Corduroy by Don Freeman, 1968

So, in my intention to initially look at some of the “classics” of the illustrated world, I had wanted to bring Corduroy into the mix. In my memory, this was a story of trial, tribulation, perseverance, and the eventual success of kindness (not usually my cup of tea, but come on, it’s a fuzzy little stuffed animal that’s loses its button and finds its sense of personal worth). Through my childhood lens, I saw an inspiring story of triumph for an under-privileged, under-estimated bear whose sincerity lands him in the right place. And that’s great for now-adult-me to have as a memory, well done childhood self. But sadly, in revisiting the little bear many years later, the truth of the matter is that Corduroy ain’t what I remembered him to be. Now, no need to totally rip Corduroy apart, he obviously can have his positive effect on kids. We can say he belongs to a time and a place– but that time and that place does not jibe with my adult sensibilities.

The storytelling is at its core childish. As Don Freeman explains in the hand-holding tone he uses through-out, “the store was always full of shoppers buying all sorts of things, but no one ever seemed to want a small bear in green overalls.” And we readers chime in, “Poor Corduroy!” And what really does poor Corduroy show us? That some little bears are naïve and endearing and will always be saved by kind, loving souls. Is that really the way the world works? Sure, I still see the lovely sentiment of kindness as a neglected little bear in green overalls finds a sweet little girl to take him to a sweet loving home, but that’s no excuse. And perhaps my heart-strings have hardened in the 20 something years since I first read this book, but does my participation really need to be wheedled out of me with obvious plays at my sympathy? Sorry, Corduroy, I kind of wish you weren’t such a lucky, bumbling bell of sappy sympathy. Buck up, dude.

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