While showering this morning, I recollected for no good reason the fact that, as a child, I always thought that Little Jackie Paper died. And now I'm reading John Green's marvelous An Abundance of Katherines, and am pleased to have found another child for whom fables were not all that: "if only he'd known that the story of the tortoise and the hare is about more than a tortoise and a hare, he might have saved himself considerable trouble."
And if children's writers would just stay away from the fables, already, they would save us ALL considerable trouble. Making a story (The Gift, by Robert Morneau) about transubstantiation into one about pumpkin pie enlightens us about neither subject. Making a story (Bravemole, by Lynne Jonell) about the World Trade Center and terrorists into one about molehills and dragons demeans all concerned. It shouldn't come as a surprise that so many celebrity-amateur books (Madonna's Mr. Peabody's Apples; Patricia Cornwell's Life's Little Fable) indulge in this sort of thing, because the financial model for a successful picture book is The Giving Tree. But the thing is this: The Giving Tree never was a book for children; it was a book for adults charmed by thinking themselves sophisticated for finding such "wisdom" in a kiddie book. Idiots.
What brought this on? I'll tell ya. I'm reviewing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a novel-length fable about the Holocaust. And once I hit the first instance of the word Auschwitz rendered in irony-laden lisping babytalk ("Out-With") I knew we were in trouble all over again.