Jill Murphy: Mr. Large In Charge

Mr. Large In Charge - Jill Murphy

Although the charms of this family's affection for each other save this book from suffocating in cliché, you already know what's going to happen: despite everyone's best intentions, both father and children are completely inept at taking care of themselves for ONE DAY while the mother is sick in bed with a cold. The father gets distracted by watching sports on tv while he is making lunch, and he burns it; the baby can't stand to be separated from her mother and has a tantrum; the father injures himself while playing soccer outside with the kids. It's supposed to be humourous, but the small children for whom this book is written may not be able to understand the irony of constantly interrupting the mother the family is supposed to be allowing to rest.


The worst part is that it's not fun to read aloud. For example, when the baby throws her tantrum, the text reads:


     "Mommy, huggy! screamed the baby. "WANT MY MOMMY! BIG HUGGY NOW!"


     Laura stuffed the baby under her arm and wrestled her out the door. "Don't worry, Mom," she called as she closed the door behind them. "I'll take her down to Dad."


     "Don't want Dad," bellowed the baby. "Want Mom! WANT MY MOMMY!"


Ugh. I try to do the voices, but I don't want to be mimicking a screaming toddler when I am reading bedtime stories. The book wobbles from baby talk ("big huggy" is used a lot in the book) to phrases that might be too difficult for most preschoolers, such as, "Upstairs, Mrs. Large was jolted from the brink of sleep by the astonishing amount of noise blasting up through the floor."


So, we have the regressive message that only the mother in the family can competently clean the house, cook the meals, and look after the children. This is exactly what my daughter, who is currently experimenting with claiming to be "too little" to clean her room, wants to believe, so I don't welcome the reinforcement from this book. We have the ironic humour, which will probably go right over the heads of young readers. And we have the difficulty in reading this book aloud.


I would have happily overlooked all of these flaws if the book had done something imaginative. Fathers often parent differently than mothers, and they have invaluable experiences to offer. Mr. Large may fail at trying to be Mrs. Large, but his day with the children could have reflected his own parenting interests, as opposed to his incompetence with household chores. Maybe he takes them to a museum, or an art show, or teaches them a new skill, or shows them how something works, or plays a new game with them, or takes them adventuring, or exploring their city, or does any of the millions of awesome things stay-at-home dads do for their kids every day. The stereotype of the father who watches sports on tv and burns dinner has been tiresome since the 1970s.