The Easter Chick Has Nothing On These Goslings
March 17, 2016 § 3 Comments
Easter quickly approaches, and the race to fill Easter baskets is on. Chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs line the grocery checkout aisles. Toy stores have Easter displays with irresistibly soft plush chicks, some of which even peep when you drop them. Bunnies and chicks, chicks and bunnies: this is what the commercial side of Easter preaches.
If we are talking books—which every Easter basket needs—the perfect bunny-themed choice is, without question, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, which I wrote about here (and which—sound the trumpets—happens to be available in a petite basket-fitting edition that comes with its own golden CHARM).
As for covering the chick quota—well, I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you to scrap the chicks this year in favor of the gosling. Specifically, the incredibly cute and insufferably stubborn goslings of Ryan T. Higgins’ Mother Bruce (Ages 3-8), a modern-day spoof on the age-old nursery rhyme. True, the book is going to be too big to shove into an Easter basket, but there’s no reason why you can’t prop it up beside said basket (Use your imagination, people!). Published last fall, Higgins’ picture book is one of the funniest I have come across in a long time, and it was an instant hit with my five and eight year old. I’m only sorry I’ve waited a few extra months to tell you about it.
The story begins with a mood commonly depicted in children’s picture books: grumpiness. Grumpiness is that universal emotion that is a hundred times funnier when you see it acted out than when you witness it in your own life. (Shout out to Jeremy Tankard’s Grumpy Bird, my all-time favorite depiction of grumpiness—until now.) Before I had kids, I thought grumpiness was losing an hour of sleep to Daylight Savings, or having a boss who made you do something all over again when you thought it was perfectly fine the first time (legitimate annoyances). Once I had kids, I learned that grumpiness can also be exhibited over such flagrant violations as being served applesauce in an orange bowl instead of a green bowl, or having to put your backpack on the floor in the car to make room for your little sister. Yes, my children and I know a little something about grumpiness.
When it comes to grumpiness in picture books, the bear gets a particularly bad rap (its name doesn’t help). You never meet a happy-go-lucky bear in children’s literature. More often than not, you get a curmudgeonly, inhospitable, antisocial sort, like the bears in Jory John’s Goodnight Already! and Bonny Becker’s Bear and Mouse series (but again, so much fun to read aloud).
In Mother Bruce, we are introduced to another bear in this long line of grumps. “He did NOT like sunny days. He did NOT like rain. He did NOT like cute little animals.” This new protagonist-bear has a delightfully modern twist: he’s a foodie. An organic choosing, recipe surfing, free-range connoisseuring foodie. (Who prefers to dine alone, of course.) And his favorite food is eggs, procured fresh from every part of the forest where he lives.
On this particular day, Bruce’s Internet surfing has brought up an especially gourmet temptation—“hard-boiled goose eggs drizzled with honey-salmon sauce”—and he sets out to track down the ingredients. Many of the delightful surprises in the story come from the clever ways that author-illustrator Higgins merges an animal behavior (the bear catches his salmon in a stream) with a human behavior (he does so with a grocery cart).
With the goose eggs at home in a frying pan, Bruce finds he needs to step out to retrieve some firewood. When he returns, he quickly realizes he has become a “victim of mistaken identity.” In a case of imprinting gone wrong, the eggs have unexpectedly hatched, and the baby goslings have assumed that Bruce—the first living being whom they laid eyes on—must be their mother. (I remember as a child being fascinated by the idea of imprinting, with its possibility for the unexpected.)
When your dinner starts smiling back at you through a mass of seriously cute fluff, it is natural to lose your appetite. When you try to return said dinner to its biological mother, only to find that she has flown south for the winter (what kind of a “Return Policy” is that?), it’s not surprising that something amounting to panic begins to set in.
For a bonafide grump like Bruce, this is a Living Nightmare, and the remainder of the story is taken up with the desperate antics that Bruce employs in an attempt to cast off his eager new offspring. He talks sternly; when that doesn’t work, he roars. He runs; when that doesn’t work, he climbs up a tree.
All the time, the “pesky” little things are right beside him, grinning and peeping their “Mama” refrain.
Whether he likes it or not, “Mama” Bruce begins to settle into his role as goose parent. Between art projects gone awry and picky eating, Bruce’s life begins to look awfully familiar to us readers.
Bruce’s big ‘ol grumpy heart begins, eventually, to soften. At times, he even “tried to make the best of it.” (My kids told me I had to include this one.)
Still, when the goslings move from “annoying baby geese” to “stubborn teenage geese” to “boring adult geese,” Bruce seizes his opportunity to teach his prodigy the act of migration. Only it doesn’t go so well.
The geese have become more bear than goose in their laziness, their propensity to keep their webbed feet planted squarely on the ground, and their fondness for Mr. Grump himself. Eventually, Bruce packs all of their bags, ushers everyone onto an express bus heading south, and—well, let’s just say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Beneath its physical comedy, Mother Bruce is a gentle reminder that sometimes the things you don’t go looking for turn out to be the very things you needed all along. Spring is a time of newness, of rebirth for us all. Let’s embrace these possibilities and see where the excitement and chaos takes us.
Let’s start with a handful of chocolate eggs, shall we?
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