Books in the Sweet Pickles series would not get past a publisher today; and that’s why I love them!
I’ll be blogging about my favorite children’s books (from the reader perspective!) in a three-part series; first I’m discussing a series from my own childhood that I’m lucky to still have in my bookcases!
Maybe you, too, remember the town of Sweet Pickles?
Twenty-six animals, each with a defining personality characteristic, live together in this town. They live together in harmony…. well when they are not trapping each other under manholes, blocking each other in their apartments with bags of nuts, or dropping water balloons on each other from three stories high (and yes, all of these scenes are all colorfully illustrated).
Most characters in today’s children’s books generally learn their lesson or come out better for the experience; however, it’s more common in Sweet Pickles for the character to learn absolutely nothing from the experience!
Jackal, for example, is jealous. He gets mad he is not invited to a party. When the town decides to give him “everything he wants” with his own party, he’s still jealous that they planned the party without him.
The book ends like this: “Jackal felt hot. Then he felt cold. Then he bit his lip. Then he gnashed his teeth and screamed…You guys were up all night having a good time together. Without me! NO FAIR!”
Nightingale is another questionable character. Her descriptor (on the front inside cover of each book the characters are all listed with their description) is Nasty. She cheats in card games, drops water balloons on the others, and pours syrup on vehicles while screaming “Nuts to you! Nyaah!!” At the end of Nightingale’s book, the animals team up to get Nightingale back by blocking her in her apartment with bags of nuts. This book ends with everyone shouting, “Nuts to YOU, Nightingale.”
These story lines along with the illustrations and dialogue – like Fish telling Alligator “Don’t blow a gasket!” after almost running over his tail – would be considered unrefined by today’s standards, but I love the spirit of Sweet Pickles.
I love how the characters (with their defining traits) are consistent throughout the books. When Fearless Fish (who lives life outside of water with some sort of tank on her head) attempts to jump over the river on her jet-propelled Flycycle, many of the animals try to talk her out of it except Nightingale of course, who says, “Goody! Call the Ambulance Now!”
The back cover of every book includes a map of the town. My kids and I spend significant time pondering the dynamics and implications of who lives where.
Do I worry my kids will follow the examples set by Jackal and Nightingale who don’t necessarily “learn their lesson”? No…it’s as easy as throwing out a “Isn’t Jackal ridiculous?” at the end of the book. My daughter now makes these comments herself. It’s easy to discuss values after these not-so-ideal characters do their thing.
And some of the characters do have (more) positive characteristics: Camel is clever. Walrus is just worried. And Hippo is (too) healthy.
Sweet Pickles (published in the late ’70s) was actually ahead of its time in gender characterization. Some of the characters who would (unfortunately) traditionally be characterized as male are female: Camel is a “handy-woman” who has her own “fix-it shop,” and Fish, the daredevil, is also a she.
If you read to kids, and are not lucky enough (like me) that your parents saved these books for you, do yourself and your kids a favor and get some of these books. They are out of publication, but you can find used copies on Ebay or Amazon: Goose Goofs Off (Sweet Pickles)
And now Amazon offers kindle versions: Sweet Pickles: Very Worried Walrus (Sweet Pickles Series Book 26)
What’s your favorite Sweet Pickles book?
Reinach, Jacquelyn. & I. Hefter, Richard. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston of Canada, 1978.