What are children’s books doing to your expectations?
Posted by Gay
I don’t mean to complain. But quite recently, it occurred to me that from an early age, I was the victim of brainwashing. Why else would I have no greater desire from the age of six onwards than to live in Paris and be an artist?
As a child I had an English version of a book by Dorothy Yardley called MacBunny Goes to Paris. Until fairly recently I had forgotten this book, and it appears the world has largely forgotten it, too. In searching for it online I could find reference only to the French edition. But it so happened that a few years ago I stumbled over a copy of MacBunny in somebody’s house and was horrified to discover that my enduring life ambition had, in fact, been cribbed from a picture book, long before I reached the age of reason.
MacBunny is a Scottish rabbit (as evident from his name, kilt and bagpipes) who finds happiness visiting Montmartre and living among the French. From memory, I think he paints at an easel while there, or at any rate somebody does. He definitely plays the bagpipes to French acclaim. I loved MacBunny with a passion. For me, this was much more than a book full of colourful pictures and enjoyable adventures. It was an advertisement for a way of life that sounded ideal and irresistible and about as far from my rural Queensland childhood as life could get. Monet might have been a magnet in my maturity, but it was MacBunny who first set my paws on the path to Paris.
I did go to Paris and do some drawings in art museums there, and I did have a little garret studio many years later in a different city. Briefly, I lived the MacBunny dream. Of course, Paris and being an artist weren’t quite as advertised. When the dream became more of a nightmare, I asked myself why it was so hard to let go of something that had never actually worked. It was embarrassing to realise that perhaps my dream had been simply a case of brain programming brought about by repeated readings of a charming book about a rabbit.
My tendency to identify with MacBunny was no doubt amplified by prior experience with Ole Risom’s I Am A Bunny, which I knew by heart. In this Little Golden Book, which is still available and popular, Richard Scarry’s beautiful illustrations capture the joy of Nicholas, the bunny hero, as he enjoys nature and the four seasons – again, seasons unknown to me, but for which I yearned from childhood onward. Daffodils? Falling leaves? Snow? I was equally keen on Ivy Wallace’s Pookie, a rainbow-winged white rabbit who lived in the forest with hippy-ish types and befriended birds, rather than laying waste to the environment as rabbits do in Australia. If these two books stimulated my later forays into biology and conservation, my entire career could be the product of juvenile brainwashing.
So be careful what books you give your kids. And ask yourself: am I living out some form of programming I don’t even remember? Some form of programming that comes from … a fictional rabbit?