Hey, Folks! We Need Just a Tad of a “Little Good Feeling” by Way of a Picture Book by Russell Hoban with pictures by Lillian Hoban
Okay. Depending on what media outlet or news feed that you read, things are toxic culturally.
Whether it involves fears over the corona-19 virus, the political landscape that seems to include a slash and burn scenario, the state of our schools, the so-called disintegration of the family or a multitude of other downward spiral thinking, it’s time to call a picture book halt.
And, that’s just what, I feel, is called for here.
However small, I shall weigh in with a positive note amid the chaotic culture with a little book from 1966 called, “The Little Brute Family,” by Russell Hoban, with pictures by Lillian Hoban.
This book passed into my hands after a looooong hiatus. Around the mid 70’s, I read this little book to my children. It’s a happy book that starts out as a downer.
Hence, this is the reason that I bring it forth. It will make your young readers laugh out loud….and you.
And it has a lot of simple wisdom on attitude and its effect on behavior.
“In the middle of a dark
and shadowy woods
lived a little family of Brutes.”
Oh, by the way, I looked up the meaning of the word, “brute.” It is a savagely violent person or animal.
The Brutes are a family of five; mother father, brother, sister, and a baby.
In the morning
a sand and gravel porridge,
and the family snarled and grimaced
as they spooned it up.
No one said, “Please.”
No one said, “Thank you,”
and no one said,
because it was not delicious.
Breakfast conversation is nil and the little Brutes’ kicking one another under the table is pretty usual.
After breakfast Papa Brute
took up his sack
and went to gather sticks and stones.
Mama stayed home
to thump the furniture
and bang the pots
and scold the baby.
In the evening Mama served
a stew of sticks and stones,
and the family ate it.
with growls and grumbling.
Then they groaned and went to sleep.
That was how they lived.
and said, “Delightful!”
They never smiled
and said, “How lovely!”
The Brute kids springtime kites bump along the ground and don’t fly.
In the summer
They flung themselves into the pond
and sank like stones
but never learned to swim.
My children howled at this part of the book.
In winter, they have “crooked clumsy sleds” and crash them into snowbanks where thy stick in headfirst and scream.
Baby Brute, wandering in a field, finds a “little wandering lost good feeling.”
And HE LAUGHS and says “How lovely.”
He tucks it into his pocket, and home he goes.
Baby Brute actually says “Thank you,” when served his dinner stew.”
And guess what?
The little good feeling slips out of the pocket and “hovers over the table humming and smiling.”
Suddenly, the Brutes are smiling and saying “Delightful” and “How lovely.”
And it STAYS.
Papa Brute, instead of stick and stones for din din, finds wild berries, salad greens and honey.
And, the Brutes learn to say “Please” and “Thank you.”
And guess what?
The little Brutes make new kites and “they flew high in the sky, and in the summer they swam beautifully.”
Fall finds them gathering nuts and acorns that they roast around a cozy fire; and they sing songs.
The little good feeling stayed and stayed
and never went away,
And when the springtime came again
the little Brute family
changed their name to NICE.
Okay, Liz. What’s the upshot of all this?
In my humble opinion, there is a ton to be learned from this 1966 picture book.
Russell and Lillian Hoban, who wrote and illustrated the “Frances the Badger” series, had a ton of wisdom and an abundance of simple, common sense.
I recommend the series as a primer on parenting, even in 2020.
Not alarmists, they looked on parents as benevolent and kindly, but appeared, via their stories, to be definite believers in setting boundaries, and even letting scenarios play out where Frances learned lessons that could be sad and upsetting to a point; witness her getting rooked in a tea set swap with another badger.
BUT, she does gets the better of the deal in the end, AND doesn’t lose the friendship in the bargain. Not easy. She uses her smarts.
What we allow fed into our children, via social media, the new norms of popular culture, news outlets and the “sky is falling” dramatics of the 24/7 cycles that flood us with information constantly, all have a definite effect on, not only our mood as adults but how we interact with others.
And surely, for children as well, it may have a negative effect on their perceptions of everyday life and the absence of the simple, taken for granted common courtesies that bind a civil society together.
Just maybe what we could do, at least for all the young readers out there, and big ones too, is find that lost and wandering “little good feeling.”
And let it stay with us…just for today.
Stews, made of “sticks and stones,” are not good for digestion.