Book Review—Too Many Carrots

Awesome Illustrations, but the Story's Resolution, Along with How It Gets There, Is Quite Problematic. 2/5

Too Many Carrots, a children's picture book by Katy Hudson (Capstone Young Readers)

I bought this book in Barnes & Noble when Capstone marketing-blitzed it by paying for an entire table display in each store (I can't imagine what the budget was for that). I've read it several times and experienced several emotions reading it, but mostly it just makes me sad.
Before I get into my breakdown of the book, however, something has troubled me about it for a while, so I will address it in the hope that I can finally be released from that woeful demon: I honestly don't know how this book was ever published (in its current form, I mean). But I have a theory.

Often I'll give a promo copy of a recently published book, or an advance reader copy, to a random person, and they'll say, "What's the moral of the story?" Seems simple enough, doesn't it? But it's not, because those in the industry are likely to treat such a question as infantile, naive, or simplistic. At times such a question can be any or all of those things, but it really depends on the book. Some books (such as AESOP'S FABLES) have the primary purpose of providing moral lessons through story, so obviously "What's the moral?" is a relevant question. Conversely, a book about avenging the death of one's family at the hands of mobsters could merely be escapism with no moral lesson in sight. Although that's true, every story has some moral compass even when its intent is merely to entertain.

Currently, most industry professionals (agents, editors, publishers, etc.) give only limited weight to moral background and logic while championing illustrations over text and logic, and word count and philosophy over story and logic. For example, industry professionals (especially agents, it seems) will ask about nearly every children's book, "What is the problem?" and "Did the main character solve his/her problem himself/herself?" It seems incredibly important to these folks that children (as main characters in a story) always take the bull by the horns and solve their own problems without any advice or intervention by others, especially adults. Which is ludicrous when the main character is five years old—or a rabbit. What, house too cold? Solve your own problem, five-year-old! Oops, burned the house down, but at least you solved the problem without a pesky adult interfering. The other problem with this reasoning (beyond defying logic at times) is that it becomes the goal of the story rather than one element of it. That's what I think happened here. Even though the story makes no sense, is illogical, and teaches and admires incredibly poor moral decision-making and values, it can be said that in the end, the main character did solve his own problem. There, now the demon has been exorcised. Thanks.

First, this book has some of the best art and layout that I've ever seen—they are absolutely impeccable. Tiny little touches abound, and then there are others like the copyright and title pages that just scream, "CUTE as hell." The fonts and paragraph layout are classical/traditional (which I like in children's books especially), but when there is action, the letters suddenly join in with the rest of the art and become bigger than life—exceptional. Someone spent hours getting even the tiniest details right.

The story is cute in some ways and deals with a fairly straightforward problem—selfish people (or less charitably, as noted by another reviewer, sociopaths) who trample on their friends, often without even realizing it (maybe not as sociopathic then, I hope). Not to spoil the story, but then again, it can be read in about 5 minutes and it's not like anyone will say, "Ah, man, I totally didn't see that plot twist coming and now you ruined it for me." Rabbit can't fit in his home because of his carrot fetish (I like fetishist, er, rabbit fetishist, maybe carrot fetishist?). Unwilling to throw out his carrot stash because of his raging carrot addiction, Rabbit takes shelter at a friend's house but soon stuffs so many carrots in the friend's house that they both must move out. And the cycle continues with another three friends until they are all homeless. So far, so good. My only problem with the friends is that they seemed a little clueless that their friend was bad news. Perhaps the request for shelter would be accompanied by this dialogue:

"Hey, Rabbit and Squirrel, what happened?" asked Beaver.
"We had to move because of all the carrots."
"Well, move some carrots out."
"We can't do that!"
"Oh, OK, fine. Move in with me."
"Thanks, Beaver!!!" said Rabbit and Squirrel.
"Let me just grab my ginormous freaking bag of carrots," said Rabbit.
"Wait a second, buddy. No carrots in MY house!"

But instead, they are such good friends that they let him bring his stash into their houses each time. BUT . . . it's a necessary construction for the story—i.e., without his friends letting him move in with them, there would be no story, so that's not really a criticism. It's like when people read an 800-word children's picture book and start asking questions about character backstories and motivations. Really? It's not like a children's book has the extra padding of a book like MOBY DICK. Just pointing out that his friends are awfully compliant—and also as noted by another reviewer, perhaps they are just classic enablers. A bit trite, but for a children's book it seems to work.

Here's where I have an issue with the story—the resolution. Rabbit finally sees the error of his ways when he and all his friends become homeless. Then he remembers that he does have a house; it just happens to be filled to the rafters with carrots. Does he throw all the carrots out and let his friends move in? Sort of. They get to move in WITH his carrots, and in the final scene they are all sitting around munching on carrots, happy as clams, blowing noisemakers and partying on with their addict friend. And it's OK because Rabbit has finally learned to share. Except that the problem never was that Rabbit was unwilling to share his carrots—none of his friends ever expressed an interest in having even one—rather, the problem was that Rabbit showed no boundaries and no respect for his friends when he imposed on them with his person and his vegetables, as tasty as they might have been. And ultimately, did Rabbit learn anything? Maybe about sharing carrots. But not about boundaries or two-way relationships. I didn't find anything built into the story that would convince me otherwise, and I doubt that a child would, either.


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