Tuesday, March 20, 2012

#0049: Cocky's Circle Little Books

In the ongoing struggle of children’s education, one needs to be equipped with the proper tools to succeed. You need pencils, of all shades and colours, to illustrate the magical world of the imagination. You need scissors, sturdy and true, to carefully crop your work to conform with what is required. And, above all these things, you need books.

And stamps shaped like kitties. Books and kitty stamps.

In the case of the children of Australia, we were truly blessed, because we were privy to the heralded collection of Cocky’s Circle Little Books. For less than two dollars apiece, we could be ushered into a brand new world, where cats would compete for street supremacy, clowns with A.D.D. bailed while en route to town, and three purple monsters would simply fuck shit up.

A new generation of Aussie kids are now finding their way, and in the case of the children in my fiancé’s class, they’re about to undertake a series of lessons based on Australian literature. Enter Tony, and his Little Books.

For the record, this is a faux eulogy of sorts, because these books are merely on loan to the public education system. In actuality, I intend to keep them in my family for years to come. I want my son to read them someday. His name will be Billy. He will play football and make me wealthy. Otherwise, he will be a supreme disappointment. We’re all friends here, we can share secrets like that.

Now, the temptation I have is to conform with INAKA statutes, which would suggest that each of these books would receive their own separate entry. However, in the interest of time, I have crammed all the Little Books I could find into the one super-mega-entry. Perhaps this post of epic proportions is in celebration of some great festivity, or perhaps this is evidence of me not being able to muster 1,300 words each on a collection of children’s books. Who knows, but you, bubbly blog reader, you are the real winner.

We begin with this book, because it’s My Favourite. I mean, in the titular sense, because it isn’t really my favourite.

It follows the trials and tribulations of a chirpy young lad prancing about the zoo, in search of his favourite animal. It’s a cruel practice, because although he looks at each animal with delight and admiration, turning the page will reveal that it failed to capture his imagination.

It’s an unconventional zoo, I must say, because the first page reveals that, while the protagonist is fixated upon a zebra, an unsavoury-looking zoo employee is dragging an elephant behind him on a leash. I’ve been to Melbourne Zoo, and I can assure you that elephants don’t just go for walks among the populous. I mean, that’d be sorta cool in a cruel sort of way, but it hasn’t happened (yet).

As you can see, the emu is clearly distressed by his unfair dismissal.

In the end, after snubbing all varieties of snakes and camels, our boy Roy (named him on the fly) chances upon a cockatoo. ‘Hello’, it declares, much to Roy’s delight. In the end, he decides that this talkative bird is most definitely his favourite.

Personally, I think that Cocky had some sort of influence on this decision, because cockatoos really aren’t that great. Sure, they say ‘hello’ and all, in a friendly kind of way, then, when you edge close enough; they will bite you with all their might. In shock, you pull away, and they shriek in dismay like some sort of troll that failed to ensnare a passer-by. Afterwards, they’ll go back to their ‘hello’, a chilling call that now seems deeply reminiscent of the wicked sirens of sailor lore.

Or, if you’re in Hawai’i, they’ll simply eat your hair. And that’s just unsavoury.

I advise that the timid amongst you jump right ahead now, because we’re about to encounter The Most Scary Ghost. He makes Sadako look like a flower-picking choirgirl. He makes Horace Mahoney appear pensive and polite. He makes Casper seem friendly. But that last one isn’t really much of an achievement, I suppose.

So what we’ve got in this sordid tale is a little girl who lives in a lighthouse. In case you’re wondering, no, she doesn’t appear to have any parental figures who watch over her. Potentially, this prepubescent child is the sole commander of the lighthouse, which really makes me feel wary. Unless there is some unmentioned E.A.R.L. program. I might just assume this, because it puts me at ease.

Every night, she switches on the lighthouse and, as lighthouses are prone to doing, the light goes ‘wink, wink, wink’. This particular show of illumination has drawn the ire of The Most Scary Ghost, an infamous figure who lives atop a hill.

Frankly, the blinking light pisses him off, and he intends to sort things out and snuff it out for good. If you were feeling particularly creative, you could formulate a back-story about him being the ghost of a captain whose ship crashed upon the rocks many years ago. But in theory, if you were this creative, you’d have better things to do than write fanfiction about twenty-seven year old children’s books. …In theory.

He flaps (funnier if you read it as ‘faps’) down the hill, through the town, over the farm, along the beach and to the lighthouse, all the way declaring himself to be ‘the most scary ghost, whippetty-whoo!’, and I have to imagine that this book would be so much fun to read to kids before bed. I always liked these progressive horror stories: each page brought you closer to a terrifying conclusion, but you dared not stop, for you had to know whether the ghost succeeded in putting out the light (and possibly how much he fapped).

Finally, he ascends three-hundred stairs, and opens the door, where the little girl is waiting for him.

Such a twist! The ghost is revealed to be a pitiful coward and an abject failure of a ghost, as the mere shout of a small child is enough to send him packing all the way back to the hill, where he sits shivering. Methinks it was actually the revelation that an entire lighthouse and the very safety of all seagoing workers rests solely on the shoulders of one little girl that frightens him so, but maybe it’s just me. Seriously, that shit blows my mind.

We are now taken All the Way Up the Mountain by a group of silly, scraggly animals. Their commander is an elephant, who they all feel compelled to follow on his ascent. And frankly, I cannot blame them. If an elephant just randomly started climbing a mountain, I would feel inclined to follow, too.

This one here isn’t as story-driven as the prior entries on this list, it’s more-so just an exposé of adjectives describing how cool the animals are as they strut their shit up said mountain. It’s great for little kids to learn all sorts of awesome new words, like dithery, squelch and cluckety-cluck.

Questions arise in a reader’s mind as to what exactly they’ll find at the top of this mountain, and the suspense builds as the grassy patches give way to jagged rocks, and then, snowy peaks. Will they find God? Or the very first Kwik-E-Mart?

You know what, I don’t think I’ll tell you. I’ll just let you seek the book out for yourselves, because I’ve already spoilt the ending to two books as it is, and I feel downright guilty about it. Just don’t set your expectations too lofty, it’s not like it’s the most startling surprise since Gwyneth Paltrow’s head got FedEx’d to Brad Pitt.

This next book is titled Top Cat, and it features a swindling yellow cat who’s constantly trying to cheat his way to easy street. His cronies include Choo-Choo, an effeminate feline with a hue of purest pink, and Benny the Ball, who will break your fingers if you cross him.

Of course, none of this is true. I just needed a paragraph to begin with. This particular book is an interesting one, because it details the local cats of Catnip Street, and their leader, the old Tom, who after years of loyal service, is stepping down as commandant. Yes, I already used the term commander. I like to think that commandant is just different enough to squeak by without protest.

To determine the new leader of the pack, the Tom announces that, at the break of sunrise, he or she who attends with the best dish for them all to feast upon will become Top Cat. I’m fairly sure this is how Kim Jong-Il initially came into power.

And so each cat sets off, stealing food from the oblivious people of Catnip Street. For some reason, these people are preparing barbecues and eating tea at sunrise. But we shan’t split hairs. Samuel Siamese from number five is unique in his approach: instead of nabbing his meal from the table or a sunrise barbecue, he leaps off the pier and snags a fish.

The Tom has seen all this occur (he’s omnipotent, you see), and when all of the cats reconvene, their prizes on display, he makes a rousing speech about a true leader not needing to steal his supper, and anoints Samuel the winner, and new Top Cat.

Inspiring stuff, I’m sure, but I question the hypocrisy of the old Tom, who lectures them on the evils of stealing, whilst prior to this seemed perfectly comfortable about breaking and entering into each cat’s house to watch them.

I mean, come on. Am I the only one who has a problem with this? There is a big smelly black cat hiding in everyone’s house, and he has the audacity to give a spiel about morals! Screw you, old Tom. I’m withdrawing my membership from this stupid club.

…This is actually one of my favourite Little Books, really. I love spotting the old Tom in the background of each page. I also like to think he sounds like Bill Withers, and watches people as they sleep.

Reaching the halfway point now, our next fable is about The Blue Cockatoo. I don’t think I read this one as much as the others, and it eerily tip-toes the line between man and animal. It’s got the titular cockatoo, you see, who operates much like a regular cockatoo. But it’s owned by a hairdressing koala, and leered at by snappily-dressed animals who visit for haircuts.

What does it mean when some animals are distinguished gentlemen and ladies, and others are not? It’s simply perverse! Like if Goofy took Pluto for a walk. He’s your species, bro, don’t condescend!

Anyhow, Katy Koala owns a salon down by the harbour, and her drawing card to pull in the customers is a cockatoo that sits perched on the counter. It lures passers-by in by squawking cute phrases like “Oh, what a lovely hairdo,” or “Come this way, for a cut and shampoo,” or “nice tits, love.”

To up the ante, Katy starts styling her cockatoo’s feathers with curling irons and multicoloured sequins, and the people come in droves. Even a member of the press comes to snap a photo of this cockatoo. Clearly, it’s a slow news day in the animal world.

As the reaction hits a fever pitch, Katy gives into peer pressure and becomes more daring with her stylin’ and profilin’, and frantically grabs for her bottle of dye, intending to turn her cockatoo an attractive shade of brown.

Yeah, I know. Nothing looks good in brown. So perhaps it was a blessing in disguise when she inadvertently grabs blue dye instead, and ends up with exactly what we expected: a blue cockatoo. After all, parents eying a book called ‘The Brown Cockatoo’ would no doubt have concerns that the title was a euphemism for poo.

Katy decides that the solution for this dilemma is to increase the cockatoo’s street cred by making him more ghetto, adorning him with dreadlocks and cornrows, but it’s to no avail. Apparently blue cockatoos don’t capture the fancy of the animals like it used to.

So, Katy bathes her beloved cockatoo, and dries its hair under the salon’s dryer. And its hairnet catches fire, because Katy was too busy gossiping to supervise. I know, it’s a horrible fate, and a harrowing tale of animal cruelty and depravity. Don’t fret too much though, the cockatoo survives in good spirits, and goes back to his original position, chillaxing on the counter and shouting obscenities at the passers-by.

It’s just a shame that he’s still associated with a batshit crazy koala.

Staying on the hairdressing theme, we move onto my least favourite in the collection, The Haircut. It has garnered the title of my least favourite, as you can see from the cover, because the main kid Benjamin is an absolute little prick. I liked it, but it wasn’t my favourite.

For what it’s worth, the illustrator, Jan van der Voo, does however have my favourite name. Possibly of all time. Results pending.

Anyhow, Benjamin is a spoilt little shit who hates getting his hair cut. He causes a scene in the salon, causing the pink koala owner to panic and light birds on fire. After a great struggle with three stout men, Benjamin wins out. He shan’t be having that haircut after all.

It grows to incredible lengths, and garners Samson-like strength. I mean, his hair grows strong like Samson; I don’t think Samson’s hair itself was ever particularly powerful… Ehh, let me swap analogies. We’ll go with Rapunzel for now, a story which was first published 200 years ago in 1812. What fun!

Benjamin’s hair grows so long, that various animals decide to hitch a ride. First a monkey, then some gators, a few kittens and some pigs… Look, not only is Benjamin a brat, he’s oblivious to the Noah-esque gathering of creatures upon his hair. This kid is not a winner in any sense of the word, is he?

When he finally clicks, he flips his shit, and willingly accepts a haircut. Which is a dreadful waste, really, because that stuff would have sold at a very high price for anyone keen on industrial-strength hair extensions. It’s his loss, and moreover, the loss of animals keen on catching some free transport around the backyard. If Benjamin worked for Metro, he’d have fined them all for failing to produce concession entitlement, before keenly ignoring the violence that later ensued.

Now, we have a Cow Up a Tree. Shit! How did that happen? That seems highly impractical, and apparently it only occurred because the cow ‘had the sulks’. Cheer up, emo cow.

I could never quite figure out the race of the family in this book. I always kind of assumed they were Indian, although Grandpa looks very Italian. As you can plainly see, Sister has got some serious booty happening. I don’t know why any of this needed to be discussed, but we can’t go back now.

Appropriately, the cow too chooses not to go back, remaining steadfastly up in the tree. She resists the family’s threats, countering with a loud ‘Moo-oo’. I had a Koori friend who climbed a tree once. When someone tried to get him down, he responded by throwing a spear at them he had fashioned from a branch. I am not even kidding, it was fucking hilarious.

None of the family seem quite certain on how best to rouse the cow from its perch, and understandably so; it’s not your everyday dilemma. They’ve owned this farm for seventy years (back when Grandpa migrated from Italy, perchance), and this is only the fifth time this has ever happened.

Me personally, I like the mad nanna’s reaction.

That’s right, you bovine fuck, if you don’t come down, she’s gonna plow through the tree, killing all in her path!! That would have been an excellent ending. I’m going to pretend for a moment that that’s what really happens. Maybe in the sequel.

The family throws out a lot of wild theoreticals, until Sister saunters out, grabs some hay, and coaxes the cow to come on down. Success! I like the fact that none of the family had thought of that simple solution, instead opting for hoses, chainsaws and fire. Would it really have been worth burning down the farm, and potentially the cow itself in a queer Joan of Arc/Wicker Man sort of display?

I have yet to make a cow come down from a tree myself, so I really shouldn’t throw stones. Though in actuality, throwing stones is exactly what I would do, had I been in that scenario.

Moving right along now, we happen upon Do~whacky~do, a most excellent story about ten baggy clowns who are going to town. I like to think that one of them is Cam from Modern Family. I haven’t decided which one yet.

So as you may expect, clowns make for unreliable travelling partners, and as they get closer to town, where they intend to hit it big at Crown casino, each clown finds something better to do, like walking their crocodile to the zoo or becoming a pirate. Though you can see the dismay on the face of the lead clown as his support shrinks like that of Muammar Gaddafi, I can’t particularly fault them. These are all very important things that we all must address at some point.

The clowns precede their unexpected departure with the blanket statement of ‘Do-whacky-do’, which I assume is clown-talk for, ‘shit, sorry bro’. It all checks out;

‘Shit, sorry bro. I sat in a patch of sticky glue.’

‘Shit, sorry bro. I’m sick with the spotty-dotty flu.’

‘Shit, sorry bro. I’m washing my hair with green shampoo. And I’m naked. Please, get the fuck out of my bathroom.’

I’m sure each kid had a favourite excuse, and I was no different. This was, and still is, one of the greatest pair of pages in all of literature.

Bagger Vance eats socks. Hell yes.

By page 20, the road trip has turned disastrous for clown #1. He’s made it all the way to town, sure, but he hasn’t got a buddy to share the experience with. Not only does he not know anybody in the town, but now he knows that his ‘friends’ would rather paint their toenails than hang out with him. It’s a sad situation, but fortunately, he knows exactly what to do. He dances with a kangaroo. This is how all problems are solved in Australia.

Our next book tells us all about a little kid (who looks remarkably like my childhood friend Nathan) and his imaginary exploits with A Pet Dinosaur. Will this end in bloody disaster? Read on, and find out!

Nathan sits on his doorstep one day, pondering the benefits of owning a pet dinosaur. As you can appreciate, the pluses are many. Besides the social status that comes with owning a brontosaurus, he dreams fondly of building tree houses higher than anyone else on the block, playing hide-and-seek behind its legs, and blocking the door from solicitors. No, I’m not kidding with that last one.

He even suggests that he could ‘hire out the extra space’ at a fee, in case someone wanted to sit atop the dinosaur for a better view of parades and such. Yes, Nathan is whoring out his dinosaur. But dammit, he wanted another ice-cream. We all have our vices, after all.

Here is a picture of Melbourne. It is made of Lego.

But the more Nathan dwells upon this very important decision, the more he begins to realise the drawbacks. It eats like a mofo. It’s too big, and crushes shit. Dennis Nedry might try to sell it.

In the end, the kid settles for a kite, which is a much safer choice, I think. He was bound for disappointment anyway, considering that modern science has since proven that the brontosaurus never even existed. Isn’t it funny to think that both the brontosaurus and Pluto being a planet were debunked in our lifetime? I feel significant. And betrayed.

Finally, we arrive at book #10. It is my absolute favourite of all of the Little Books. It is The Yukadoos, and lord above, if the kids go on a rampage and rip everything else to shreds, please let them at least spare this book. …And my fiancé, too, ideally.

I believe it’s one of the oldest books in the collection, first published in 1987. It’s all about the Yukadoos, a trio of mischievous… things, who have only one purpose on this Earth.

And that purpose, quite simply, is to be as annoying as possible. From cackling in the cupboard to shouting in the shed to messing up the magazines to bouncing on the bed, theirs is a world of mischief, noise and alliteration.

As you can appreciate, we as mischievous, noisy, alliterate children could truly relate to these Yukadoos, and I absolutely adored each page’s antics, each new illustration. Look at him! He’s in the mud! He’s hiding under a rug! Baby, he’s the ginchiest!

For some odd reason, I also liked determining which Yukadoo looked the most comfortable in each picture.

…No, I have nothing to follow that up with.

So, as you can see, the Yukadoos are just fantastically good fun, though hopefully they won’t encourage the kids to do some silly shit. I can’t be held responsible for any actions caused by zany purple critters. Though if kids started actually rolling off the roof and shit, I would suggest that they had problems that long preceded their exposure to the Yukadoos.

And I guess that concludes this super duper extra extended reflection upon Cocky’s Circle Little Books. I regret that I was unable to find Ten Loopy Caterpillars while I was rifling through all of my old crap, but that just leaves the opportunity open for me to make another 3,600+ word entry somewhere down the line.

I shall wait nervously for the day they return to my possession, having successfully taught children not to steal, to get their hair cut with regularity, and how to get a cow down from a tree.

In the meantime, I’m going to move onto a new sort of book, and one that has been made vastly superior by some random person’s perverse creativity. 24 Hours at Anvil Rock, here I come…

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