I’m a dad. This isn’t big news, except that child #2, no internet-friendly nickname, recently arrived seven weeks early. Child #1, Boy-o, is six, and reading to him is fun, and listening to him read is fun. The Frog & Toad collection has recently popped back up to the top of the list (which makes me happy, not least because I get to make voices), but a couple of week ago, I got to read him The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. We’d read it once before, last year some time.
There’s actually a lot of persistency in this story, not just from the titular gappers (small yellow sea creatures with an affection for goats that proves to be unhealthy for everyone involved). Capable, our hero, a child entering young adulthood, figures out how to deal with the gappers problem, much to the chagrin of her neighbors–particularly the grown-ups in Frip, a town of such small prospect that only three families live there. Her neighbors don’t like the solution because it points to them as part of the problem. Her father doesn’t like it since it’s a change in How Things Are Done, which he doesn’t like because changes distance him ever further from his dead wife.
The problem? Gappers love goats so much that they attach themselves to the goats, which are the center of the way of life in Frip. Gapper-covered goats freak out and fall over until the gappers are brushed off, and returned to the sea. But then they come back. It’s the job of the children in Frip to brush, bag, and dump the gappers from their family’s goats. One day the gappers all attach to Capable’s goats, leaving the other goats in town alone.
The other families see the hand of God at work here, though exactly why their goats are left alone, and Capable’s alone are afflicted, is a matter of no interest to them, as they pursue their own interests, pausing only to dispense unhelpful commentary disguised as bad advice. They only pause long enough to heap scorn on Capable when she asks for some assistance taking care of her goats. This is when Capable really lives up to her name, and takes the decision which upends the town.
She solves her problem, edges her father out of his immobility, and even manages to (!) to help her neighbors see beyond the ends of their own noses. Not far past, since this isn’t a happily-ever-after tale. But far enough to be a happy ending.
The words, ah, the words are a pleasure to read. The vocabulary is sophisticated, and the characters talk like stylized adults. If a lot of “Good Lord”s qualify as profanity in your book, consider yourself warned. There’s also a modestly snarky tone throughout, particularly with respect to the “not as stupid as a gapper” sorts of things. This is not a sweetness and light book.
But it is a book full of subtle lessons about kindness and capability in various forms, and for that I think it’s an excellent book for my six-year-old boy. As we read we talk about what’s going on and why, and why someone might act this way or want to act that way. I don’t make a big deal about the UU lessons I’m foisting on him, since they’re only in there because I find them there, but they are there to be found…