Monday, August 24, 2009
Ok, I know I promised a review of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, "The Road," but somehow I feel more compelled to review Peter Collington's children's book, "Clever Cat," which I checked out of the library several weeks ago for my six year old son, and which he adamantly did *not* want to return to the library when it was due. (I'm not sure what that says about "The Road." Probably it says more about my work load and motivation level than about either book, really.)
"Clever Cat" is children's literature, probably written merely to be cute, yet here I am mildly obsessed with the potential deeper meanings in the book.
I'll start by saying the illustrations are adorable, and the premise of the story is, as with most kid lit, rather fantastical, which is what makes it fun.
The story is about a cat who gets tired of waiting ... and waiting.... and waiting... every morning for his people to feed him breakfast, so he gets out the can and the can opener and serves himself.
The people are amazed at their "clever cat." The woman then gives him a cash card and a key to the house and asks if he can go buy his own food. So he does.
Then he discovers the joys of the cash card, taking out cash to spend at the local cafe (mmm, this food is so much better than cat food!), shopping, going to a movie, and even playing poker (in a cute scene reminiscent of the famous "dogs playing poker" painting on black velvet). He passes the other lazy kitties outside sleeping in the sun and feels superior to them. After all, there is so much to experience in life!
But apparently, the bills add up quickly, so his people take the cash card away and tell him to get a job to help pay the bills and rent.
He gets a job as a server at the cafe where he used to dine. At the end of the week, after he pays the bills and rent, he has only enough money to buy... cat food. He is so exhausted after his one and only week of work that he oversleeps the following week and is late and gets fired.
And then he decides that working life is for the birds (or humans) and resumes his cat behavior, simply waiting around to be fed.
The humans call him "lazy," but eventually they feed him anyway and he goes outside to sleep in the sun with the other lazy cats, who smile as if to say "Finally, a clever cat."
What does this all mean?
Is this an endorsement of shucking responsibility and living off of welfare and food stamps? You're "clever" if you find a way to get "the man" to feed you and care for you while you do nothing all day long? If so, what the heck does this book teach our kids?
Or is this a cleverly disguised conservative rant about a welfare system that encourages people to shuck their responsibilities and be lazy and live off of the labor of others? Is it saying, "look what slothlike behavior we encourage with our welfare system"?
Or, more subtly, is it a liberal rant about the inadequacy of a welfare system that does not provide proper incentives for people to return to work, such as by gradually phasing out the benefits (rather than cutting them "cold turkey" style when an income threshold is met) and allowing folks to keep some portion of their benefits (health insurance or food stamps, perhaps) even while they improve their lifestyle, so that they are motivated to work instead of simply collecting welfare?
. . .
Or is it just poking fun at humans who have been cleverly convinced by cats that we should feed and shelter them even though they really do nothing for us and they just sleep in the sun all day?
After all, sometimes a children's story is an allegory or a fable, designed to teach deeper truths (such as Aesop's fables). Other times, it's just a kid story.
What do you think?