I have been reading a lot of young adult fiction of late and have also found myself interested in children’s stories; new and old, classic and experimental, picture books and longer stories. (Having small children will do that to you I guess.)
The Little General and the Giant Snowflake is a beautifully illustrated allegory by a leading poet, perfect for children and adults alike. The little general heads an army called the Realists, and every day he and his troops practice battle formations on a field, while the Dreamers use it to play strange, peaceful games. His soldiers include Sergeant Samantha, wishes the general would pay attention to her, and Lieutenant Lyle, who always seems to get into trouble. One day the little general sees a giant snowflake hovering in his garden. Ashamed, he pretends not to see it, but eventually he discovers that everyone in his army has a similar problem. What magical message is the snowflake trying to bring to the general, and to the world?
It turned out to be a sort of mix between an idealistic – almost naive – allegory and an absurdest story.
You have the appropriately named Little General who has suppressed his imagination and the rather tall Sergeant Samantha who has a crush on him. And there is Lieutenant Lyle who likes to sing silly songs but is not very good at military marches.
The General leads the realist army while the idealists play make believe with imaginary animals nearby. There is no real war or battle just two camps side by side. The Realists do practive various marches under the general’s guidance but they have never actually engaged the enemy.
But this regimen is interrupted when the general encounters a large snowflake and starts dreaming about lemmings.
It turns out the snowflake is a sign of repressed imagination – the bigger the snowflake above your head the more you have suppressed your imagination.
The general at first tries to pretend it isn’t there and go on with his life but brave Lieutenant Lyle admits he has seen the snowflake and frees the rest of the army to do the same. Little General and Samantha have tea and live happily every after. Sort of.
Parts of the story were rather clever and humorous; and the drawings have the feel of a 1970’s children’s book with a dash of New Yorker cartoons thrown in.
But the allegorical aspect just seemed too flip and overly-simplified. Wars are started by men who have suppressed their imagination; who are too rigid and demanding out of insecurity? This is cliche not insight.
And what is the point? That the world would be a better place if everyone was able to play with imaginary creatures (as the idealists do) and sing silly songs like Lt. Lyle? Adults lose something important when they give up their childhood imagination? Again, little new or insightful here.
Nope, just doesn’t work for me. Of course, I am an admitted realist myself. Perhaps I should keep an eye out for a giant snowflake …
[disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher]