It all started with Barney.
Last March Ann Hulbert wrote scathingly in the New Republic about the vile purple dinosaur and his icky-sticky songs about love and creativity: “Barney makes Mickey Mouse look . . . like a master of irony.” Once it was open season on this television atrocity, we’ve been free--finally--to express our true feelings about the tide of sappy sentiment that has risen threateningly since the first Baby Boomer gave birth.
Welcome to Baby Backlash.
Many icons of yuppie baby worship, of course, are ripe for parody. But when a publisher feels free to poke fun at Margaret Wise Brown’s classic lullaby story “Goodnight Moon,” you have to ask: Is nothing sacred?
“Boom Baby Moon” by Sean Kelly with illustrations by Ron Hauge (Dell Trade Paperback: $7.99) looks so much like the original it might be mistaken for it. The room is set up just the same in the pictures, but where we should see the familiar nursery items, this good-night inventory instead begins:
In the night-lit room
There was a Kermit-phone
And a Steiff raccoon
And a hardcover copy of
And a silent dehumidifier
And a space-age
plastic pacifier. . . .
In short, a clutter of high-tech, overachieving debris and a “Swiss au pair” for the kid who’s got to be protected at all costs from bodily harm (“Goodnight intercom in my crib/ Goodnight fireproof feeding bib”), not to mention accepted to Harvard Medical School in 19.5 years.
But “Boom Baby Moon” is no coarse joke. As the lines above demonstrate, Kelly also wonderfully duplicates the subtle, invasive rhythms of Margaret Wise Brown’s verse. By the 783rd time you read “Goodnight Moon” (and what parent has not?) you find yourself, in regular adult conversation, using shorter phrases, hearing odd internal rhymes, drawing out your last syllable and--suddenly!--you are speaking perfect “Goodnight Moon"-ese . . . and you can’t stop.
Also using “Goodnight Moon” as a jumping-off point is “Goodnight Opus” by Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County comic-strip fame (Little, Brown: $15.95) :
“Which book, dear Opus, may I read you tonight?” asked Grandma with love at the start of that night.
“Why, my favorite,” I said, “the one with the rhymes, the same one you’ve read me two hundred nine times.”
On this 210th reading, little Opus is suddenly swept away in an adventure; he “departs from the text.” This isn’t a parody that follows the original book; and Opus ends up subversively hoping that stodgy old Grandma will also one day depart from the text. Kiddie PoMo!
“Pat the Bunny,” another constant on baby bookshelves, has spawned two parodies of its own. It’s hard to tell if “Pat the Beastie: A Pull-and-Poke Book” by Henrik Drescher (Hyperion: $9.95) is meant to appeal to parents, or to a whole world that is--let’s face it--no longer so gentle. The touchable page-inserts have more bite that the original did; in place of soft bunny-fluff, for example, you’ve got fluorescent green fur, with the invitation: “Judy pulls Beastie’s fur. Will you pull Beastie’s fur?” (Underneath, additional captions retort): “Ow! That’s not fun! Now let’s pull your hair!”
There’s a scratch-and-sniff for Beastie’s feet that we would leave unmentioned, except that it’s the best segue to the next book: “Pat the Stimpy” by Ren Hoek (Grosset & Dunlap: $9.95). Here the frenetic TV team of “The Ren & Stimpy Show” raise scratch-and-sniff to new heights: “These socks stink! I think I’m going to retch! Now you can smell them and retch, too!” On the last page, after the History-Erasing Button has been activated by small hands, comes the cheerful announcement: “It’s the end of civilization as we know it!”
So is this the end of civilization as we know it? Are we trying to raise a generation of smart-alecks? Or is this just appropriate fin-de-siecle culture for kids?