I am a lover of children’s books. Amazon’s merge into digital children’s books to accommodate Kindle was a great step in keeping up with fast advancing technology.
When Brad Peterson of Synesthesia Books submitted to my blog for a review of RASCAL FARMS by author, Anderson Atlas, I jumped at the chance to review this publication for children.
Brad cordially sent over an e-version of RASCAL FARMS, along with a blurb for the book.
“Raccoon, gets tired of hunting. He decides to steal food from a farm nearby. Bear gets in on the action as does Fox, Badger and Owl. But the farm soon runs out of things to steal. The rascals learn how much they hurt the farmers and make amends. They choose to work together for their food by building their own farms and trading with each other.”
I set off with my electronic notebook to have story time and read RASCAL FARMS with my two eldest granddaughters, ages 10 and 6-years old. I thought there could be no better feedback to gain, than that of the children themselves.
RASCAL FARMS is filled with great art. I can only assume that Anderson Atlas is both artist and author since there is no illustrator credited, at least not in the version I was sent.
Colorful and wonderfully symmetrically drawn, Raccoon’s daily life is well depicted in the beautifully created illustrations.
The opening sentence of Brad’s blurb states: “Raccoon, gets tired of hunting.” Yet, the opening line of RASCAL FARMS tells a different story of Raccoon having a hard time finding food in the vast forest, as shown on the first page below.
Raccoon and his family are not the only ones struggling for nutritious food in the forest. In fact, all of Raccoon’s friends are foraging for the scraps that the forest has to offer them.
It so happens one day that Raccoon comes across a lush industrial field, rich with vegetables. He finds a chicken coop where he takes a couple of eggs. He gathers some vegetables and brings them back to Mrs. Raccoon, who is not very happy at the idea of her husband stealing, even for food.
I paused here as I read this to my granddaughters. I was immediately suddenly swept back to being a teenager.
You see, after I left a life growing up in an end-times cult, my family was forced to settle in one of the poorest parts of Martin, TN. We lived in a trailer park across from an industrial farm.
Impoverished and eating government cheese, beans and rice, my sister and I often tiptoed across the road in the night to get a head of cabbage, some carrots, corn or potatoes. It was our only possibility of getting nutrition into our diet as our mother barely scraped by, working two jobs already, just for us to survive and have electricity.
I felt immense empathy for Raccoon. I knew that only those who were poor and had struggled as my family had, could really feel Raccoon and his friends’ dilemma.
My granddaughters couldn’t relate to having to forage for food, as they have been lucky enough not to experience poverty.
Nevertheless, I continued to read on as Mr. Raccoon spills the beans about the farm to his other forest friends, merely wanting to help them be able to get some nutritional food for their families as well.
Soon, all the animals from the forest have pillaged the farm, and the owners are left with nothing, destitute and homeless, losing their farm as the poor and hungry animals have become filled with gluttony and greed, leading them to steal ALL of the farm’s industrial equity. Now, there is no food for anyone, even the farmers, who have been pushed into poverty from the loss.
Raccoon and his friends decide to grow their own gardens. Upon the gardens’ successes, the poor animals return all of the stolen food to the farm and continue to thrive together as a forest community, growing their own food.
They make a pact with the farmer to barter and share foods. The farmer’s child promises to leave food on the porch in case the animals get hungry.
As I read, my 6-year-old granddaughter was quite distracted, fidgeting, sighing, looking around as she waited for the story to end. I had to continuously re-direct her back to the story.
My 10-year-old granddaughter remained engrossed in the story, never losing attention.
This observation led me to understand that this book would be more suited for ages 9 and up; children who have passed into a critical thinking age.
To understand the mindset of my grandchildren, they are raised to be free thinkers, to care about the planet and to love themselves. These are the basic tenements of our family. We do not have religious or social leanings. We are of the mindset that all humans deserve the humane right to a comfortable life. If that means we must help others, we are a family willing to do so as we have the means.
When I had finished the book, I asked my eldest granddaughter to give me some feedback on the story. She shrugged, unsure of what to say.
“Well, what do you think it’s trying to tell you?” I coaxed her.
“Um, not to steal?” She answered, unsure, her eyebrows furrow.
“Tell me what you think of the book in general then.” I suggested.
“OK.” She sighed. “So, first, animals can’t build gardens so… if they’re starving in the forest they wouldn’t know HOW to build gardens AND if they DID they would have just made a garden FIRST and not have to go to the farmer’s field so… that doesn’t even make sense, but I DO like the art.”
I chuckled a bit to myself as she animated her points with hand gestures. She was assessing the book from a reality based perspective. She was left with the basic understanding that animals can’t create gardens and poor people shouldn’t steal, even if they’re hungry.
Now, to offer an adult perspective of RASCAL FARMS, this book is written metaphorically, and appears to reveal the author’s mindset in regard to social class systems. This mindset is played out with subtlety and would need to be explained to a child by the reader.
I was left with questions for the author. If the intent was to write an objective children’s book, there were so many elements left out.
- Why didn’t the farmers ever care about the animals who were poor and scrounging for food in the forest in the first place?
- Why did it take a bad situation for the farmers to realize the animals were in need?
- Why didn’t the farmers teach the animals to farm?
- Why didn’t the farmers just leave food on the porch for the poor animals from the beginning, instead of only agreeing to do it AFTER a negative situation happened?
- Why did it take struggle to create a comradeship between the poor animals and the successful farmer?
This book left me with the impression that the author finds poor people who “steal” in order to eat, to be bad people. I had to explain to my granddaughters the unrealistic nature of this book; how restaurants in America throw away tons of food a day and can’t even donate it to the people who starve in our country.
I explained to my granddaughters that most poor people are not lazy, and for the most part, they don’t steal or cause the wealthy to crumble. I did not want my granddaughters left with that impression, as we are a philanthropist family who does not want our children to have a non-empathetic mindset toward those who have life struggles for various reasons.
I reiterated that yes, stealing is bad, and it is also equally negative to ignore our planet and those who suffer on it, as the farmers ignored the animals in the forest in RASCAL FARMS.
I explained that if not the for the forest, the human farmers would have no oxygen, as trees are needed to breathe, and animals provide an intricate part of our eco system. Therefore, the farmer too, was guilty of only caring about themselves.
My granddaughters walked away as soon as I was done, restless to go jump on their trampoline, and seemingly slightly agitated.
This book does not align with a heart of giving and caring about the poor. My granddaughters, being kind hearted girls, were even seemingly put off by the implied, apathetic and even classist victim-blaming message in RASCAL FARMS.
Mr. Atlas would have created greater balance had he incorporated farmer empathy toward the animals, who were so desperate for food they were eating slugs.
Instead, this book implies to a child that poor people steal and can’t think on their own to work hard; that they cripple people who do work hard for their wealth, and therefore poor people owe the rich people they’ve crippled… because poor people steal when they’re in need.
The book doesn’t address whether the forest was farmable or if anyone had ever taught the “animals” to farm. I also find the metaphor of using animals to represent the poor to be offensive. The wealthier and “hard working” class in the book gets to be human.
I was hoping to find a lot of positives in this story. The ideal of bartering and trading doesn’t get presented until after the poor animals are represented as thieves.
This book is geared toward a parent who wants to set a certain mindset in a child, in regard to classes of people. I cannot assume an author’s intent. I can only assess the attempted metaphoric style of this book’s writing.
There are many genre’s of children’s books. I don’t know if there is an Elitist genre’. If there was, this book would fit perfectly inside of it.
I hope Anderson Atlas will write another book and offer a more socially realistic perspective which does not imply the poor people are animals who just steal and pillage hard working people. I also hope to see an illustrator credit, even if it is the author. This is not a book I would buy for my own grandchildren.
Vennie Kocsis is the author of CULT CHILD, an Amazon best-seller in cults and religion in 2016. She is an advocate against child abuse and indoctrination. She is currently writing RISE OF SILA, the sequel to CULT CHILD. Her other publications and art can be explored at VennieKocsis.com