Sunday, March 09, 2014

"When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Firefighter: Will's Amazing Day": Children's series has meaning for adults

Authors: Mark Shyres, Debbie Hefke

Title: “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Firefighter: Will’s Amazing Day
Publication: Wigu Publishing, Laguna Beach, CA, 2014, ISBN 978-1-939973-11-5, 54 pages, paper, heavily illustrated

Series: “When I Grow Up I Want to Be …” has other entries: “in the U.S. Army, in the U.S. Navy, in the U.S. Air Force, s Teacher, a Race Car Driver, a Nurse, a Veterinarian, a Good Person, a World Traveler, a Police Officer, Green”.
Amazon link

First, note that this booklet is part of a trademarked series for children.  I must say right off, I wonder what’s in the “Good Person” book.  As for the title of the series, I remember a coworker, back in 1972, asked me, “Bill what do you want to do when you grow up … when I grow up, I’ll sit back and contemplate.” 
I generally don’t review children’s books, although I get emails offering samples (as I do for almost everything imaginable – there are a lot of particular agendas out there).  I did decide to do this one because there are some very adult points behind the subject.

Children’s books are indeed a specialized genre.  Some literary agents don’t work with this area.  When one writes for children, one is teaching them what they should grasp at a particular age.  Sometimes you don’t mention potential complications that can drive then away.  So it’s a little bit like talking about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  You can’t tell the full truth all at once.  This is a little bit like a children’s story in a church service. All parents have to deal with these stages.

The book does cover a lot at a child’s level.  As the book opens, Will is afraid of fire and apprehensive about a class field trip to a fire station.  (I can remember, as a child, that one of the most frightening stories could be that someone “fell into the fire.”)  The fire captain says he is more concerned about someone’s getting hurt than he is of the fire itself, and that is how he can do this job. 

The booklet presents the fact that there are female firefighters. It also shows that fire personnel sometimes live and sleep in the fire station in dormitory style while on duty.  It does say that men and women have separate quarters.
Here is where the adult stuff comes to play.  I’ve written a lot about gays in the military, and the perception during many years of debate (leading to “don’t ask don’t tell”) that the privacy of other persons of the same gender would be compromised in situations of living together in situations of forced intimacy.  There was also the more subtle overflowing idea of “unit cohesion”.  Over time, as a younger generation populated the military and as overseas militaries (like Israel’s) seemed to have little trouble when they lifted bans, concerns over “privacy” and “cohesion” faded.  In fact, back in the 1970s, when ordinances banning civilian employment discrimination based on sexual orientation started to be circulated, there were screams from some quarters about forced intimacy in firehouses, in the days when almost all firefighters had to be men.  I remember a particularly vociferous ad about this point in the New York Daily News around 1977.  The issue still is controversial within the Boy Scouts, which has recently lifted its ban for members but not leaders.
There’s a more subtle issue, from the grown up world, not only adults but older teens.  That is, firefighting is inherently dangerous work.  That’s even more the case with wildfires.  Of course, serving the military means “risking” sacrifice, too.  But firefighting can risk especially painful and gruesome injuries as part of the job.  That has an impact of loved ones and on marriages, which need to survive disability and deformity. The culture in which I grew up in the 1950s emphasized that men needed to be open to taking these kinds of risks to protect women and children.  That idea is still prevalent with lower income people today.  Most of us who are more privileged depend on others to take risks or deal with 24-hour hardship that we don’t see.  Imagine expecting an electric utility lineman to restore power after a blizzard or ice storm. In the past, that sort of concern has fed ideologies like Maoism. 
A few others remarks.  I chuckled that the main character was named “Will”, since that’s the name of a conspicuous but likeable gay young adult character in the soap “Days of our Lives” – no doubt a coincidence.
There are other series of children’s books, like “If You Give …”.   In his series “”, the first film, “It’s Free”, producer-actor Reid Ewing has some fun with “It You Give a Mouse a Cookie” on his visit to a public library.  (See my Movie Reviews blog, May 13, 2013.)  It isn’t hard to imagine the political metaphors  -- for adults (especially libertarians) – that follow.
There is a documentary by Myers Video, “A Day in the Life of a Firefighter”.

I do have a copy of the “Fun with Dick and Jane” First Grade classic (July 20, 2007).  

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