in a bit of happy coincidence, i read the little prince around the same time that i read a review in the times for a book about child-rearing. the reviewed book, madeline levine’s teach your children well is, apparently, one of many recently published works criticizing the current american model of parenting. it seems that moms & dads & our entire culture are pushing children to chase big goals—to succeed—rather than helping children discover how to be happy.
the review was even accompanied by a graphic of a child overburdened with an enormous backpack & another child holding a tiny flower(?) or maybe whispering sweet dreams of freedom & beauty & love to a butterfly(?). the review (and presumably the book) actually make it sound more reasonable than the hippie bullshit which i have perhaps presented it as. but you gotta admit: any parenting book with a title referencing a CSNY song is kinda setting itself up as hippie bullshit.
but that was really just some context, an interesting juxtaposition with which i approached antoine de saint-exupéry’s classic work of children’s literature. and let me just begin by saying: the first two-and-a-half pages of the little prince held more insight, creativity, and genuine emotion than pretty much all of the last 50 submissions i’ve read from a slush pile. combined. take heed, young writers: stop reading whatever popular fantasy/experimental/quirky/clever tripe you’re obviously swallowing in sam’s club, valu-pak portions. this kid’s book, for crissakes, is running laps around you.
if that sounds like a taunt to anyone old enough to dress themselves, well, it is—and the narrator dishes out plenty more, repeatedly, over the 83 pages of this book. “wait,” i know you’re saying, “this kid’s book is 83 pages?” yeah, it totally is. a fact i’d completely forgotten since the last time i read it a zillion years ago. but despite blatantly mocking every molecule of your adult being, it’s not like a delillo-esque dense 83 pages. it’s got pictures.
it does decimate any sense of self-worth for grown-ups capable of even a modicum of reflection, as we are ceaselessly reminded of how much freer/better our minds were when unfettered by the constraints of the adult world. but at least it does so as painlessly as possible (not unlike that “moon colored” beast from hell, the yellow snake that kills our story’s hero)(yeah, spoiler alerts are for babies. you’re an adult. suck it up.). the book is fun. and quick. and did i mention that most any given page is better than whatever you’re doing?
this is why that nytimes review seemed appropriate: the little prince’s view of adults. both seem utterly convinced that old people don’t know what they’re doing. or, at least, that they are too self-involved/doltish to understand what they’re doing. and while this point is often humorously & elegantly made by saint-exupéry, he also does it somewhat artlessly (and for almost 20 pages) when the little prince ventures to other planets. my one serious criticism of the little prince is that of its obvious strawmen characters on asteroids 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, and 330. these men—and they all appear to men, not a female among them—were propped up as examples of the types of adults populating the universe. but, of course, the authors true purpose was to show us a series of buffoons, to demonstrate the foolishness of non-children. as if kids needed another reason to think their parents were morons and/or to raise up arms against their adult oppressors.
subliminal calls for a children’s revolution against the tyrannical rule of grownups aside, the little prince really is a lovely book. it’s got love & death & life & longing & socratic dialogue & references to chickens (but no actual chickens, thank christ) & lots of pretty drawings. and, really, what else could you possibly want for your child? the little prince’s quest for understanding is an inspiration to all, and his absolute insistence on having his questions answered is a model that more political journalists should follow.
it is by viewing our world through the little prince’s eyes then, that we, the adults stained with the Original Sin of grownup-ness, can better ourselves. his gift is not just that of laughing stars, it is his entire perspective. it is mystery, and silence, and wonderment, and the knowledge of what is inside. it is this picture, which is definitely not a hat: