Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Literature Review: Mr. Messy by Roger Hargreaves

Mr. Messy is one of those charming little Mr. Men books that almost all people should be familiar with. If these books didn't plague your childhood, I suspect you aren't Earthen. Unfortunately the nostalgia glasses were thick when it came to Mr. Messy and his pals Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy, and while the small book is good for children in that it's okay for them to read it, to have it read to, and to practice reading with, it isn't on the top of the list.

Of course being a childrens book there are things that must be either excused or appreciated in a different light as opposed to books for an older audience. Mr. Messy is light and quick, but not lightly or quickly paced. The dialogue is basic and while there is a little fun going on between the sentence finishing best friends Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy, the prose is just flat. Books by Dr. Seuss, for example, have a bouncing joyful energy to the words and the word choice and the sentence structure but Roger Hargreaves' Mr. Messy doesn't feel fun at all. It just kind of is.

The next problem the book has is the less than clear moral, which is a bit interesting since the book is about cleaning. See, the conflict of the story is that Mr. Messy doesn't want to be Mr. Clean. Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy force themselves on him and his home and wash and brush and clean and scrub and comb it spotless. And what's the resolution? Does Mr. Messy kick them out and learn to appreciate and respect himself for who he is, delivering a Sesame Street worthy monologue about being an individual and loving who you are?

Yeah-no. No he doesn't. No, the story ends with him submitting to the pseudo-rape of Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy and liking it. The conflict is resolved when the protagonist learns to conform and make everybody else feel much better who they are and hide who he is.

What kind of message is that for kids? What?

This tale of the unfortunate loss of identity and innocence is accompanied by some simple drawings which are a little too simple. Any kid with a Crayola marker could draw them, and maybe that's the point, but it just cheapens the story.

I do have to say that I like Mr. Messy's character design. He's a big pink ball of squiggles with a smiling face, what's not to love? Sure, it isn't the most original look, but it suits the Mr. Men world and is charming all the same.

Who aren't charming? Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy. They wear opposing suits, Mr. Neat in white and Mr. Tidy in black, in bowler hats. Except for whatever reason, Mr. Neat wears a black hat as well. That does seem at all neat and tidy to me. Worse than contradicting their own reason for living, Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy are humans! Humans in the land of the Mr. Men! Unheard of! Unthinkable! Unacceptable! Average humans have no place in the world of Mr. Men. They're out of place and uninspired, and even as a child I thought that.

In closing: Mr. Messy is a weak addition to the Mr. Men line, and it won't be teaching kids anything useful. Pick it up if your young one is a fan of the franchise or you're like me and just eat up childrens books.

VERDICT:
2/5

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