Friday, October 24, 2008

The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer - review

The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer
Here's an old book that is worth a fresh look. Originally published in 1962, the same year as Where the Wild Things Are , The Three Robbers is a weird little tale of three fierce little criminals in tall black caps and cloaks.

Armed with a blunderbuss, a pepper blower, and an alarmingly large axe, the three hold up carriages and steal the passengers' cash, jewels, watches, and bearer bonds, then take the loot back to their cave. One night, they hold up a carriage containing only a little orphan named Tiffany, who is en route to live with a "wicked aunt" and only too happy to have been intercepted. The robbers take her back to the cave and give her a place to sleep. In the morning, taking stock of her surroundings, she asks, "What is all this treasure for?" and the robbers are stumped, never having considered spending their booty.

Together, the robbers and Tiffany decide to round up all the lost and abandoned children they can find and buy a castle for them to live in. All the kids get red capes and tall red hats like the robbers' black ones, and when they grow up, they build houses near the castle, and a lovely little town is born.

Reading this to my kindergartner last night, I at first thought of monastery towns. The robbers in their capes reminded me of monks in their habits, and the ending kind of reeks of folktale (reeks in a nice way - reeking like potato soup with lots of garlic, say). The story has something of a Bremen Town Musicians vibe to it, and I was wondering if it was the kind of story a child would make up about a medieval orphanage run by monks.

My mind kept catching on the robbers' cluelessness about their loot. That is very kid. Arguably, that's specifically very boy. With them, the goal is the action (in this case, robbing) - the action is rarely the means to the goal. Whereas girls, in my observation, often have more complex goals in mind, and develop strategies - sometimes mind-boggling complex strategies - in order to attain them.

Ergo, you could read The Three Robbers as an allegory of play. Three boys are playing their pointless yet fun game; a girl comes along; they charitably include her in their play; she doesn't get it, but figures out an extension to their game that makes sense to her, and they end up building a doll hospital for her.

You could also just enjoy this book for the hats. I love the hats.

1 comment:

Da Poppins said...

I know you posted this years ago, but I just pinned one of the pictures to pinterest. I thought your way of stating it was very boy and then the girl comes along...very funny. I'd never looked at it that way. We were first introduced through the library and a Tomi Ungerer video with a few of his other stories. My 2 year old, 3 year old, and 5 year old sons loved this story, and could recite it with sound effects from beginning to end.