The Lorax, if you don’t know is a classic piece of ecology literature aimed at kids. It was first published in 1971 and remains in print – one of those culturally sticky kids books which gets passed on through generations. It’s by Dr Seuss, of Cat in the Hat fame. A fantastical animal the “Lorax” speaks up for the trees against the industrial “Once-ler”.
I was reminded of it this morning when I read a piece in the New York Times about economics and children’s books, which contains a passing criticism of the Lorax from a economists’ point of view. Interestingly, there is a pro-wood industry rebuttal to the Lorax called the Truax, which used to be available as an e-book on the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association website, but seems to have disappeared (though you can read a review of it).
The NY Times piece also hints at a slight feeling of anti consumerism in children’s literature, something which (interestingly, I thought) they refer to as offending a (modern US) liberal point of view:
rampant consumers are cast as villains, or at least losers. Take Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt are spoiled brats whose parents buy them whatever they want. And even in “Harry Potter,” Ms. Gubar noted, the appalling Dursleys shower their son, Dudley, with presents, a pointed symptom of the family’s wickedness. Such common tropes irk Ms. Gubar, an avowed liberal. “In children’s literature,” she said, “there is often this offensive classism whereby the poor are virtuous and the rich are evil.”
Julia Mickenberg’s book Learning from the Left Children’s Literature is really worth reading on the history here. It is also an issue I explored years back while writing a paper on branding for the Journal of Children’s Literature Studies (pdf). The main point of that paper was to argue that the analysis of children’s literature too often ignore issues of consumer culture. Books are commercial products, as are most items of children’s media culture. I don’t think imagining either literature or children to be somehow above or beyond capitalism is especially useful. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s dangerously naive.
The Lorax actually makes for a good case study here. Aside from the Truax critique, the shot above is over the cover of a 2009 Eco edition. It’s the same story, just made out of recycled paper “because the Lorax loves trees and so do we”.
Or, you know, if you really like trees, you could just get a second hand copy/ borrow it from a library.
Some more notes on the business of “Eco” publishing (cough, greenwash) for kids in this old blogpost. I’d be interested to know what people think about these issues.