Why The Crawfish Lives In The Mud

Why The Crawfish Lives In The Mud is a story set in Louisiana. This immediately appeals to me, because one of my great joys is reading Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep to La Serpiente in increasingly ridiculous Deep South accents. (Or my ridiculous attempts at them.). Given the opportunity to read a genuine Southern story to my child, I thought the extra opportunity for drawn out, drawled Cajun would be just the ticket for unwinding in the evenings. But things don’t always turn out that way.

Crawfish (and I can’t get straight in my head how crawfish and crayfish differ) is a trickster and a lazy one at that. His friend, Crab, is industrious and helpful, if a little too trusting. Why The Crawfish Lives In The Mud is the tale of how these two animals had a catastrophic falling-out, resulting in Crawfish taking up residence in, well, mud. (You hardly need a spoiler alert here, given the title of the book.)

Our copy of this book, a library loan, has seen better days – some cruel child has tried to separate the cover from the binding. Perhaps that’s what counts as rudimentary literary criticism among the under-fives. The book is simple – the plot is covered in about twelve pages, with about two sentences per page, and there are charming, if crude, illustrations of the crawfish on almost every one.

There are a few errors. There’s a question mark where an exclamation mark should stand, and although La Serpiente cares not for matters typographical right now, she needs the best start in life we can afford. By contrast, this book does give her insight into other languages, the Cajun Crawfish spouting phrases like “c’est la vie” and excusing his behaviour by claiming to be “couillon”, although again, inspection of the definition of that word makes it seem a bit … rich for the diet of a two-year old.

I’m also all for teaching La Serpiente about different modes of speech, but it seems to sabotage our pedagogical programme if we include phrases like “he was some scared”, however authentic a representation of a Louisianan (?) usage those might be.

Finally, as tricksters go, Crawfish isn’t that great. He doesn’t want to end up in the mud, is in fact quite terrified of it, but whereas Brer Rabbit would turn this fear to his advantage, by persuading his antagonist to do the opposite of casting him into the mud, Crawfish is just cowardly and unobservant, the engineer of his own demise. Crab, in comparison, is weak-minded, prone to violent rage (as demonstrated by the fear Crawfish has for Crab when Crab’s blood is up) and obsessed by the size of fish (or the size of possible fish in some hypothetical bayou). Neither of these are particularly great role models.

Tonight, of course, La Serpiente made me read this book three times, perhaps generating more antipathy than necessary. Still, I feel a rewrite, where Crab learned to question his materialistic desire to get the biggest fish possible, and instead concentrate on the most tasty, nutritious meal that he could, while Crawfish focussed on his talents as an excavator and explorer of mud, could provide a more positive example to children around the world.

That, and an explanation of the confusing crawfish/crayfish dichotomy.


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