Monday, 20 June 2016
#Microblog Mondays: Jemima Puddle Duck
Having a child means re-discovering childhood books and traditions. It's still a bit early for most of them, but recently I've become the owner of a few Beatrix Potter books.
I loved Potter's books as a child probably because they were small (not that size ever deterred me from reading a book), and because of the delicate, detailed illustrations, and....well, actually, I don't remember. I just know I liked to get them out from the library, and I must have read all the stories several times over.
AJ loves books, but doesn't yet show an interest in a story, exactly. She likes books with bright pictures, rhymes, and flaps and textures. Because her vocabulary must be well over a hundred words, she can identify what's in the pictures (kitty, bunny, mouse, etc), and she can fill in the words to some familiar stories. However, she likes Beatrix Potter for much the reasons I remember, so far: The books are little and she can hold them and "read" by herself. She'll sit on her chair, flip the pages, and babble happily.
I read the stories too. Reading them removed from childhood, I found myself noticing things I hadn't before. There's more to these little books than you might assume.
I found one of them, The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck, actually rather disturbing. Jemima is a duck who is not allowed to sit on her own eggs (I have no idea why this is, having very little knowledge of agriculture, and Potter doesn't explain any of it, other than possibly at the end where Jemima calls herself "a bad sitter.") She is however determined to hatch her own eggs, so she sneaks away from the farm into the woods. In the woods she meets a friendly, foxy "gentleman" who makes her at home even as he talks about omelettes and asks Jemima to bring herbs that go well with roast duck. Jemima however is too naive to be suspicious of any of this. Eventually the barnyard dog suspects something is up, and they raid the gentleman's den in time to prevent Jemima from being eaten, but the dogs also eat all her eggs. The full story with Potter's illustrations.
It might be a stretch to call Jemima an infertile or subfertile, but I felt a certain affinity for her and her desperation. Otherwise, what stands out for me about this story is how nobody is really the good guy: while the foxy "gentleman" might seem the most despicable, it's Jemima's naivete that creates the problem, which you could argue was otherwise avoidable. The dogs who charge to the rescue ruin the heroic moment by eating up her eggs. Furthermore, you could make the argument that the problems arise from the various characters behaving like what they are: ducks act like ducks, foxes like foxes, and dogs like dogs. It raises the question: how well do we know our own human nature and that of others? How often do we make foolish or naive assumptions and how can these be avoided?
Will I share and discuss this story with AJ? You bet. I hope she tries to better her human nature as she grows up, because we all should strive to be good people. But I also think Jemima Puddle Duck offers some good lessons about viewing friendly "gentlemen" with a wary eye, as well as white knights, and the dangers of naivete and idealism, even (or especially) when well-intentioned.
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