Thursday, February 09, 2006

Miffy's (Nijntje's) grandparents are dead

Peanut loves Miffy (Nijntje). Miffy is a the brainchild of Dutch author Dick Bruna. Because I am Dutch, I use the Dutch language version of Miffy books to make Peanut familiar with my mother tongue. The books are ideal for night time stories. They are about 20 pages thick and on every right page you have a drawing and every left page approx 4 lines of text to read out. Miffy is an approx 4 years old rabbit girl and the pictures are drawn with very simple lines and bright primary colors.

We only have 4 books or so, so I know these stories very well by now. We also have a DVD with Miffy episodes. As I read and watch Miffy with Peanut, I learn more about Miffy. Here's what I have found out:

1. Miffy's grandparents are dead
It struck me that the book "Grandma and grandpa Bunny" ("Oma en opa Pluis") is written entirely in past tense. The book talks about grandma and grandpa and what they liked in past tense. This must mean they are dead. As Peanut starts to understand the world more and more, I am starting to feel increasingly apprehensive about reading this story. Peanut's grandparents are very much alive and I want her to think of them as such.

Actually, browsing the Miffy web site a bit more, we find proof that Miffy's grandma is dead, because the story "Dear Grandma Bunny" ("Lieve Oma Pluis") is actually about grandma's grave.

2. Miffy is growing up in almost entirely female environment
The Miffy stories have a largely female cast. In the stories I have seen, Miffy has met her grandpa and has one male bear friend. All other cast members are implicitly or explicitly female. What does this mean? The male sex has been eliminated from Bunny land? One can only speculate about the reasons for this - and no, I wont go there. Point is, I want Peanut to understand that almost half of the global population is male and they are not (all) alien or scary and it is ok to love your daddy and to fall in love with a man later on in life.

3. Miffy is probably growing up in a Calvinistic Christian family
In the story "Nijntje in luilekkerland" which is not listed on the web site, Nijntje is daydreaming about "luilekkerland", a land where it rains candy, the pavement is made of chocolate, children don't have to clean up after themselves and can go to bed at the same time as adults. She concludes her daydreams that living in such a place probably is not fun in the long run and she might turn into a spoiled and fat rabbit. It is better to be normal, eat your porridge and be healthy.

I grew up in a Calvinistic Christian family and the story seems to me to be communicating those values to Peanut. It is up to you if you think this is appropriate to communicate to your child. I'd like Peanut to be able to enjoy herself without burdening her with a feeling of guilt or sin at a young age. Also, the comment about being fat may communicate a negative bias towards obese people.

4. Miffy is growing up in an environment with established role expectations
Miffy's mother is a stay-at-home mom who takes care of Miffy and does household chores. Miffy's aunt appears to be single and fills her days with baking cookies and organizing parties. Miffy's grandma loves to knit. In "Miffy goes to stay" we get to know the mother of Miffy's friend, who is also at home.

So essentially Miffy's role models are all female and all occupy themselves with household chores and children. Now, I respect women who chose to do this, but I also believe that we live in an age where this is a choice, not fate. I think it would be good for Miffy to have role models of adults who do other things, female and male. This would extend to Peanut as well.

5. At 4 years old, Miffy is supposed to be independent
In "Miffy goes to stay" ("Nijntje gaat logeren"). Miffy gets on the bus alone to go and visit her friend. I don't know about you, but I would not feel comfortable putting a 4-year old child on public transport by herself/himself.

In one of the Miffy movies, Miffy and her friends go camping by themselves without adult supervision. Again, I would not feel comfortable with that.

Is Miffy really teaching Peanut to expect to be this independent? Don't Miffy's parents care? Or is Miffy's mommy so busy with her household chores that she doesn't mind if Miffy is out of the way for a bit? You know, maybe before Miffy's daddy comes home? I guess with Miffy's parents being rabbits, they can always have a new litter :)

Honestly, I wrote this posting more in jest than as a serious complaint or accusation. But as I wrote this, I did start to wonder if these subtle messages in the Miffy books affect the development of children. Any comments / ideas?


bibiche said...

Oh, what memories does this brings up! I had completely forgotten this litle rabbit... Surprisingly the books do not seem to be published in french (my mother tong) but it surely is the language in which I first saw them. I now would like to find one in french for our daughter but where? (plus, I don't remember what is her french name...). I really like the drawing.
Concerning what a kid can learn from the book, I think it is mostly a matter of variety: I am sure that peanut also have plenty of other books showing different way of seing things so that she doesn't leave exclusively with these ideas that women should stay at home and nothing else etc... Also, if you have a look in the other series from the same author, it looks like boys can go shoping as well (boris does the shoping).
Thanks a lot for reminding me these books. I'll try to find a french version as I am pretty sure it does exist.

Maiju said...

I think books have a great impact in children but as bibiche said there should be a variety in them. I like Astrid Lindgren's books while everything is possible and children are in main role and the books don't try to teach anything (they still teach a lot...). They give a child challenge in imagination.

Calvinistic christianity isn't something I like to meet in children's books or anywhere else. somehow I think that we should learn about christianity trhough children and not try to teach christianity to the children. We should live the values of christianity true to our children.

Sometimes I also think that we under estimate children's talents in evaluating which is true and which is fantasy. It's good for children to meet many kinds of ways of living through literature or in life. So what I'm saying that keep on reading Nijntje's to Peanut. Maybe later on you'll have good conversations about that with your child.:)

Peanut's Mom said...

Just yesterday, I was playing a story CD in the car for Peanut which got me thinking things are not so rough in Bunny-land after hearing what happens in Hansel&Gretel or Snow White! :-)

But, these are the stories (along with Pippi!) I grew up with as well and I think Maiju is right in that children have a good ability to tell fact from fiction.

Hope you find the French version, Bibiche - Nijntje is one cute bunny!