I have a passion for children's books, like a burning burning passion. There are so many reasons. Of course there is the fact that I'm an artist and designer and so I'm drawn to the generous and yet compact way to look at art. But another of the big ones is that they pretty much have to have a moral (we're talking about picture books, not novels). Or if not a moral then a warm and fuzzy feeling (think "Good Night Moon").
I recently bought the children's book "Who Will Comfort Toffle" by Tove Jansson of Moomin fame. I've written about her before and I'll write about her again. And this will probably be the only time I will criticize her.
The story is about Toffle, a little creature of a nervous nature, alone in the world. He runs from the loneliness of his house into the wide world, but is thwarted by his own shyness. Until! Until he finds a letter floating in a bottle, written by a scared and lonely Miffle. He is immediately seized with purpose! He rushes off and does a battle dance and saves the lovely young female thing from the terrifying Groke! And he does not need comfort because I suppose he has found his own strength and because he now has a friend.
The book is beautiful and I was overwhelmed by Tove's graphic abilities that I hadn't suspected. I'd always known of her writing and line art. She is a genius at color and shape. But.
How can the ending be about coupledom as the cure-all for all of one's issues? How can it not have ended when Toffle came to the seashore where "He pulls his shoes off, feels his toes sink into soft white sand/As he admires the pale blue sky, the sea, the rippling land./'How wonderful', thinks Toffle, 'I can rest or dance or shout/or fill my hat with pebbles." How can it go on to say he is still not happy and say "So who will comfort Toffle and remind him that a shell/is nicer when there's somebody to show it to as well?"
Buh-loney. I mean sure, maybe for some. But you know what? If there is a moral, it should be that one can find deep joy and strength within oneself. Why in the world would the moral be that your only hope for happiness and comfort is to get over shyness and find yourself a mate?
I will tell my son, at some point—
If you find a beautiful shell, tell it that it is beautiful. If you see a beautiful sky, tell it that it is beautiful. If you see a beautiful ocean, tell it "You are beautiful".
And they will hear you. The world hears you.
Mate-dom has many happinesses attached to it, or can if you are with a nice one. But no one, NO ONE, should be told it is necessary for joy and comfort. At least that's what I think.