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Posts tagged ‘Caillou’

“Girls’ books” — for boys

Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of ...

A boy in a girl’s world: Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, C was anxious to read a library book that his dad had gotten for him called All About Alfie, by Shirley Hughes. It is a longish picture book with four stories in it, so it satisfies both C’s love of picture books and his excitement to read big-kid chapter books. Alfie is an impish English boy of about three, who gets into little scrapes, like locking himself in the house as the neighborhood comes to his rescue outside, and being at home with a babysitter while a pipe bursts, and he worries, like Noah, he’ll be swept away.

C was engrossed as his dad came in, who remarked, “He loves books about little boys like himself.” And I said, “Right! So why do you hate Caillou so much? Do you not read my internationally-known blog?” I guess not (off my good list). I wrote a post a while back in which I yammered on a bit about the fact that though adults despise the small, bald Canadian, children love him because they can relate to him and his everyday childhood experiences.

It made me think back to when I was a kid, and when people asked me what kinds of books I liked to read (and I liked to read a lot), I would say, “books that are true to life.” Meaning, I did not really want to read fantasy, or science fiction, but books about girls, like me, and what they did and felt on their typical days.

Even now, I still feel that way about the books and TV I consume, to a certain extent – I guess that’s why I am so hesitant about Game of Thrones (even though I HEARD YOU it is supposedly awesome, once you get past all the murdering), and, of course, Star Wars, but I love Mad Men (not my time, but my tri-state area, and many relatable experiences). I can already hear my husband saying that although Game of Nerds, uh, Thrones and Star Wars take place in fictional worlds, there is a humanity to the characters that is relatable. OK, but I like a setting in which I can imagine myself, or someone like me. I’m sorry, I can’t imagine myself getting eaten by a Sarlacc (thank you to C for explaining, several times, what that is and how it burps). Look, it’s not scientific, OK? It’s just a preference. Some people like to get lost in fantasy worlds; I don’t like it. I’d rather get lost in the streets of London or New York.

So my girlhood favorites? Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik (an awkward, smart girl in Cambridge, Mass.), Constance C. Greene’s A Girl Called Al (awkward, smart, NYC), and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, of course (awkward, smart, Portland, Ore.). See what I’m getting at here? There are several others. Judy Blume, Harriet the Spy,  All-of-a-Kind Family. But the queen of them all is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Awkward. Smart. Prince Edward Island, Canada. I went there twice; I reenacted crucial scenes. I saw the musical. I even got engaged there, to my own, real-life Gilbert Blythe, at the Inn at Bay Fortune, which is where Colleen Dewhurst lived when she was filming the miniseries.

I knew that C was going to be a boy, but when I was pregnant, I read Anne of Green Gables aloud to him. I’m not sure why. I think because I feel that book is such a part of me, that in some way, he would get to understand me through the book, if there was anything to even be understood at that point in his development. Or maybe, if I was going to be reading aloud to someone who may or may not even be listening, I might as well read out something I enjoy. Now that he and his little brother are here, and on my lap, wanting to be read to, I think I still will read them that book someday. For the reasons stated above.

I know Anne of Green Gables is considered a “girls’ book,” and I doubt that many boys read it, but why should that be? Initially, I thought: I can’t wait to share Anne with my nieces (Hi J & Z! Not that you are reading this — you are 6 years and 3 weeks old, respectively) But then I thought, says who? Why not the boys too? There are elements of the book that perhaps apply more to girlhood, and friendships amongst girls, but there is so much, too, that anyone would enjoy and learn from. About how to accept yourself the way that you are. How to celebrate the beauty and simplicity of life. How to find magic and wonder in nature. How to be a good friend, how to be a good student, how to forgive. And (dare I say it?) how to be a good boyfriend. They don’t come much better than Gilbert Blythe.

The same goes for Harriet the Spy, and Pippi Longstocking, and Ramona Quimby for sure – they will all be part of my boys’ canon, though they are thought of more as books for girls. But I am also seeking books in which boys take the leading roles. Books that celebrate boyhood. On Earth. What is the Caillou of books about boys? Which characters speak to the everyday experiences of boys? It seems that many of the books that men I know loved as children had a genre slant to them. They were mysteries, science fiction, or adventure books. The Phantom Tollbooth, for example. It’s an incredible book, and at the top of our reading list, but what are some equally well-written books that are just plain about growing up? For books that feature boys, I can only think of Encyclopedia Brown (good, but mystery – we’ll be reading those shortly). Then there is Captain Underpants (yeesh – but C already loves it). Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume is the best example I can think of; it’s waiting in the wings. Speaking of Judy Blume, she wrote a book about a boy called Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. And when I think of reading that as a young girl and not understanding why he wore a raincoat to school, I think, then again, maybe I won’t read that out loud to my boys and leave that bit of literature up to them and their dad. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

I have a seemingly endless list of books I want my boys to experience. But does anyone have any to add? Books in which C and T might see themselves reflected. And not eaten by a Sarlacc. Get on my good list and leave a comment.

Mad Men: Caillou for grown-ups

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue

Don Draper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s just a guy who’s 40. Each day, it’s debatable whether or not he grows (emotionally) some more. He used to like whoring, he’s Don Draper.

I love Mad Men, but I know that a lot of people don’t. The main reason being, according to my very unscientific research, is that the pace is too slow. You know which other show people hate for being to slow? Caillou. See my earlier post on the vitriol that Caillou inspires in parents. Or don’t; to sum up, many parents think the show is boring because very little happens. It’s a four-year-old boy going about his day. My response: the show is not for you, parents. It’s for the child, who gets taken in seeing his or her own experiences reflected on TV. They are engrossed so we can go off and do something else for 20 minutes. Like read a recap of Mad Men on EW.com.

True, the pace of Mad Men seems slow. It’s not 24, nor is it meant to be. The show isn’t littered with car chases, hostage crises, or melodrama (although that was some good action last week, when Lane…you know what, I’m not going to spoil it. I know it can sit on a DVR for the better part of a week. But it was pretty exciting!). It’s like Caillou for grown-ups; its languid pace allows adults to see themselves in the events of the lives of these intricately developed characters. I can lose myself in the show, and sometimes laugh, and sometimes feel uncomfortable, because I can relate on some level to many of the struggles of  Joan, Peggy, Betty, or even Pete Campbell (though probably not Bert Cooper or Roger Sterling), trying to figure out their roles and lives, just as Caillou does when he struggles at school or gets pissed off at those twins who live next door. There may not be a lot of fireworks on either show, but this inner turmoil shining through is what keeps you riveted – in a preschooler way or in an adult way. Are you telling me Caillou didn’t have major inner t . when he got freaked out by his creepy neighbor? Who turned out to be just a doll after all?

Mad Men works this way on a macro level as well; I am not old enough to match the age of any of the characters on the show (Don Draper is about the same age as my grandfather, who pounded the streets of New York at roughly the same time), but it is fascinating to watch the events of a decade that formed such an important part of our national consciousness today. Let’s see, can I draw a parallel about Caillou? Is Caillou macro in any way? A Canadian way maybe? Nah, better not push the analogy too hard.

Update on Caillou, for all the haters

UPDATE: someone on Facebook posted, in response to this blog post, this article from Wired, about how SpongeBob SquarePants hampers the executive function of preschoolers immediately after watching. And what’s the control group? That’s right, haters: Caillou. According to this study, Caillou has the same effect on preschoolers’ brains as no TV at all! It’s like they’re doing nothing, just like on the show!

I agree with the writer’s statement that this study has limited value because it doesn’t show long-term detriments (and with the article in general: e.g., four-year-olds are too young for SpongeBob), but, science aside, in my opinion, shows with a slower pace, like Caillou, or Max & Ruby (RUBY!), must make better viewing for little children, because they force them to focus on one idea for a relatively extended period of time (as they must in executive play), rather than be bounced back and forth like a pinball between several (ridiculous) ideas, like on SpongeBob.

So even though one episode of Caillou feels like it goes on forever because the pace is so slow, I think that’s what makes it a pretty good show for little kids. I’m not saying I want to will Caillou to life so I can hang out with him and take him to Chuck E. Cheese or whatever, I’m just saying he’s pretty good.

In defense of Caillou

Caillou (character)

Caillou. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s just a kid who’s four. So why does everyone hate Caillou? Rather, why does every parent I know hate Caillou? And don’t even read the comments on Caillou videos on YouTube. They’re vicious! I won’t even link to them.

What are the complaints? He’s annoying. He’s whiny. He’s a goody-goody. He’s bald – why’s he bald? Click here to find out! Nothing interesting happens. Well, here’s a reality check! Except for the baldness, that pretty much sums up fourness (with an apology to my own little C)!

But though it can be a bit cloying, Caillou is a sweet, simple, day-in-the-life of a preschooler done in primary colors. And it’s hard, I think, for children’s TV to hold a mirror up to the daily life of little kids without resorting to too many bells and whistles (like giving them fins, say, or a talking backpack). It’s a good thing that children see children on television as they really are: they get excited about little things, and angry about little things. They go to school, they get along or they don’t, their little siblings get in their way. They’re not mini rock stars or astronauts or explorers, they just dress up like them.

My own four-year-old loves Caillou, unless it’s one of those episodes where the teddy bear, the dino, and the cat come to life as live-action puppets. Then he checks out, and I think it’s because that fantasy element takes away from what is good about the show: it’s created a little world for Caillou in which little kids recognize their own experiences.

So, parents, leave Caillou alone! Actually except on two points. One: I’ll grant you the voice is not great. It is a little too obvious that it’s an adult, or much older child, doing a kid’s voice, in an overly cutesy, sing-songy way. I never forget that it’s not a little kid talking.

And two: Caillou taught my son the phrase “Are we there yet?” which is nearly unforgivable. Once he saw that episode where Caillou had to drive like twenty minutes into the big city to visit some friend of his mom’s, I started hearing that on every trip to the grocery store. I don’t need that. I already know it’s Caillou’s world, and I’m just living in it.

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