Elmer – David McKee

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story: 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

I’ll admit, I’ve cheated slightly on the points for this one. I’ve given it the variety of characters point even though all the characters are animals. BUT I’m justifying it by saying that the whole point of Elmer is to teach tolerance for someone who doesn’t look like ‘everyone else’.

It’s a tricky one really though, because the whole patchwork elephant thing is fundamentally ‘othering’. Elmer is different because he’s not ‘elephant coloured’, assuming of course that there’s only one way to be correctly coloured if you’re an elephant. But, you know, it’s still good to accept and maybe even celebrate the ‘wrongly’ coloured elephant.

Don’t get me wrong, I think celebration of difference in a children’s book is an admirable thing, but there is something happening here that I think often happens in discourses about difference. It’s the reason I try to avoid the word “diversity” (which is no easy task, believe me) – it fundamentally assumes there is something to be diverse from, there is a norm and an other instead of simply a variety of ‘normals’.

I am probably horribly overthinking this. 🙂 I do that. Elmer is a charming book, with awesome illustrations, and what it is trying to do is ideologically good, I think. But it feels like a first step to me – liberalism 101, where we generously bestow our mark of approval on the ‘difference’ as if it is up to us.

I do not want ‘different’ kids (whatever kind of difference they feel they have) to think that to be accepted they have to be jolly and fun and make everyone laugh like Elmer does. I don’t want them to think their value lies in how well they can make their difference work for the herd in order to be ‘acceptable’. I want them to know their value is intrinsic. Not dependent.

And so, I give it a point for variety and a point for ideology, but I’d like to see more. This is a good first step. Step further.

It’s a great tale though. 🙂 And I love me some elephants. And its fun to read. So there is that. ;P

What do you think? Am I overthinking it? Am I setting the bar too high? Am I being too difficult to satisfy? Do you also think elephants are just supercool?

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