Giant Or Waiting for the Thursday Boat

By Robert Munsch

I was raised in a secular household, went to a Catholic high school, and studied religious studies in school. For all of that, I feel I fall on a balance; I don’t consider myself religious, but I have a lot of academic knowledge. But for all of that, sometimes obvious things go completely over my head.

Take Giant: Or Waiting for the Thursday Boat. I loved this book as a child. I have literally read it to pieces, but we still have it. It’s an oversized picture book, set in Ireland, where the giant McKeon is upset that St. Patrick is driving out all the elves, snakes, and giant and replacing them with church bells. In retaliation, McKeon throws every church bell he can find into the ocean. The fighting escalates, with St. Patrick telling McKeon to complain to God. God, of course, comes on the Thursday boat, so McKeon sits down to wait. The first boat that arrives is a small craft, manned by a little girl. McKeon decides she can’t be God, and she sits with him as he waits. Other ships come in, bearing much grander occupants, but none of them turn out to be God.

Sick of waiting, McKeon takes the little girl, leaping up into Heaven. The fighting between McKeon and St. Patrick continues, and they try to find God to set their issues to rest. It turns out the little girl is God, and inside her house there is more then enough room for giants, elves, snakes, saints, and church bells.

I did not know that this book was at all challenged until very recently. Heck, for years I don’t believe I ever caught on that the little girl was God. In no way does this take away from the message, though; in the end, Munsch creates a beautiful story of acceptance and forgiveness.

(As an aside, I do think McKeon got the lesser end of the deal, since, as the last giant in Ireland, his departure means that there are no more giants, elves, or snakes. Well played, God)

My silly thoughts aside, I love books like this, that encourage children to think, and play with their perceptions on the world. The downside comes, of course, when parents overreact and try to have a book yanked from the shelves. I’ve commented on this before, and won’t again; read the post instead. I’m afraid I’ve almost become jaded on how overprotective parents are at books that offer very little threat. So, while this controversy surprised me, I thought I understood. Of course parents might be offended about the depictions of religious figures in Munsch’s book.

But I was wrong.

The controversy was not, as I thought, about how God was portrayed. If you had asked me, parents would have complained that God was a child, or a girl, or black. But no, the controversy was because McKeon threatened to “pound God into applesauce”.

I can sympathize with parents, I really can. The world is scary, and you worry that anything can influence your children. Seeing what was written in the days before political correctness (like the use of blackface minstrels in Little House on the Prairie), I can’t say I blame them for sometimes overreacting. But sometimes the controversies make me laugh, or at the very least shake my head. On my part, I like to focus on the good things about Giant. For one thing, the artwork does a great job of making McKeon larger-then-life, while making the girl small. The artwork works well with the text, each balanced by the other. On a deeper level, I love how Munsch plays with how God appears, and her role as the last person you would expect to be God. We need more books like this, ones that challenge the parents as much as the still-malleable perceptions of children.

Suggested Ages: 6-9

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And Tango Makes Three

By Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

I was speaking with a co-worker the other day, and the topic of banned and challenged books came up. She was shocked to learn that not only are books routinely challenged, nor that occasionally a book is actually banned, but that most of these books are children’s books. Parents have this belief that reading a book will automatically put ideas in that child’s head and turn them into a gay/satanic/drug-using/etc. monster. Mostly these challenges are to school library, where they are not protected by a iron-clad collection policy, and it is there that most challenges win.

One of the most challenged books of the last decade is a small children’s book called And Tango Makes Three. Written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, it’s based on real-life events at New York’s Central Park Zoo, between two male penguins named Roy and Silo. In the book and in real life, they formed a pair, built a nest, even nursed an egg-shaped rock. One year, they were given a real egg from another pair, and the two penguins successfully hatched and raised a female chick named Tango.

The story is simple,¬† the artwork equally simple and effective. There is nothing offensive about this book; it could equally be a book about any form of adoption. If anything, it’s heartwarming, two penguins unable to reproduce getting a chick to raise. If it wasn’t for all the controversy and the fact the two penguins were male, this book would probably be lost in a sea of other children’s literature.

I like books with a message, and this book would certainly be among the books I read to my child. I don’t think there’s a single thing wrong with portrayals of the gay community in literature for children – if anything it’s necessary. Parents may want to believe that their children will grow up like them, and in most cases they will. But some won’t, and encouraging them, and letting them know there’s nothing wrong with being different, is important to instill at an early age. To me, there’s nothing worse then alienating your child or forcing them to hide because you never told them it was okay to be different.

Targeted for ages 3-5, I recommend reading this book, with or without your child. Read it, then make a decision if you think it should be banned. The worst thing about banned books is the lemming effect it seems to have – one person complains about the subject matter, and everyone joins in without even having laid eyes on the book. Don’t let this be you – be informed, and give challenged books a chance.

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