Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
I brought my puppet with the chef’s white coat and tall white hat to a baby-sitting gig, and a little boy named Luke bonded with him—to the point that when I returned six months later, the 3-year-old immediately inquired about Luigi by name. Children are intrinsically attracted to puppets.
Here is what I know about children. The most two-left-footed grown-up with a group of pre-Ks in a Sunday school class, the minute she gloves her hands for the weekly Krusty and Patty Show, is trusted with their secrets as they enter into a different world that has not been invaded by the larger-body set.
Here is what I know about the afterlife: There will be “a severe beating” or “a light beating” awaiting those who frolicked while the Master was away (Luke 12:47, 48), depending on degree of sin. And the deepest darkness is reserved for those who “cause one of these little ones to sin”: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea” (Luke 17:2).
Brian Henson, as a boy, used to hang around the studio of his father, Muppet creator Jim Henson, and he noticed the most fun happened before the director called “action” and after he called “cut.” That’s when puppeteers get bawdy and the puppet show gets “blue.” “Blue” is Brian Henson’s preferred word for perverted. He also uses “raunchy” and “adult” but mostly “blue,” “blue” sounding sophisticated, and pleasingly obfuscatory. Henson’s new film featuring foam-stuffed felt characters, and marketed to adults, is decidedly blue. Don’t even defile yourself on the trailer.
Critics are dutifully panning The Happytime Murders for now (except in Toronto, our neighbor to the north being advanced in “blueness”). Their complaints are that the jokes don’t “land.” Presumably, a rightly landing joke would be redemption. Conspicuously absent in reviews is any mention of the children.
We are all about “the children” in this country. Except when we are not. We’re about children except when we want to get a divorce, or except when we want to have an abortion. Or except when we do whatever we want to do and call it art and say it’s up to moms and dads to monitor their children’s viewing habits.
So you go with hubby to see Happytime, then take the kids to Incredibles 2. That’s fine for now, but in four months the DVD comes out, and have you thought about where you’ll stash it, with that pied-piper puppet art on the cover? The carelessly left case, the grown-ups’ giggling overheard from Caitlyn’s bedroom, the inevitable schoolyard networking, there are a hundred ways to prick your best-laid plans.
Anyway how’s that parental guidance working for you? A relative of mine, unbeknownst to me, took my prepubescent son to see The Silence of the Lambs. The boy that he returned to me was not the same boy I sent out. It took a week of sleeping badly till he finally got over it.
But not really. It’s like what a local chiropractor shared about childhood sports injuries: They always ring twice—once on the soccer field when you’re 12, then unexpectedly in middle age when you thought they were safely behind you. If the body remembers, how much more the soul?
There is no more going back to a pre–Happytime Murders day now (absent a spiritual revival), any more than there is for my son to go back to a pre–Silence of the Lambs innocence. A peach in your fruit bowl, pretty as it is today, will only go in one direction, from perfection to corruption; there are forces deep inside it quietly at work, and you at best can just retard them for a while in the refrigerator. That’s why it is written in the final chapter of God’s Word to man:
“Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Revelation 22:10-12).