If you have children, teach children, or otherwise come in regular contact with elementary school age children, you have probably heard of Arthur. Marc Brown's books tell about Arthur's experiences at home, at school, and at camp. These include losing his first tooth, getting glasses, running a pet sitting service, and writing a story for school. The stories are well written and illustrated and promote kindness, responsibility, and cooperation. But, wait a minute, Arthur is not a child; Arthur is an aardvark!
After reading a number of Marc Brown's picture books featuring Arthur, I had several questions: Why is Arthur an aardvark when he leads the life of a middle class child? Why has Arthur's nose gotten smaller, then almost disappeared since the first Arthur book was published? What can we learn from Arthur's family life, particularly his relationship with his father? The last question, as you might expect, occurred to me around Father's Day. To find the answers, I did some research and began to read as many Arthur books as I could find.
Why an aardvark?
What happened to Arthur's nose?
When Marc Brown was growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, he and his three sisters enjoyed the stories his grandmother told. After training at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Brown held a number of different jobs, including book illustrator. He enjoyed telling stories to his own children. His son's favorite story was one Brown told about an aardvark named Arthur who hated his nose. Brown's publisher encouraged him to write it, and the rest is history. "Arthur's Nose" was published in 1976. Since that time, Brown has written and illustrated more than 30 books about Arthur and his family.
As for why an aardvark, initially it was because Brown had developed a story about an animal with a long nose, and aardvarks have long noses. As for why he has continued to use animals, Brown gave the following explanation in a Scholastic interview:
- "But one of the reasons that most of my books have animals as characters is that I wanted characters that all children could identify with. Arthur's become more human over the years, and he's lost most of his nose, but he's still Arthur inside."
Arthur and his Father
My information about Arthur and his father comes from reading about 10 Arthur picture books and reflecting on what I found. While the plots of all of the books revolve around the activities of Arthur and his sister, D.W., Arthur's mother and father do appear (often very briefly) in most of the books. Since the author says many of his characters are based on his relatives and friends, I would assume Marc Brown had a happy childhood and a great relationship with his father.
Arthur's father is an involved father. He is engaged on a regular basis in child care, cooking, and other household activities. When Arthur and D.W. go to their parents for a decision on something, the parents discuss it and come to a mutual decision. They work together as a team. The family eats meals together, and both parents spend a lot of time with their children.
When Arthur gets sick at school, his father picks him up. When Arthur gets new glasses, his father assures him he looks handsome. When Arthur gets the chicken pox, his father brings him treats. Arthur knows he can depend on his father. Arthur's father would make a good role model for other adults raising children.
If you are looking for an enjoyable series for your child, I recommend the Arthur books. Marc Brown's Arthur and his family and friends are also featured in a popular animated show on public television. The Arthur Web site has many activities for children, as well as information for parents and teachers.
In addition to the many Arthur picture books, Marc Brown has also written a series of chapter books about Arthur and his family and friends for children eight and older to read on their own. Titles include "Arthur and the Crunch Cereal Contest," "Arthur and the Poetry Contest," "Arthur and the Scare-Your-Pants-Off Club"; "Buster Baxter, Cat Saver"; and "The Mystery of the Stolen Bike."