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By Stealth and Subterfuge

Daniel Pinkwater was recently in the news! Never mind it was a story about a story which got licensed and repurposed by the sprawling corporate hydra named Pearson Education to measure 8th Grade literary reflexes – I’d still call this a positive development on balance, even taking into account the scattered panic it allegedly precipitated across middle school testing facilities. Quickly then, for anyone who didn’t hear: a pineapple challenges a hare to race, takes bets from some animal acquaintances, loses the race, and promptly gets eaten by those acquaintances. Now explain.

Whatever summer interns dreamed this problem up (and there are thousands of these problems in many grades and hundreds of school districts where Pearson collects a fee), were they:

a) Understandably driven to great trickiness by the average 8th Grader’s ability to extract a moral from just about anything due to years of standardized prepping?

b) Uncomprehending of the original source material, which admittedly featured an eggplant instead of a pineapple?

c) Committing an act of nihilism themselves, and hoping to sneak it past the censors on the seventeenth floor? In which case, high five, summer interns! You’ve done this author proud!

My own first experience with Daniel Pinkwater happened seven years ago when I and my second son, having exhausted the several iterations and considerable bad will of Rotten Ralph, went looking for other negative role models to enjoy. This was, as I have rationalized here before, not to send him skidding down a path of lifelong disruptiveness and petty crime, but recognizing that since he seemed to have found the rough beginnings of that path by himself, then at least our fictional wanderings should include some fine and funny hijinks where no one was always snapping at him, and at least I should be able to give the veins in my forehead a little rest. There already seemed like there was plenty of moralizing going on, without needing to revisit it in books.

Enter Irving and Muktuk, Two Bad Bears as Pinkwater describes them in the title, though the truth of it is they aren’t really bad, just “no better than they should be.” Irving and Muktuk have what could be fairly mistaken as a tragic infatuation with blueberry muffins, if all of their subterfuges here – masquerading as curiously large penguins and girl scouts and muffins – and inevitable captures and inconsequent exiles didn’t end up depositing them back more or less where they started. They’re incurable, and everyone knows it – “not to be trusted,” they shrug to themselves, even as they are promising to behave. This caveat is imparted during several future installments and temptations (once they are finally flown off to a zoo in Bayonne, New Jersey, which is not infelicitously identified as “the muffin capital of the world”), still, spoken or not, it’s a pretty defining characteristic of just about everything Pinkwater has written, and I think if I had to answer, with my high school acceptance at stake, why everyone should all of a sudden descend upon a juicy, dissembling pineapple, I’d guess they probably just couldn’t help themselves.

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