As a parent, I look forward to the day when I can tell my kids that I remember the world before the Internet. That I can remember the first iPads, the days before everyone had an e-mail address, or the time when – if you wanted to have a telephone conversation – you had to do so in the middle of the kitchen with everyone listening because your phone had a cord.
So, when I was recently at the local library’s book sale and spotted this little gem, I couldn’t resist.
The author of this educational tale is Ellen Weiss. Hilary Knight is the illustrator. (And the name of a Medieval Literature prof I once had. I really hope it’s the same person.)
Why this book was put out by Shoppers Drug Mart (which is a pharmacy chain here in Canada), I have no idea but it seems delightful. I’m sure Pearl can learn a lot from this book, published in 1986. Let’s take a look.
“The telephone is an important member of the Willis family.” That seems weird, right? To refer to the telephone as a member of your family, on par with your children or even your cat?
It speaks to my low expectations that I’m impressed that a) Mrs. Willis has a job outside of the home and b) Lily’s friend Annie isn’t white, white, Whitey McWhiterson.
Our first telephone tale begins with a phone call from Mrs. Macdougal, a neighbour who needs help. Mrs. Willis tells her children to be very grown-up while she leaves them alone. Lily says she is seven and tw0-thirds old so of course they’ll be fine. This will be the time when I interject and explain how, in the eighties, you could leave a seven-year-old and her little brother alone and no one ever cared.
Of course, as soon as Mrs. Willis is out of the picture, Lily and Willy engage in unsafe telephone behaviour and Willy tells a stranger on the phone that their mother isn’t home. That’s when we meet…
Ringalina who is, I think, a flying bell? She’s here to teach the children about phone safety. In a terrifying manner. She tells the kids not to say that they’re home alone but doesn’t seem to realize that she’s arrived too late. The stranger from the dentist’s office already knows!
The next story is titled “A Christmas Surprise” and we find Willy on the phone (in the kitchen! on a rotary phone!), tying up the line. Is that still a thing? I can’t remember the last time I impatiently waited to make a phone call. Cell phones have really diminished this issue.
Willy says he’s on the phone to Santa which of course, begs the question, Who is Willy talking to? Seriously, what number has he called and who is the stranger on the other end patiently listening to Willy’s lengthy list of desired toys?
Instead of getting answers, Ringalina shows up to explain the hidden costs of long distance calls. Another thing I feel like I haven’t worried about in a long time. Even in the dark recesses of my childhood, we had phone plans. Then again, we still don’t know who or where Willy has been calling.
(In case you’re wondering, the “Surprise” of the title is the phone bill that Willy’s parents receive. Bleak holiday in the Willis household.)
Ringalina then shows off her “Gallery of Phone Monsters”.
Being a grumpy jerk doesn’t seem like a strictly phone-related issue…(Sometimes, you just feel full of grumples, right?)
Now here are two phone problems that are rarely seen anymore:
Now on to the next story, in which Mrs. Willis again leaves her children to help Mrs. Macdougal. Willy assumes a man on the phone who says he’s their dad is not their dad but it turns out that it was their dad, he just had a cold. Riveting stuff. I’d rather focus on what’s going on in this picture:
Lily and Willy are watching television with a…family of marmots? Are these their pets? An infestation? This seems like a much bigger issue than the telephone thing.
Ringalina visits Willy at night to give him a gold star
Show your child this picture and be sure they’ll never sleep alone again!
(Also terrifying – Are Willy’s slippers alive? They look like scared rats that he’s transformed into slippers while still, somehow, keeping them alive.)
In our final story, the kids are left alone while Dad goes to help Mrs. Macdougal. I’m beginning to think that maybe Mrs. Macdougal needs to be in some sort of assisted-living facility.
While the kids are alone, a fire hydrant in front of their hose goes off and Ringalina shows up to tell the kids to call for help. Lily calls 911 and is applauded for staying calm and getting help. Which is all good but it seems to me that this wasn’t a good reason to call 911. I actually did once come across a burst water pipe in my neighbourhood and I called the local district number. The police non-emergency line also might have worked. Let’s teach kids not to tie up 911 with unnecessary phone calls!
In the end, there’s probably some good telephone advice here for kids. (Such as, it’s okay to hang up the phone if you hear words that aren’t nice!) It’s kind of amazing to think how much telephone technology has changed in the 30 years since Shoppers Drug Mart (again, why?) produced this book and, chances are, when Pearl’s old enough to read it herself she won’t get why I find it so funny. But hopefully she’ll still be polite on the phone.