Recently we acquired some of Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men and Little Miss books. The content is a bit troubling. I don’t mean that we picked up Mr White Supremacist or Little Miss Internet Troll, but the values and judgments implicit in the books are not really what I want my child to grow up with.
Take Little Miss Helpful as an example. “We all know somebody like Little Miss Helpful” the story reads, somebody who isn’t helpful at all. In the book, Little Miss Helpful commits a series of acts of unwanted kindness, each time resulting in pain and suffering for her unwilling recipients. Mr Tall falls over and has the indignity of a sticking plaster being jammed onto, then unceremoniously torn off his mouth, and poor Mr Happy gets his kitchen wrecked and then is himself flung into a lake by the marauding Little Miss Helpful. The moral can only be that you should always avoid helpful people, and avoid being helpful.
Or at least, women should. The Mr Men can be very helpful, whether it’s Mr Strong extinguishing fires or Mr Forgetful retrieving a lost sheep for a farmer. (They can also be quite destructive – Mr Strong walks into town and doesn’t look where he’s going, wrecks a bus. But then the Mr Men books are from the late Seventies and early Eighties – maybe just like Margaret Thatcher, they despised public transport.)
Mr Forgetful is a story about how we can find amusement in people suffering from serious problems like amnesia. And then there’s Mr Nonsense, which smuggles in the troubling concept (popularized by Frank Zappa) of yellow snow. That’s not something amusingly nonsensical, that’s something to encourage your children to keep out of your mouths.
Or perhaps I’m just Mr Overthinking It.