Saturday, January 25, 2014

Alligator Boy by Cynthia Rylant (Illustrated by Diane Goode)

Published 2007

I didn’t quite know what to think about Cynthia Rylant’s book Alligator Boy. As I read this seemingly whimsical story about a boy who is “tired of being a boy” and “wants to be somebody new,” I became confused and somewhat concerned.  I had difficulty trying to figure out the theme or purpose of the book. Is this just a book trying to teach children to accept themselves unconditionally, or does she have a deeper message she is trying to convey?

A boy, who isn’t named and could represent any boy, explains his dilemma to his auntie who lives far away. He’s tired of being a boy and wants to be somebody new.  Auntie responds by sending him “a rather big box” which contains an alligator suit. The boy puts on the suit and becomes “quite a fine alligator.” Alligator boy then reveals to his father his sudden, dramatic change and says, “I hope you still like me.”  However, when he reveals his new identity to his mother, she responds with fear, puts her son to bed right away, and calls the doctor. The doctor “not having studied green reptiles just yet” says she must call in a vet, which I thought was rather strange, but humorous. The vet’s advice to the mother is “just feed it each day and teach it to spell.” It?

Alligator boy enrolls in school with his new identity, gets past the school bully, and “enjoys the student life fully.” The expressions on the children’s faces in the illustrations are funny, blank stares, kind of how I felt reading the story. And what is the point?

In the end, alligator boy succeeds in school by cleaning the erasers, dusting them, and saving his friends with a big, scary roar. Rylant describes alligator boy as quite happy and joyful as he embraces his new identity. In the final illustration, mother and alligator boy are depicted in a loving embrace while sitting in a chair. I guess she becomes enlightened, realizing that her son’s wish to change his identity is normal. The book’s final message? “What a good green life for an alligator boy.” Strange story.

Image Source
Images for Alligator Boy

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