Friday, February 11, 2011

Tweaking and Sociopathy for Kids

Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear
by Ken Kesey
New York, NY: Viking, 1990.

Finding this book on the shelf at the library was an experience all its own. Take a good look at that cover. Really look at it. Imagine seeing only the top half of it. Those eyes. Those horrible, all-too-human eyes! Those are not the eyes of one of Goldilocks' three bears. Those bears do not hate like this bear hates. This is a stone cold killer, waiting for you to let down your guard. This will not end happily!

Then, after pulling the book off the shelf (the eyes compelled you to), you see the name of the author; yes, yes it is that Ken Kesey. The only person who could write a children's book this bizarre. You know, the same Ken Kesey who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and drives around in a real life "Magic School Bus":

"Navigate a nostril... spank a plankton too!"

The inside of the book is every bit as crazy and horrifying as the cover advertises. The bear on the cover is the titular Big Double, a monstrous brute who wanders through the woodland equivalent of a trailer park, eating every one of the creatures he meets, all of whom appear to be destitute and possibly addicted to drugs (at least, that is the effect of Barry Moser's illustrations). Each resident Big Double meets tries to escape him by a challenge of abilities, which the bear matches just before eating them whole. Big Double, by the by, bears a passing resemblance to another famous Ken Kesey character.

Note the Cap...

The protagonist of this story is Little Tricker the squirrel, whose primary redeeming feature is his ability to make a fool out of Big Double. Tricker only seems to have two main motivations: laziness and hunger. Until his meeting with Big Double, his only real struggle is between warring impulses to go get food to store for the winter, or to take a nap. Mostly, the nap wins. Incidentally, Tricker looks very much like he could be on meth-amphetamines, which makes him just about the most realistically depicted squirrel in all of children's literature.

As promised, the story ends awfully. In order to escape, Little Tricker lives up to his name, and tricks Big Double into leaping over the side of a wooded hill, where he then "splatters on the hillside like a thumping ripe melon". Certainly, this book is not meant to be read aloud to kids, right? Except that, like The Talking Eggs, Little Tricker is best enjoyed for its rich and highly accented language, which can only be really appreciated when it's performed.

With all that in mind, I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking to read a good modern variation on the classic trope of little people fending off scary animals. The language is violent in a way that few childrens' stories are, and it takes a certain amount of judgement to decide what the appropriate age is. Take heart, however, because with that glaring cover, it's unlikely any child is going to pick this book up unless they are comfortable with Big Double's gaze in the first place. For that alone, they should be congratulated (and probably feared just a little).

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