By Richa Jha
(Daft Bat is written by Jeanne Willis/ Illustrated by Tony Ross, published by Andersen Press, UK, 2006.)
It’s not the subtlest of ways of saying what Daft Bat sets out to say, but it works, and works well. The book tells us the story about ‘a bat who got everything round the wrong way’.
It’s also the story of the other ‘wild, young animals’ in the forest who believe that the bat got everything round the wrong way.
Take, for instance, the response of the animals who ask the bat what she’d like for a welcome gift.
“I’d like an umbrella to keep my feet dry, please,” she said.
“Umbrellas keep heads dry, not feet!” whispered Baby Elephant. “Daft old Bat!”
This ‘daft old bat’ moniker gets reinforced over several such ‘odd things’ that Bat says and does. Like declaring that the sky is below and that her ears would get wet if it ‘rains very hard and the river rises and (her) ears will get wet’.
Or, that her rain hat would fall off into the grass above.
It’s the toes that would get wet, and the grass is below, not above, mock the other animals. Naturally, to be saying such crazy things, the bat’s got to be extraordinarily daft.
Or ‘completely barmy’.
Or ‘bonkers’ and ‘barking mad’.
And if ‘she’s mad, she might be dangerous!’.
True, true. And that’s how all the animals in the forest land at the Wise Owls’ for help.
The Wise Owl, being the wise old owl, sets about doing his sanity check on the bat with a series of questions that the bat answers with much ease and assuredness. After all, what’s so difficult about answering that ‘a tree has a trunk at the top and leaves at the bottom’, or that ‘a mountain has a flat bit at the top and a pointy bit hanging down.’
It’s not difficult to imagine the kind of alarm bells these set off in the forest.
It is then that the Wise Owl turns to the rest of the animals and poses that one all-important question:
“Have you ever tried looking at things from Bat’s point of view?”
It’s easy to guess how the book ends; as I said at the outset, it’s a book with a rather in-your-face messaging, and not something I take to kindly in books for children. But it’s also this directness of intent and clarity of communication that makes the book work well for the young minds.
But more significantly, it speaks directly to the adult reader, too. And its no-fuss manner of conveying the message hits the adult mind hard. Because unlike the little ones who are yet to begin to think up their lives along rigid mindsets, it’s us grown-ups who almost always fail to look at things from the other person’s perspective, thereby precipitating a big chunk of suffering for ourselves and for those around us.
We all know the correct answer to ‘Have you ever tried looking at things from the other person’s point of view?’ What we are terrible at is following it in our interpersonal interactions.
We have a sweet little picture book exhorting us to take it as an invaluable life lesson. It surely cannot be that hard to embrace, can it?
Richa Jha, a picture book devourer, reads, writes, publishes, gifts, buys, borrows and hoards them for herself. She believes that there is no better life coach than a picture book created just right. In this monthly column, she’ll share some of personal favourites.
At their best, picture books are powerful meditations on life, its quintessential soul-curry, as I call them. Pick them up, no matter where on the reading spectrum you see yourself – a book novice or an incorrigible bibliophile. They will never let you down.
P.S. She’s also on a mission of sorts to convert everyone into a picture book devourer. The world needs more of us.