The world is a complex, unpredictable place in which bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, bad people can also be good people, good people can also be bad people, and there often doesn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to any of it. Seeing fraudsters, con artists, swindlers and other recognizable meanies get their just desserts can help us feel that there is at least some balance in this crazy, topsy-turvy world.
This desire for fairness is particularly strong in children, who often perceive the world more in black and white than in shades of grey. Good things should happen to good people, and bad things should happen to bad people – anything else isn’t fair, an outlook that can make the world feel like a confusing and unsettling place.
It’s this desire to see rights wronged that makes Fred Forgets sound so kid-pleasing. A mean monkey takes advantage of a memory-challenged elephant, only to receive his comeuppance when the elephant suddenly realizes that he’s been take for a ride. It’s a silly story to be sure, and there’s a “no elephants or monkeys were harmed in the making of this book” disclaimer for any caregivers who might be put off by the final scene of cartoon violence (though that monkey seriously deserved what it got). Some reviewers have suggested that the story promotes violence as a suitable response to bullying, and sure, it would be more appropriate to have the monkey and the elephant sit down and talk about their problems and their feelings and come to a mutually agreeable solution. And yes, the monkey is a total jerk, and some of his pranks are unnecessarily dangerous (encouraging the elephant to swim with sharks?) and insensitive (making fun of someone for wearing a dress is definitely last century and really isn’t appropriate anymore). But the book is also extremely goofy and over-the-top silly, and I do think that kids will find it funny, and not necessarily see it as a blueprint for their own problem solving strategies. Seeing “bad guys” get what’s coming to them is part of what makes Roald Dahl’s stories so appealing – evil characters don’t learn the errors of their ways and make amends in a heart-warming finale, they get squashed, and I can still remember how good that kind of justice felt to read growing up.
So, I’m a bit conflicted. I don’t mind the general storyline – a monkey teases his friend by making him do goofy things but gets his comeuppance in the end. I just wish the monkey’s antics weren’t so mean-spirited, and that the elephant’s retaliation was more thoughtful – letting the monkey get a taste of his own medicine so he could see how he likes it, or something like that. It’s not a bad idea, but it could have been executed differently. Pick up a copy at your library and let me know what you think!