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One of the things that happens when you have a baby is you acquire a library. As with all libraries, this one will mainly bore you to death. But there are also some valuable things you can learn from your new and ever-expanding shelves of children’s books. Especially the classics.
For example, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is about a tiny royal who falls in love with a flower. But the rose has a thorny personality, so the Prince flies through outer space, where he realizes there are millions of roses on Earth. Just as the prince is about to win hard-earned spiritual freedom with the knowledge that he’s got a lot more options than he realized, a talking fox convinces him he was right to obsess over that one difficult rose. The moral of the story is never trust a fox. They are rarely fair and balanced.
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a charming metaphor about runaway children in which we learn that if you flee your parents’ home, chances are you will find yourself surrounded by savage beasts and you will probably miss your mommy’s home cooked meals. I personally learned this the hard way as troubled youth, when I ran away from home and lived on the streets for a brief time. (By “brief” I mean about 10 minutes. I only got as far as Kenny Schneider’s house, when Mrs. Schneider called my mother and told her where I was, and gave me cookies and milk.)
There are also some valuable things you can learn from your new and ever-expanding shelves of children’s books.
Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is about having a bad hair day, and contains the the slightly misleading suggestion that everybody has bad days, “even in Australia.” Fact check: I’ve been to Australia and everyone there has fantastic hair. The downside is a shark will gnaw on your head when you go swimming, and the spiders will kill you.
Speaking of spiders, In E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, an altruistic arachnid named Charlotte rescues a pig named Wilbur. Although she saves Wilbur’s life, at the end of the book, Charlotte dies. The message is, we will all die and be dead for a very long time, so you may as well be nice to pigs.
In Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who!, the lesson is that even microscopic lives matter — and that we should feel guilty when we brush our teeth as we are causing the genocide of billions of microbes. Which is why I’ve stopped making Lev brush his teeth and instead taught him the old saying, “Your teeth are like your friends: ignore them and they’ll go away.” And that’s why the Lord gave us smoothies.
Which brings me to the most best new children’s book I’ve read in years. It’s called Poor Little Guy, by Elanna Allen. It’s a beautifully illustrated story of a tiny blowfish who is about to be devoured by a hungry octopus. The blowfish wears large glasses, and has sweet innocence about him. He is trusting almost to a fault. Or so it seems.
In Elanna Allen’s book, the “poor little guy” to which the title refers, is an exquisitely cute little yellow blob. In reality, blowfish have long, tapered bodies and bulbous heads. Some also have spines on their skin to make them even less palatable.
I don’t want to spoil the end, but let’s just say that since blowfish have a slow, somewhat clumsy way of swimming which makes them vulnerable to predators, in lieu of escape, they use their highly elastic stomachs and the ability to quickly ingest huge amounts of water to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size.
The moral of the story is never trust a fox. They are rarely fair and balanced.
Which is why, as in the story of Poor Little Guy, if a certain beautifully hand-painted octopus should manage to get an adorable little blowfish into its mouth before it inflates, the octopus won’t feel lucky for long.
You see, almost all blowfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. The book doesn’t tell you this, but tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one blowfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.
Despite his innate arsenal of fearsome biological poison, at first, the blowfish who is the hero of Poor Little Guy seems to have an almost Ghandi-like commitment to nonviolent resistance. But dagnabit, that pesky octopus just won’t stop. (Octopuses really suck.)
One lesson of Poor Little Guy is, don’t bully little people. The subtext is obviously about Mike Tyson, who was quite short for a heavyweight and yet he punched really hard and probably gave some of his opponents brain damage. Also, don’t mess with the blowfish.
Amazingly, the meat of some blowfish is considered a delicacy. It’s called fugu in Japan, and people pay insane amounts of money to eat it. It’s kind of like playing Russian roulette, only with with sushi. Of course, fugu only prepared by specially trained, licensed chefs who work with the solemn awareness that one bad cut means almost certain death for a customer. And yet, many such deaths occur annually.
The real moral of the story is, in the era of globally interconnection and disruptive start-ups, small is the new big.
And be careful what you put in your mouth.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.