If you hear something repeated often enough, it often starts to develop deeper meanings for you…. Whether that’s a catchy song that grows on you or a favourite film that seems to get better each time you see it.
There’s a lot of repetition involved in children’s entertainment. Especially 2 year olds. They never seem to get tired of hearing the same things over and over again. Whether that’s the story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar or the phrases of Mickey mouse coming from the aeroplane toy he rides around the kitchen.
It’s tempting to think these simple verses are all the same, and at first I thought they were… just simple words and phrases designed to hold kids interest.
But the more I hear it, the more respect I’ve got for the very hungry caterpillar… On the face of it, it’s just a few sentences about a caterpillar eating various fruit and then turning into a butterfly. But as you hear it more and more (and believe me, I have), you realise that on top of the simple repetition, there’s teaching about numbers and counting, about the days of the week, about change and the processes of nature, the sun and the moon, and there’s even a message about healthy eating.
But on top of that, it doesn’t talk down – it uses long words (butterfly, caterpillar), and difficult concepts (metamorphosis, getting ill from eating too much). And it doesn’t bypass things just because its audience won’t immediately understand them. It makes them work, and they respond to it- or at least George does – with enthusiasm and passion.
And it does all of this in a form that’s so economical with words and meanings that it’s a kind of poetry.
Contrast that with the Mickey mouse aeroplane toy - whose words are basically just sales pitches for disney’s empire. Constant mentions of the names of other characters in the Disney franchise are all you really get from it. The lyrics of his theme song are particularly good:
…and so on.
All toddler’s literature is not the same.