CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 18. . . . May 9, 2003
Gulliver's head hovered over everyone like a balloon with a face. Mrs. Honeytree would clap her hands together, look way up and say, " Goodness Gracious, Gulliver Mulligan. Never in my life have I ever seen such a large child. How wonderful to be so big!"
Simply put, the plot of Goodness Gracious, Gulliver Mulligan is an old refrain: two grade school misfits save each other from taunting and bullying and become best friends. Gulliver Mulligan is the largest child in the class. He eats the most and has no friends. People throw dogberries at him. Mortimer Goss is the newcomer to the class. Everything about him is yellow and wimpy. He is so inept that on the fall nature outing he gets trapped under a tree trunk. Even the teacher cannot free him. So, Gulliver Mulligan to the rescue.
This book is likely well intentioned and probably is supposed to teach a moral lesson, but, in the end, it pretty much insults everybody in the story including the principal and the teacher. Even the names are supposed to be cute, but any child could tell you that a moniker like Gulliver Mulligan or Mortimer Goss is just a taunt waiting to happen. And the principal's name is well chosen, too - Mrs. Pumpkinhead. Browne chooses to reveal Gulliver's and Mortimer's shortcomings in detail including how much Gulliver eats. Included in the finale, incredibly, is the fact that Gulliver eats the largest piece of ice cream cake as a reward for saving Mortimer. Even the teacher, Mrs. Honeytree is made to look bad in her attempts to help Mortimer as her white underwear winked through the holes in her shiny blue pants and crushed blueberries splattered her sweatshirt.
Every child who is different is already more than aware of the fact. No self respecting educator, even in jest, would point this out to a child. It begs credulity that an author would devote a whole book to the topic even if the relating of the story is intended to be humorous. And pity poor Cynthia Nugent whose wonderful artwork is so superior to the content of what she was contracted to illustrate. It must have been difficult to reconcile.
Anne Letain is a teacher-librarian and school library consultant in Southern Alberta.
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