Little Toot – Hardie Gramatky

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

Christopher had encountered this story as an animated story on one of the Disney dvds we have, and I discovered reading the author bio on the book that Hardie Gramatky worked for Walt Disney. I’m not quite sure what the relationship between the book and the film was, but it’s kind of neat how similar the illustrations are – Gramatky may even have done the animation himself.

Either way, Little Toot is a very American story – the unlikely protagonist who becomes a hero when he realises the value of hard work and determination.

To get the scoring out of the way, there are no female characters in the book, and the closest thing to diversity is the old seadog tug Grandfather Toot, but basically the characters are all pretty, ahem, “default”.

That being said, I can never quite bring myself to fault the “hard work and determination” message, albeit one that I think these days is a touch inaccurate and skewed. But the good ol’ American dream is still a nice dream, even if reality is now so far removed from it as to be laughable. I suppose they call it a dream for a reason.

Toot is essentially the boat version of the Little Engine That Could, except that he gets to redeem himself by starting out as a wastrel tug who faffs about instead of working hard like his daddy. It’s only when he’s faced with a crisis that he gets his shit together, and proves himself worthy of the Toot name.

I’m being a bit cynical, of course. And I do want my kid to value hard work and determination, but I find myself with that vaguely uncomfortable feeling that the world in which this book was written in 1939 was a far cry from today’s world where things are a bit more complex than “work hard and everything will fall into place”.

Still, it’s a pretty nifty little story, and we did both enjoy it. There is something kind of dynamic and nostalgicly magical about the illustrations, and C loved it. Because, well, boats. You know?

What do you think? Are you familiar with Toot? How do you feel about the American dream trope in the modern world?

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