Feed is obviously different from all the books we have read thus far. It is an imaginative world, but one that could be a realistic future in America. I didn’t understand many of the things going on in the novel and the crude grammar didn’t help the understanding. But, amid the confusion and the strange context, I thought the parents are very irresponsible and showed a lack of involvement and attention to their children. They are giving Titus too much freedom and too much money to spend at his own discretion. They are spoiling him by buying a car as consolation for his attack on the moon. As in Coraline, the parents are giving the child everything like the fake parents on the other side of the door. Instead of taking a time to teach life lessons, they only knew to push Titus further down the “materialistic” path: buy more, feel better and let me live my life. This is a dysfunctional family system where the strongest connection is the internet. Comparatively, in other books such as Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and in Charlotte’s Web, parents played an important role in the children’s lives. They were there for the children. Their thoughts were filled with their child(ren). For example, in Where, Ma and Ba’s thoughts revolved around Minli, the center of their lives. Their thoughts are constantly on her and making sure that she is fed, warm and happy. But at the same time, Minli is still working in the fields. Her parents have taught her that reward comes with effort (rice only comes from sweat and back breaking work). And Minli never got all that she wanted. She doesn’t have material goods. Happiness was simple and family was the most important. As also displayed in Charlotte’s, family is one the central themes. A cohesive family is not only portrayed in Fern’s family but also among the animals. For example, the goose spends an intensive period of keeping her eggs warm. It is her effort and direct involvement which brought her children into the world. There is a bond formed even before the eggs hatched. This bond is also formed when Mrs. Arable carried Fern for 9 months. This is vastly different from the “conceptionarium”, where children are brought into the world mechanically, without the presence of their parents. Even the way Titus and his parent interacted seemed friend-like rather than parent to son conversation. In Feed, family is much more artificial and less and less like a family than in children’s books. Perhaps, this is a distinction between children’s and young adult literature: family is not as important as external social relationships in this period of a “children’s” growth. Family may be depicted as the background and an inessential part of the development as children advance to young adulthood.
Children’s Books Reflect Harsh Reality
In class, we have argued many times on the topic of what is considered “appropriate” in children’s literature. We have also read a wide range of books with content ranging from Alice in Wonderland’s fantastical adventures and Where the Wild Things Are‘s wild adventures to Bud, not Buddy’s search for a home. In both Alice and Where, the protagonists chose to go on an adventure and chose to return home whenever they want to. In contrast, Bud chronicles the journey of an unfortunate child. This content difference is what this article expanded upon. It captured the new trend where children’s literature reflects the harsh reality rather than the happy-go-lucky childhood exhibited in 20th century novels. Children are depicted as taking on many adult characteristics, which the article dubbed “adultification”. Adults, on the other hand, are portrayed as irresponsible, absent, and ineffective. There is a reversal in child and adult roles in the modern literature. Coraline serves as the perfect example. In this novel, Coraline’s parents are ineffective and irresponsible. They are not playing the proper role of the “parents” and to protect their daughter. Instead, Coraline must save her parents.
This new trend is based on an “analysis of award-winning children’s literature…being told to young people today, where there is no yellow brick road to follow, the wild things are in the child’s real home and there are no hot meals” (Hill).
If this trend is to continue, how will childhood be impacted by harsh and dark children’s literature?
Hill , Amelia. “Children’s books reflect harsh reality.” The Guardian. N.p., 6 2012. Web. 15 Nov 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jul/06/childrens-books-reflect-harsh-reality>.
One thing that really stood out to me is how many rules Bud seems to have internalized. I am surprised by the sheer number of rules but also the fact that the rules are very true and convey a sense of maturity. The rules reflect an honest generalization behind many adult behaviors. For example, rule #118 states that you have to deflect the adult’s attention from something you truly value by giving the false impression that another thing is actually more important. Just by hearing a few keywords such as “haven’t you heard?”, Bud automatically links it to bad news (rule #16). From my perspective, many of his rules all seem grown up and very observatory. Sometimes, his way of perception is unlike what I perceive to be from a “normal” kid. He shouldn’t be so attune to human behavior. Instead he should be out playing and be self-centered as other younglings. But really, Bud’s life is not one of a normal child. A “normal” child lives in a home with a least one parent; there should be a wall of protection separating them from the dangers of being locked in a shed, of hunger and of sleeping under a Christmas tree. This leads me to wonder how life experiences impact a child’s psychological growth. How do Bud’s unfortunate experiences, which forced him to be independent at a very young age, affect his perception of childhood? Is there even a childhood past the age of six? Building upon the blog post of “Addressing Difficult Subjects in Children’s Literature”, I ask, is it the adult’s tendency to protect the child that created a childhood for our children? If our tendency to protect is absent, would there still be childhood if children experiences the real life issues as Bud had?
There are other instances where I see glimpses of a child in Bud. For example, when Bud and Bug mixed slobs to seal their brotherhood or when they flipped coins to decide who will go and talk to the people in Hooverville. He didn’t even notice that whether it is heads or tails, he will lose! In addition, the whole incidence of believing that Herman E. Calloway was his father further illustrates his child-ness. Bud believed that if you think the same way, you must be related because only blood kin think the same way. His deductive reasoning really struck me because that’s how many children thinks. They haven’t learned that many things can have multiple explanations. Yet, this observation leads me to wonder whether this ignorance offsets the maturity in Bud’s perceptions and observations of his surroundings. To me, this contradictory tension in addressing what childhood is through an examination of Bud’s unusual experiences is very interesting. In the end, I can only conclude that childhood is a highly complex concept and cannot be viewed as simply one idea.
At the outset: “since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all” (pg 9).
In the beginning, Milo could not see the purpose of learning to subtract, to identify a country, or to correctly spell words. Thus, he does not have the motivation to participate in these activities. He perceive these activities as pointless, mundane, and unnecessary in life. But he also wonders what is life supposed to be about. Because of this lack of meaningfulness, Milo is not happy and nothing ever gets him to be happy. Certainly not his room full of toys or going to school would uplift his low spirits. But as the story progresses, we can see that his queer journeys and experiences through the Tollbooth are meant to help him to discover this hidden purpose.
Milo’s travels through the land of Expectations, the Doldrums, and on to the Kingdom of Dictionopolis is reflective of his progress to go beyond his low expectations, to get out of doing nothing, and to advance toward finding a purpose in life and in learning. The turning point is when he decides to start thinking, to start moving. Along the way, he unconsciously develops a fascination/interest for the different elements of knowledge. For example, letters and words are the essential mediums to acquiring knowledge. Without these basic building blocks, one would find it difficult to comprehend concepts and truths, which is knowledge itself, from a bunch of strange looking words. Near the end of chapter eight, Milo is committed in a quest to save the two Princesses of Rhyme and Reason. We finally see Milo take an interest in something other than doing nothing. And through each of the events, we can see very clearly the change that Milo successfully went through from his original indifferent attitude.
I see the Tollbooth experiences as a journey for Milo to discover the purpose in seeking knowledge. I also see the experiences as an exposure to the way to knowledge, which is through words and sentences and meaning. These inferences are based on the fact that Norton Juster’s direct focus on the idea of knowledge. He structures his settings and contents in terms of the “Foothills of Confusion”, the “Mountains of Ignorance” and the “Sea of Knowledge”. These are meant to distinguish the stages of knowledge; you either stay or move beyond ignorance and into perhaps confusion and onto having knowledge. But in order to get to the sea of knowledge, one must acquire words before sailing to the Sea of Knowledge (pg 45). Juster’s emphasis on this specific chronology led to the idea that Milo is to find purpose in seeking knowledge.
In conjunction to the stages of knowledge, Juster’s literal play on words such as “you eat your own words” at King Azaz’s banquet or the “Watchdog” and the “Spelling Bee” provide further emphasis on the role of grammar. He also integrates sarcasm in the dialogues to exemplify that meaning can be taken differently when spoken literally and sarcastically. For example, Sheriff Shrift thought the Humbug implied that “boys are the cause of everything” (pg 62). Thus, Juster purposefully illustrates the different ways that meaning can be conveyed as in sarcasm, literally at face value, or implications. I thought these are brilliantly integrated into the random yet structured world of the Tollbooth.
On the last note, I want to applaud the way Tollbooth is exceptionally written as a children’s book. I believe children can easily be drawn into Milo’s journeys because of the random twists of events, the queer characters and the play of words. Even as an adult, I find this book very amusing and I have a high level of interest to keep reading. The Phantom Tollbooth is one rare combination of amusement and education (alphabets, words, conveying meaning through words, etc).
When I was a child, I often heard the phrase, “Anything is Possible”. My parents, teachers, and other surrounding adult figures reiterated the idea that I can achieve, get, and become whatever it is that I set my mind to. This same idea of possibilities also resonated throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. For example, it is possible to speak with animals, chess pieces, and even flowers and trees. It is also possible to change physical sizes through artificial means and to travel among different places instantaneously, like telepathy. Thus, for Alice, her dream to become a queen in the Looking-Glass world is also unquestionably attainable. But as she begins her journey to the eighth square, she experiences diversions and delays as she continues toward her destination. Alice risked losing her identity and missing the train and getting lost in the woods. These events are reflective of what reality can impose upon one’s journey toward realizing a dream. Realistically, our lives are filled with temptations and diversions and unexpected events that deflect from the original goals. Along the way, we must make decisions of whether to continue or to change paths. But as Alice exemplified by remaining focused on her dream, it is possible to reach the intended ending.
But again, it is still a dream. Reality is a little harsher than a child’s dream.