Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lessons from Old Children’s Books

[Note: This is a new segment I’m trying out where I take children’s books published pre-1970s and analyze the messages hidden within. I’ve found them... Amusing.]

This Episode: Tootle by Gertrude Crampton

Tootle is a train that hopes to, one day, become a “Flyer” or very fast train. He goes to the train school where he has to learn things like how to stop for a red flag waving and how to toot. Most important is Staying on the Rails No Matter What [no mention of getting tax subsidies for Amtrak].

One day a “Terrible Thing” happens; a black horse challenges him to a race and he leaves the rails to run with him. The next day he goes off into the meadow again to see the flowers. Over the days the teachers at his school realize he is spending every day in the meadow and, chuckling [and perhaps wringing their hands with maniacal glee] they come up with a plan to stop him.

The people from the town all hide in the meadow with red flags and when he goes out to play, they all wave their flags so Tootle has to stop. Realizing that he can’t have fun in the meadow anymore because he has to stop all the time, he returns to the rails and never leaves, eventually becoming a famous engine. In the end he tells the younger engines never to leave the rails [or have fun, or vote for a Democrat].


1. Never have fun
As amazing as the meadow was and no matter how many fulfilling experiences Tootle had there, he shouldn’t have been out there in the first place. Playing in the meadow eventually leads to smoking marijuana and burning your draft card. Working hard and never having fun is the only way to be happy. I like to think that Tootle eventually ended up like Don Draper from Mad Men: smoking charcoal briquettes and cheating on his Express Commuter wife.

2. Don’t trust black “horses”
Tootle was led astray by a “fine, strong black horse.” We can only assume that the black horse was into the jazz music and smoking in the hallways. After one afternoon Tootle probably joined the Black Horse Party and started calling everyone “Daddy-o.”

3. You know what’s best for others
If you see someone else going “off the rails,” you need to trick them into getting back on track. Never mind if that person is happy or fulfilled; some day he’ll thank you, right before he goes up to the book depository with a rifle.

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