So, you’ve got this book, Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner (2011). It has beautiful, rich, watercolor illustrations, and provides wonderful (and fun) alliteration (Solomon spies and Solomon slithers, for instance). To all outward appearances it’s (another) book about bullying & inclusion. Solomon Crocodile harasses the other animals in the story (frogs, dragonflies, storks, and finally the hippos), and they tell him to go away, he’s not welcome to play. This makes Solomon pretty sad (and why shouldn’t it? He’s asked to act against his crocodile nature).
A basic interpretation is that because Solomon doesn’t know the “rules” of playing with other animals, he’s left out. Pretty sad. Another basic interpretation is that because Solomon isn’t playing very nicely with the other animals (bullying), he’s left out. Sad, but in a culture that teaches kids that people and things are either “good” or “bad” and bad people or things deserve to be punished, maybe not quite as sad.
But wait! That’s not the end of the story. A second crocodile starts to harass the same creates. Together, Solomon gang up on the hippos, which, in this story, they wouldn’t have been able to take on alone. Suddenly it’s “double-trouble!” and Solomon and the second crocodile are able to finally, effectively harass the hippos.
Solomon’s pretty happy to have a friend (understandably, we all need friends). But the underlying message — gang up on animals (people) who set clear boundaries and limits, and harass them some more — is worrisome. It is dependent on intimidation, and within this story, it’s dependent on the violence of harassment.
This is yet another way violence and intimidation tactics are normalized in American society. This is yet another way to normalize the very principles of patriarchy — the ignoring of strict boundaries.
So, how different is Solomon’s behavior from rape culture, where intimidation tactics are the norm? I’d argue, not very. He’s already bigger and stronger (and more carnivorous) than most of the animals in the story — and when he encounters a larger animal, that can actually take him on, he comes back with a buddy (men’s right’s activist). Because, you know, Solomon is a crocodile with feelings too, and oh my goodness, what would happen if he had to experience even a little of the intimidation or violence that he inflicts on others??
Would I recommend this book to children in my life? Hesitantly. The illustrations are beautiful, the alliteration is satisfying, but I’m worried about sending the message that the best counter-intimidation tactic for a bully is to find another bully.