school stories. Then there's Disney's whole preoccupation with orphanhood... Yea, it is prevalent!

Lilian said...

No, abandonment is definitely a common theme. I wish I could think of some more titles from the top of my head. (As you probably know I'm passionate about children's literature and though I don't claim to be a specialist just yet, I have been a T.A. and instructor of children's literature classes 4 times during grad school - and this was one of the themes my former advisor - the one who designed the original class - always talked about)...

Oh, yes, I remember a few Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There is pretty scary - the mother's there, but she's so depressed she pretty much abandons the baby who has to be cared by his sister.
Have you seen Sendak's We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy?

Oh, and don't get me started on Grimm's tales and abandonment...

There's this fascinating (if probably flawed) book by J. Zornado Inventing the Child: Culture, Ideology, and the Story of Childhood which sees correlation between the way people who produce children's literature were raised (in a way opposite to "attachment parenting") and the works they wrote/ produced. the Grimm brothers, Disney and Sendak are cases in point (though he says good things about Sendak).

I apologize for the long comment... :)

cloudscome said...

You are right. As soon as I published this post I started thinking of all the other stories of orphans, etc. Of course. I have always known this, it's just that now it seems so much more poignant or important or something. It jumps out and me and squeezes my heart. I wonder how it breaks on his ears. It seems the central theme of everything.... it seems newly recognized. It makes me feel so young and fumbling. I might have known all about it as a theme or literary element or something when I actually was young, but now; I've looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down.... and still somehow...

Carolie said...

All the stories I wrote as a kid had me as the orphan protagonist. There was something both freeing and frightening about being "alone"--but of course, lost heirs have to go through scary stuff before they can ascend the throne. And then there was the sympathy factor of course...yes, I was especially self-involved as a pre-teen.

I preferred to read about orphan protagonists as well, from "The Family Under the Bridge" to the Narnia books and "The Five Children and It" (although in both sets of books, the parents exist, they just aren't around due to the war). Even now, there are the Harry Potter books, and the Lemony Snicket books.

In all these cases, being orphans or semi-orphans frees the protagonist from a loving adult overseer, "allowing" the main character(s) to have much more exciting adventures than if they had Mom calling them to dinner at 5 o'clock each evening and tucking them in with a story at night.

It's definitely an effective literary device!

Besides, I always longed for the mystery and the "specialness" of being a "chosen child" instead of a plain old biological-offspring-one-of-three.

None of that, of course, is anything close to reality.

Carolie said...

Err--I meant that the literary device was not reality...not the "chosen child" part!

I hope to have my own chosen child one day very soon...more than one, God willing!

Overwhelmed! said...

What an interesting post!

As a child, I sought out these romanticized books of kids losing/missing/longing for/finding parents. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that my family life was not a happy one growing up as a child and I felt as though anything had to be better than my current situation.

Now, as an adoptive mother, I find myself searching for adoption related story books so that I can introduce the concept to Snuggle Bug in an age-appropriate way.

We have a few of the Curious George books and Snuggle Bug enjoys them too!

Overwhelmed! said...

Oh, by the way, I thought of you earlier last week while I was at the library searching for a good book to read.

I really wish I would've had some of your book recommendations with me at the time!

I'm out of town for work next week so tomorrow I plan on pulling some ideas from your blog and searching for a couple of books from the library to take with me!

Dawn said...

Did you ever read Beverly Cleary's Mitch and Amy? Amy has a friend over and they're playing Little House on the Prairie. They say that the first thing they do when they play is get the parents out of the way. We used to do that when we played, too.

There's a book called The Leftover Witch, which totally seems like a foster-to-adopt (and a politically incorrect one although I loved this book when I was a kid) parable. The leftover witch is forgotten one Halloween night and is clearly very neglected by the witches. She's taken in by a human family and their love for her "saves her. The book ends with her being adopted and she tells the judge she wants to change her name from Serena (because it's a witch name) to one that she takes by putting together the names of everyone in the family. I really adored the book when I was little but when I reread it as an adult I found it worrisome. (Funny how books work like that!) I've always wondered if the author was a social worker or something.

cloudscome said...

Yes I remember that Leftover Witch book. I liked it too. I always hoped I would turn out to be adopted too, like a lot of kids who think their parents don't pay enough attention to them or aren't nice enough or whatever. I think from the bio kid being raised by their original parents it is another whole perspective, right? Once you are in the adoption plane that whole theme becomes so much more complicated and weighted.

There is a book that came out a year or so ago, called Gugi,Gugi. I have heard other librarians rave about how cute it is, and it think it got really good press. A little crocodile egg ends up in the wrong nest and is raised by a goose. When the neighborhood crocodiles meet him they are evil, snarly bad guys and they laugh at him for acting like a goose (I read “acting white”) and try to talk him into tricking his adopted family into getting eaten by them. Gugi Gugi has this big moral quandary about whether he is croc or goose and whether he will betray his adopted family to be his real croc self. It is about the worst adoption book I have ever seen. It makes me sick to my stomach. Horrifying. I don't know how anyone could think of reading it to a child. Even without the adoption experience in one’s life, the problem of identity and being-your-real-self-as-betrayal-of-those-who-have-loved-and-sacrificed-for-you thing…

But alas, we have it in our school library. I am going to get rid of it as soon as I can.

Mia said...

I am short on time right now so this will be brief but the one that comes to my mind is Are You My Mother? about the tiny bird who falls out of the nest and goes in search of his mother.
This book still makes me cry. Oh, and how about The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein.