This morning before coffee I was staring at the cover of Shirley Hughes’ Dogger* and meditating on books about lost toys. A quick search in a good library will reveal 20 or 30 picture books that tell this story, and I’m guessing there might be hundreds of them altogether: clearly it’s one of the stories that we need to hear, or, at any rate, that we need to tell ourselves our kids need to hear. The pattern is simple: boy finds toy, boy loses toy, boy finds toy again. And the same story is told, somewhat less commonly, about pets. But what is interesting is that it is never, at least in my experience, told about a child. Because it’d be too traumatic, eh?

That’s what I was thinking this morning. That we don’t tell our children about lost kids because we don’t want to scare them, and that this is part of the whole business of un-dangering their environments that drives me nuts in other contexts, but that because they worry about getting lost we tell them the story in a hidden form, as if it were a story about a toy, and, finally, that this is a pretty dishonest and condescending thing to do.

Only then it occurred to me that I was all wrong. The lost toy story isn’t about getting lost at all. It’s about losing. These are the stories of Penelope and of Telemachus rather than the story of Odysseus. And maybe that’s okay. The other story, Odysseus’s story, is told in other forms and patterns.

*Dogger is a great book, and one of those which, to my embarrassment, I can’t read to Eila without weeping. Beware of the American edition of this and other books by Hughes: not only the title but also some of the words are changed.


5 thoughts on “Dogger

  1. There’s a french picture booked called “Tom es perdu” that we have that tells the Oydsseus story: Tom is separated from his mother in a department story and has to navigate strangers and the cash register in order to find her again. It’s essentially a story that says: if you get separated, so to the cash register because the clerks will help you! and so works primarily to inculcate a sense of what one might do in such a situation — not the adventure of the circuitous and ever-delayed quest home.

    “We Were Tired of Living in a House” tells more a version that story — the kids, fed up, leave and set up imperfect and ultimate destroyed homes variously in a cave and a tree, at the beach, and on a raft. They eventually (of course) realize that they want to go back home and be joyously reunited with their parents — but they collect objects (“precious stones, that caught and held the sun”; “a frog, who was a particular friend”) all along the way, and so return home changed by the experience …

  2. Hmmm – what about the whole genre of books in which children disappear like Lion/Witch/ Wardrobe or the Enid Blyton books (The Secret Island!) or even the American Anglophile Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Princess (missing child).

    Also, maybe the lost toy story is about extending the pleasures of acquisition… I got it, and then I got it AGAIN!

    Just a few thoughts from the middle of a very foggy hillside cabin.

  3. A parent’s desperate longing for a missing child will never be as urgent in children’s literature as a child’s desperate longing for a missing toy or pet. That’s why it’s children’s literature.

  4. Pingback: Dogger 2/ pretend 2 « Hopeless but not serious

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