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Money and other nonsense

Your Humble Blogger is tempted to discourse about the role of money in the nonsense poems of Edward Lear. Well, and really I just happened to notice that it seems odd how frequently money changes hands. Everybody knows that The Owl and the Pussycat brought plenty of money with them, and bought (for one shilling) a wedding ring.

The Jumblies, however, make no mention of bringing money with them, but the most marvelous part of the poem (in my opinion, and I think that of my Perfect Non-Reader, who for the moment has taken this one as her favorite) is the shopping list:

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.

There are other transactions, some of them not directly involving money. In The Pelican Chorus, the King of the Cranes wins the heart of the Pelican King’s daughter “with a Crocodile's egg and a large fish-tart.” In The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-B�, there is some odd stuff involving a jug (without a handle) and some Dorking fowls, and one of the little fellow’s enticements is how cheap prawns are in his neck of the woods. The Table and the Chair lost their way on their jaunt, and “paid a Ducky-quack, / And a Beetle, and a Mouse” to guide them home, a service transaction. And it’s not clear to me if The Two Old Bachelors are destitute or not: they have no food, and have to borrow onions.

On the other hand, there are lots of places where money might be expected to come in and doesn’t. Mr. Lear doesn’t detail the cost of The New Vestments, nor is there any mention of the rent for space on The Quangle Wangle's Hat. Persuasion, rather than transaction, is the basis of the relationship between The Duck and the Kangaroo. So, really, the pattern I thought I saw was an illusion caused by my favorites happen to be the ones that have actual purchases.

The interesting thing, then, is that Mr. Lear’s stuff stood out as having money and transactions. I think, on reflection, that very few of the children’s books I have been reading have any reference to money at all. Dr. Seuss appears to avoid it. The Once-ler does charge for his story, and Horton is sold to the circus, which then charges ten cents a peek. Those are the only two I can think of, off the top of my head, which implies to me that there really aren’t very many money references. Let’s see ... Babar’s Old Lady pays for everything (and let’s not get into that relationship). The old stories, of course, often have money or transactions, from magic beans for a cow to the Bremen Town Musicians stealing from robbers. But I think that money shows up in children’s books so rarely these days that it seemed unusually frequent in Mr. Lear’s stuff.

I’m not sure what I think about that. On one hand, there’s isn’t any place for money in, say, Good Night, Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. On the other hand, it wouldn’t have seemed altogether odd in Ten Minutes till Bedtime or, um, I’ll think of another in a minute. Olivia? And I don’t know all of the Little Bear, Frog and Toad or Oliver the Pig series well enough to know if money shows up, but I can’t remember it, if it does. And, you know, I would probably feel awkward if there were a lot of shopping in my Perfect Non-Reader’s books. On the other hand, Kids These Days are, in fact, growing up with a little pelf in their pockets, not to mention the ads all around them and the shopping they do with their parents. And, of course, the fact that a fair amount of books are about buying things, but only in the sense that they are advertisements themselves. And, you know, they play store. They aren’t staying in some sort of blissful ignorance about money, at least not for long.

There are certainly some aspects of adult life that I’d prefer be handled discreetly in kiddie lit. There are limits to how much we should encourage the interest in playing grown-up. On the other hand, since kids do play grown-up, it’s not necessarily a good idea to stick their heads in the sand.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


Given how much larger a role money is playing in children's lives these days, isn't it nice that at least some kidlit is a respite from the incessant consumerist drone? We don't need to teach them in stories what they're learning in plenty of other ways, do we?

In Star Trek, they never go to the bathroom. How much of a loss is that?

Well, and I'm ambivalent. I'd probably loathe a story which has as its happy ending a shopping spree for Little Bear. On the other hand, shopping is fun, or can be, and I don't mind it when my Perfect Non-Reader plays store. And given that money does play a larger role in children's lives, it may be problematic to have the bulk of their books ignore that. Or not. Mostly, it's just something I noticed.


There's a sequel to Pat the Bunny called Pat the Cat which includes a visit to the ATM.

I suppose Caps for Sale involves commerce of a sort. Also The Ox-Cart Man.

In books for older kids such as the Little House books or some of the Narnia books it's fairly central.

Another point: bills are known as germ carriers, and coins are easy to swallow, so very small children are often kept away from real money altogether.

Oh, my, yes, Caps for Sale, what a wonderful book. Of course it was written in 1940. Also, I don't know if you know this, but there are two version, one with red caps and one with blue. What's up with that? Anyway, I'm particularly thinking about a generational thing, beginning, more or less, with us (raised on Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss, with more disposable income than previous).
I don't know The Ox-Cart Man, but it's true there are a bunch of going-to-market stories, some of which involve actual commerce. And there are lots of counting books that involve money, too, some of which are pretty good. But the casual mention of stopping at the store seems to be missing, and when I do see it, the part where somebody pays is often conspicuously missing.
Of course, there's the other vastly changed aspect of childhood, it occurs to me. When my father was a kid (say, seven years old), it was common for mothers to send the kid to the store to get milk or eggs or something. Now, with (a) refrigerators, (b) supermarkets, (c) panic about safety in the streets, that doesn't happen so much. That probably started when we were kids; I don't know. But it probably gives the went-to-the-store thing different connotations.
Still just ruminating, no opinion yet.
Oh, except that although I agree with you about keeping real money away from infants and perhaps toddlers, by the time the Perfect Non-Reader was three, she was big enough for her own pushke, and helps us decide where the money should go. Well, sort of helps.

there are two version, one with red caps and one with blue. What's up with that?

Gang colors, obviously.

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