Recently, I was sent a copy of Richard Moyer’s children’s book, The Crazy Crocodile. It starts off like this: “King Peacock believed himself to be the most magnificent of all the jungle animals, and decided to have a contest to prove it.” It’s a good way to set up the plot, but it immediately left me wondering, “How did the peacock get to be king? I mean, really? Of all the animals in the jungle, this pompous little showboat gets the crown? Did the lion have nothing to say about this?” In spite of my initial hesitation, I read on, especially since I was reading it to my son before bedtime.
To prove his magnificence, King Peacock proposed a contest so the animals could display their individual talents, and “every jungle animal showed up to compete”— everyone except the crocodile. He simply floated in the nearby river, observing the contest. As the contest commenced and the toads judged each contestant, one thing became abundantly clear: the crocodile, as the title of the book indicated, was definitely crazy. Four times over the course of the King’s contest, the crocodile, wild-eyed and crazed, leaped from the river and devoured the jungle animals. King Peacock tried to verbally scold the crocodile, saying, “you can’t do that!” Then King Peacock, not truly understanding the actual rules of the jungle, decided to institute his own rules, mainly “no eating us [the King’s contestants].” Of course, none of that worked. By the time the contest has reached its third round of competition, the crocodile has eaten twelve different animal species—which is a lot of death for one children’s book, especially when my toddler kept asking, “Where did the giraffe go? Where did the sloth go? Where did the monkey go?” My son really enjoyed the moments when the crocodile jumped from the river, for the artistic commotion of the water and color, as illustrated by Nelson R. Elliott, was fun to look at, but it was somewhat troubling to have to explain so much death to him.
Fortunately, there was one jungle critter in this story, the beaver, who was smarter than the arrogant and inept King Peacock. Beaver went to enlist the help of Boss Hippo, for she was “enormous, grumpy and mean”— just sort of a bully who could help put another bully in their place. After Beaver and Boss Hippo come to a financial agreement, she returned to the scene of so much reptilian homicide to help put an end to it. The very next time the insatiable crocodile leapt from the river to devour even more jungle animals, Boss Hippo sat on top of the crocodile until he “just got flatter and flatter”; or in other words, died.
With thirteen species now dead and a new bully in town (or the jungle) in Boss Hippo, Beaver “was crowned king.” King Peacock didn’t deserve it anyway; he bothered me from the start. I like beavers better anyhow; they are industrious little critters, so I don’t mind them being king. I still think, however, the lion (who never made an appearance in this story) would have something to say about these smaller creatures wearing the crown.
The moral, as plainly stated at the end of the story, is that “the only rule of the jungle was that the strong, the fast, and the clever survived.” I suppose that is true in the jungle, and that’s why the Beaver was crowned king in the end, but it sure felt a little like the Hound (Boss Hippo) in Game of Thrones helping King Joffrey (Beaver) to become king through use of force. In fact, all the bullying, death, and political posturing felt very George R.R. Martin like. My son liked the robust primary colors and the child-like imagery with bold, basic lines. Visually it was what young children like; the action and the storyline, however, was something that should be reserved for older children. I found the story to contain a moral murkiness, one that my toddler picked up on with his furrowed brow and concerned questions. It’s worth a read but not a sequel. Furthermore, if a parent were looking for lessons in the story to teach their children about how to navigate the jungle of life, this particular story might lead them deeper into that jungle, but not necessarily out of it.