Teaching Consent: A House for Hermit Crab – Eric Carle


I work with youth, which means that from time to time I have the good fortune of reading a book I loved in childhood again as an adult — without having to read it again and again six times a night for years, or whatever it is that parents have to put up with (horrors).

A week or so ago, I had the chance to re-read A House for Hermit Crab, by Eric Carle. I remember liking this book when I was a kid, in the same way I liked other Eric Carle books — lovely illustrations, a predictable story line, and a happy ending. But when I re-read it as an adult — with the lens of how I might ask a child reading comprehension questions about the book to build literacy — I realized that this book teaches consent in an amazing way.

If you’re not familiar, the basic premise of the book is that Hermit Crab has moved into a new shell. He thinks his shell is quite boring and decides to spruce it up a bit — by going about the ocean floor and asking other creatures (and inanimate objects) to live on or near his house. In each situation, there is a creature (or whatever) that says yes and this is the one that Hermit Crab adds to his home. In each situation, Hermit Crab waits for consent. And, at least from what we can tell in the text, each creature (or whatever) gives free and enthusiastic consent. house for hermit crab

What’s more, each thing Hermit Crab adds to his house serves a specific purpose and none are deemed more or less necessary than the others. Hermit Crab, it would seem, believes in egalitarianism — and so do the critters and objects that become part of his home. Eventually, of course, Hermit Crab outgrows his house because he’s a living, growing creature, and as good fortune would have it, a vulnerable crab needing a new home comes along just as he’s about to move out. Hermit Crab gives his house over to this other crab, after getting the promise that the other crab will be good to his friends (who, presumably, can’t come with him because, biology mostly).

And, his friends don’t act hurt at his growth, or assume abandonment. They understand, it seems, that in a healthy relationship that growth can and should happen, and they do not pressure (coerce) Hermit Crab to stay. Doing so, would of course, be detrimental to Hermit Crab — and that’s not in the story — but it is perhaps an opportunity to talk with children about having multiple friends and how when a friend has to move away or is interested in different things that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’m sure there are more lessons in this book, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to revisit it with an adult lens.

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