Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith - review

The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith
Ok. I'm going to have to heavily synopsize this book, which I don't usually do, because - SPOILER - this is kind of a negative review, which I am stunned to be doing about a Lane Smith book. THE Lane Smith. The Lane Smith whom I love for John, Paul, George & Ben, and for BIG PLANS, and Madam President, not to mention his many excellent collaborations with Ambassador Jon Sczieska. So I need extensive backup if I'm going to even remotely disagree with any line or syllable of a Lane Smith book.

We have two friends - donkeys, although that's not important right now - and the first donkey says to the second donkey, "Can we talk about the big elephant in the room?"

The second donkey assumes that "the big elephant" is code for "the large and obvious issue that we have until now wilfully chosen to ignore, lest it foment outright conflict between us." (A classic example of "the elephant in the room" might be, say, my cousin-in-law's sexual orientation, of which her mother is unaware, thanks to scores of relatives not mentioning it. For decades.) Let's leave aside for the moment that this euphemism is maybe a little grown-up, not to mention obscure, for some kids, and move on to the issues that the second donkey thinks could qualify as "the elephant in the room."

Second donkey thinks his friend might be angry that he (second donkey) ate all the ice cream. Or that second donkey broke first donkey's computer. Deserted him when the bully came around. Took the cool bike so that first donkey was left riding the tricycle. Glued him to his chair. Made fun of his backpack. Laughed at first donkey when he laughed so hard he peed his pants - and then told another kid about it. Aaaand about a half-dozen more things that second donkey has done to (or by omission of action caused to happen to) his good buddy first donkey.

But no. There is, in fact, a big elephant in the room. His name is Stanley, and he's watching TV and eating ice cream - apparently he's a friend of second donkey. I personally would have been more satisfied if the "big elephant in the room" had turned out to be a thug hired by first donkey's mom to come and beat the squee out of second donkey.

I mean, sure, friends pull crap on each other, and forgive each other (and to be fair, first donkey in the end exhibits a scowl - he didn't know that second donkey had spread it around school that he'd peed his pants, and he is, finally, ticked off), and usually come up karmically even in the end. I think it's good to demonstrate to kids that even if your pal Jason or Jacob or Courtney or Michaela was dicky to you today, tomorrow is another day... BUT. That second donkey kid (am I out of line to call him a jackass?) is WAAAY over three strikes here.

I love me some Lane Smith. He's one of the few authors whose books I buy sight unseen. But this doesn't work for me.


Fuse #8 said...

Yup. We are as one on this book. Can't for the life of me understand it. Dunno if I'll review it or not. My problem was that if the first thing a kid hears when reading a book is "the elephant in the room" he or she is going to assume there's a real elephant actually in the room. So the reveal at the end of this title makes zippo sense. Hrmph.

YNL said...

Betsy I seriously thought given the title and cover (and Lane Smith's tendency to write civics books for small children), that it was going to be an allegory about political parties!

We were all kind of stymied about it when we passed it around the workroom.

Bri Meets Books said...

With you on this. Didn't like it at all. Horribly mean spirited. The lists that the donkey should be mad at his friend could've been a little nicer, like beating him at a video game or something. But this was almost outright bullyish.