Alligators Everywhere in Alphabets

If few people consider cold-blooded beasts cuddly, how can authors and illustrators of children’s books make them more appealing?  Last summer, the blog ran a post to try raising the profile of reptiles with a selection of picture books starring crocodiles and alligators—mostly with their jaws open wide, which may not have helped the cause.  No alphabet books were included for lack of space, so this post will try to remedy the omission and feature with one by the master Maurice Sendak and another by a promising newcomer, Emma Ward, a 2021 graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Sendak’s Nutshell Library (1962) consists of a cautionary tale (Pierre), a counting book (One Was Johnny), a song about the seasons (Chicken Soup with Rice), and an alphabet (Alligators All Around) in an illustrated slipcase, which retains its charm after all these decades.   Alligators is probably the most rumbustious of the four volumes, although no one gets eaten for being disagreeable.

A family of three properly clothed alligators have so many noisy, silly things to do on land that they never go near  water. The whole family wears wigs and pretends to be lions.  Father and son fool around standing on their heads, riding reindeer and imitating Indians (casual disrespect of Sami and Native American peoples).  The alligator boy juggles jellybeans, draws on the walls, skips naps, and throws tantrums, confirming the sad truth that his parents have spoiled him so rotten that occasionally they have to nurse headaches in bed.   This being written at the very beginning of second wave feminism, dutifully domestic Mother boils a huge pot  of noodles for her little boy and graciously passes the paper bag of peanuts to the lady elephant visiting for tea.

Doris’ Dear Delinquents (2021) is a brood of twenty-six gharial crocodiles, the endangered fish-eating Indian species, fancifully imagined but accurately drawn by Emma Ward with the characteristic long, narrow snouts and spiny teeth. She has carefully dressed the babies in onesies, tee-shirts, dresses, and shorts that can accommodate thick meaty tails. Mother Doris is draped in a decidedly unfashionable maxi-shirtdress with lace collar and cuffs topped with a little hat that ties under the chin.

 Sendak’s mummy alligator gets in on some of the fun, Doris only gets to contain the chaos on shore.  There seems to be no getting around the temptation to fixate on crocodilian maws when inventing mischief they might  get in to.    Eventually Doris delegates the task of wearing them out swimming to Dad, who makes his first appearance wearing a natty bowler in the last opening.  True to life, the little gharials pile up on dad’s head and back to sun themselves.  Somewhat confusingly, Doris is on hand to help, even though the text says she will relax while they all are out.Imaginary reptile families, no matter how uninhibited, seem to be ruled by patriarchal dynamics!

2 thoughts on “Alligators Everywhere in Alphabets

  1. as always perceptive and thoughtful with a light touch thanks so much

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