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Children’s books. The dark, desperate, hidden meanings.

Reading. I love it. Can’t get enough. Unless something is on TV.

So I was thrilled when Amy got on the book bandwagon and loved having a story read to her from quite early on.  My “hurrah! My child enjoys books!” enthusiasm waned somewhat when she got to the stage where she would demand the same ones over and over and over and over and over again.

One day, whether it was borne from sleep deprivation or just a desire to amuse myself, I started to search for hidden meanings and messages amongst the brightly illustrated pages.  And I FOUND them.

I’ll leave the Hairy Maclary series alone, because that lovable scamp and his mischievous furry friends are National Treasures (having said that, Scarface Claw needs to be neutered, and I’d call dog control if Bitzer Maloney or Hercules Morse were free roaming on our street… Bitzer looks a bit bitey, and Hercules is as big as a mother-fugging HORSE).

It’s the 1970’s favourites where the real windows to the dark side of humanity reside.

‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’.  A sweet wee story in which the concept of metamorphosis is explained? No. That fat little bastard was an addict. He ruined a picnic (think Sandra Bullock sabotaging her sister’s wedding in 28 Days). Chomping through the green leaf was intervention (“Try this nice, fresh leaf. Doesn’t that make you feel good? We want you to feel this good all the time, and you have it within you to do it!”). The cocoon? That, my friends, was rehab.

One of my favourite children’s book authors is Judith Kerr. She of Mog fame.  Oh, how I adore the Mog books. The one where Mog loses her bunny – how cute! The one where Mog does a poo on Mr Thomas’s favourite chair – how hilarious! The one where Mog disturbs a burglar in the night, but they’re all so bloody British that the police, the family and the burglar all stand about having a cup of tea together instead of heading straight to the station – how, um, bloody British! The one where Mog hates Christmas a bit – how festive (especially the tipsy aunt with her hip flask)! The one where (SPOILER ALERT) Mog shuffles off her mortal coil to the big warm lap in the sky – how sad! I do have a healthy dose of respect for a possessive author: if she can’t write any more Mog books, then no one can.

It’s ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ where Judith really has a message for us. The plot synopsis on the back cover reads thusly: “The doorbell rings just as Sophie and her mummy are sitting down to tea. Who could it possibly be? What they don’t expect to see at the door is a big furry, stripy tiger!”

“A modern classic”, claims ‘The Independent’. “The multi-million selling picture book no childhood should be without”, touts the publisher.

Ok. I propose a theme song for this book: “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones, because I reckon that Mummy welcomed not a big cuddly tiger through her front door; she instead welcomed the warm, comforting, numbing embrace of Valium.

A tiger came over and ate all the food in the house and drank all Daddy’s beer? Hmmmmm, yeah, maybe that’s plausible (within the bounds of a children’s fiction book). But drinking all the water in the tap so Sophie couldn’t have her bath? Seriously? ALL the water from the whole of London? That’s where Mummy’s story comes unstuck. According to The Internet, tigers drink up to about 70 litres of water a day.  There’d be plenty of water left for Sophie’s bath.  Look at that face – Mummy was so ripped she couldn’t deal with bath time (actually, I sympathise with her on that one. Not so much the being ripped bit, but the “I just can’t deal with bath time tonight, let’s fabricate a reason why it’s ok to just get straight into pajamas” bit.)

And then Daddy comes home.  Poor. Old. Daddy.  Look at Mummy’s face as she tells him there no supper because a tiger ate it.  She’s blitzed! He’s seen this before. He knows there’s a pattern emerging. But he humours her through it, probably because he feels responsible. If only he’d encouraged her to pursue her promising career in International Diplomacy instead of insisting she stay home and raise his babies, and if only she hadn’t found out about him shagging Doris from the typing pool. Daddy’s face says: “Really? A tiger? You don’t say…” Sophie’s all: “Dad, I’ve been dealing with this shit all day.  Either hire a nanny, or start saving for my future therapy NOW.”

All’s well that ends well, though.

As a family, they eat through their pain at the local café (look at Mummy: “the peas roll around sooooo prettily on my plaaaaaate.”)

Then the next day they hit the shops.

Chips, ice cream and spending up large are the best sorts of therapy, always.

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