The incredibly witty and wicked smart Ninja Mom (you may know her by her street name, Nicole) hosts this thing called the Character Assassination Carousel. In English teacher speak, it’s employing the deconstructing literary theory on a text. In everyone else’s terms, it’s destroying the bloody hell out of beloved children’s classics. A previous assassin, Synnøve from Don’t Chew on the Dinner Table!, throttled Dr. Seuss’s What Was I Afraid Of? and up next is Jean from Mama, Schmama.
But today, pals, it’s my turn. Welcome to my classroom. I’m about to school you.
Ninja Mom Blog University
The Little Engine That Could
But Shouldn’t Have Because I Just Ripped Her a New One
Character Assassination Carousel
Ms. Nicole Leigh Shaw
May 8, 2013
Hey, kids! Who wants to play with knives (4)?! Apparently all of the good little boys and girls who live on the other side of the mountain because that’s what author Arnold Munk is sending them in his classic horror tale The Little Engine That Could. Also included in the jolly load (that’s what she said) are toy engines, tops, dolls that will kill you in your sleep, and quite the political statement. Turn the page with me, won’t you?
I have two children and neither of them have ever included “teddy bears with almost no necks at all” on their Christmas lists (2). They prefer their toys whole, unbroken, and not tainted by Satan.
What’s that? You don’t remember Satan as a character in The Little Engine That Could? Silly, you know the fallen angel always disguises himself! Allow me:
That creepy mofo is fixin’ to cut a bitch with his flag.
Anyone who knows anything about clowns will tell you that they live in sewers, lure children with balloons, and grow fangs with which they eat the unsuspecting child. So, yeah, the devil.
I’ve got to switch topics so I can sleep tonight.
Moving on to the food. If the good little boys and girls who live on the other side of the mountain have really been that good, what’s up with the promise of fresh spinach (5)?! Because it’s every 5-year-old’s favorite? And to ensure fresh breath and choking after wrangling said spinach out of the kids’ teeth, let’s pop a peppermint drop, shall we? I can barely suck on one without hacking up a lung, but by all means, offer a handful to a kid who still puts his pants on backwards and believes in the tooth fairy. And, I have to ask, are the children who misbehave not allowed to eat? The book repeats the phrase “the good little boys and girls” about four gazillion times; is this to impress upon the young readers that if they don’t listen to Mommy and Daddy, they will starve? Perhaps the death-by-peppermint drops are for them.
Someone has called Child & Youth Services by now, right?
On top of the nightmarish toys and unsavory food options is the blatant stereotypical prejudice that oozes from the pages of the book.
Exhibit A: The Passenger Engine, AKA The Republican
So what if this shiny new engine prefers to assist only the wealthy, leaving those in need to fend for themselves? Not just anyone can sit in “soft arm-chairs and look out of the big plate-glass windows” (13). This is America, dammit! If the Passenger Engine is weary of the burden the hungry and poor impose upon him, he has
paid for earned the right to ignore the cries for help. Lay off!
Exhibit B: The Freight Engine, AKA The Venture Capitalist
Having the invaluable job of sharing the written word by means of “big machines (that) print books and newspapers” (19), this big strong engine prefers to keep his mind on his money and his money on his mind. Maybe if Mr. Munk had been an entrepreneur instead of a freelance writer he would have understood the thrill of a regular paycheck. Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.
Exhibit C: The Rusty Old Engine, AKA: The Grandpa
Ageist, much? Just because this engine is exhausted from a lifetime of back-breaking labor, are we to shun him? Make him feel bad for not picking up the young whipper snapper’s slack? His mantra, “I cannot. I cannot. I cannot” (24), leads readers to believe that he is a quitter, a pile of rust aiming to reap the benefits of another’s hard work. He is but a tired old man looking to score an early bird dinner at Denny’s followed by a nap. Or a Democrat.
Don’t despair, kids. Even though the aforementioned engines don’t get the job done, hope remains. Hope in the form of a female engine with bright blue eyes and a can-do attitude. If there is to be a redeeming quality of this tale, it’s certainly the idea that
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Look closely:
A typical matriarch, the responsibility falls squarely onto The Little Blue Engine’s shoulders. And much like society’s appreciation of Moms, this goose is about to shit all over her, too.
And what’s up with the “she tugged and pulled and pulled and tugged, and slowly, slowly, slowly…” (32)? Is the engine ascending the mountain or giving the clown a hand job? “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can” (33) get his rocks off before the children interrupt. I feel ya, sister.
To summarize today’s important lessons: Mr. Munk’s message of hate targets politicians, businessmen, and senior citizens. The heroism of The Little Blue Engine is but a decoy; upon closer examination, we recognize that she is nothing more than the perpetuated stereotype of a 1950s housewife. Adding insult to injury, I present the last page:
Now that everyone has their goodies, please note the lonely Blue engine in the background. Leave it to a man (who wouldn’t even put his real name on the book) to have his way with a lady and then ignore her. *Spits
Piper, Watty (AKA: The ball-less wonder Arnold Munk). The Little Engine That Could. New York: Platt & Munk, 1982. Print.
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