Thursday, October 23, 2014

The I-Hate-This-Book Club presents "Chicka Chicka 1-2-3"

Yeah, Chicka Chicka 1-2-3 is something of a modern classic, but I'm not afraid to speak out against nonsensical children's literature. Down with the Patriarchy! (or, you know, just a really annoying book that my nine-year-old has suddenly rediscovered with so much passion I've got poor Zero crying in my head.)

Chicka Chicka 1-2-3 is an example of trying to cash in on an earlier success. With Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Bill Martin, Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert rocked the NY Times' bestsellers list, so naturally Simon & Schuster were eager to get more cut-out characters climbing another tree. After hundreds of readings, I take issue with Boom Boom's inconsistencies (the letters fall out of the coconut tree, are dusted off by their relatives, and then return to the same place in the pile-up they had been immediately after the fall; how the tree returns to its original upright position defies my understanding of physics), but the "story" is easy enough to follow: letters climb tree, letters fall down, letters climb again.
The more letters re-climb the tree, the less bent the trunk becomes. Amazing.
In Chicka Chicka 1-2-3, the basic conceit is to swap numbers for letters and apples for coconuts. Numbers 1-20 climb an apple tree, then we skip to 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 99. I don't know why 99 was invited and 72 was not, but my son will quickly point out to you that 99 only appears at the bottom of the tree - maybe he wasn't coordinated enough to climb all the way up.

Dramatic intrigue comes from Zero, a whiny little bitch sitting on the ground sobbing with existential ennui: "Will there be a place for me?" Zero, honey, lemme tell you something: no one in this life is going to make a place for you: you've got to climb up that apple tree and take it. Don't worry about those other numbers: you do you.

So, all the other numbers are sittin' in a tree, eating red, green, and orange apples, when along come two bees. Numbers, it seems, are terrified of bees. All the numbers except for 10 climb down, at which point Zero gets over itself and realizes the only thing that will scare away bees is... a three-digit number. So Zero climbs up, sits next to 10 to make 100, and the bees flee, much to everyone else's relief.
To me, it looks like a creepy monster in a brown shirt standing in front of a tree.
You can't unsee that.
The numbers cheer Zero as "Hero of the Number Tree," but you know who's the unsung hero of the piece? Ten. Ten didn't freak out and jump out of the tree. Ten didn't cower in fear. Ten stood its ground. If any other number had stayed up there with Ten, they would have made an even bigger three digit number - maybe even a FOUR-digit number - that would have (somehow) eliminated the bumblebee menace. But no - Ten was the only one with the guts to stay in the tree.

Not to diminish Zero's contribution - Zero's like a firefighter, rushing into danger after everyone else has evacuated. But Ten already had a fire extinguisher - it just needed someone to help aim the spray. My metaphor just ran over my foot.

Anyway, this book is annoying to read, and made infinitely more annoying by the estimated 11,500 clips on YouTube of people reading the book or reenacting the story or, God help me, singing songs based on the text. Ryan is adept at finding these "educational" videos. Last night while clearing the dinner table I discovered I had the song from one of them stuck in my head - one which features a typed warning that if too many more people click Dislike on the video, he will be forced to make it private; I nearly threw a plate across the room as I announced to Stu, "If you find me hanging in a closet, this is why."

God, I hate this book.