The Overly-Critical Kids Book Review: The Mitten by Jan Brett

by ParentCo. June 01, 2015

cartoon picture of a brown bear

The Mitten is an old Ukrainian folk-tale that has been adapted as an American children’s book by several authors. According to Jan Brett’s adaptation, this tale is about a sniveling bully who torments his own grandmother, with an improbable side plot about animals peacefully coexisting inside the apparel after which the story is titled.

We start out with this little toe-headed turd, Nicki, who wants “mittens as white as the snow”. His grandmother, clearly knowing this kid’s lack of respect for his possessions, sagely advises him that he is apt to lose said mittens in the snow. But Nicki persists in bullying his poor “baba” into making the mittens anyway (not running out to Gap Kids and buying them for $5.99, but knitting them from scratch). Once finished (likely days later), Nicki snatches up the mittens, without so much as a thanks, and heads outside to play while Baba hangs back doing chores. And to add a measure of “fuck you, you old goat,” this loser doesn’t even put the mittens on. Seems like he just wanted them as an accessory to keep delicately stuffed in his folksy belt. Soon enough, Baba is proven prescient, as one of the mittens falls off and young Nicki doesn’t notice.

Then we get to the weird diversion of all these animals climbing inside the mitten, presumably with subversive interspecies intentions, until the mitten can no longer contain the furry orgy. A sneeze from a bear dislodges the beasts and the mitten sails into the air. Of course this lucky bag of dog feces, Nicki, happens to be in the right place at the right time and the mitten pretty much falls into his lap. Upon realizing that he had lost the mitten and it had been delivered back to him by chance alone, you would expect he might learn a lesson and act with a measure of humility. Well, if this is your expectation, you have overestimated Nicki, this stain-on-the-face-of humanity. Instead of contrition, Nicki immediately heads back to the house with his clearly disfigured mitten to boast. “See Baba, I have both of my mittens!”, he snickers, shoving this apparent victory in his poor grandmother’s face.

A happy ending to this tale would be Baba shipping Nicki off to a sweatshop to make mittens for Gap Kids. But alas, as far as this story goes, we’re left with the heartbreaking image of Baba staring at the ruined mitten, no doubt the whiny mantra “see Baba!” echoing inside her tired mind. Whatever the original Ukrainian storytellers had in mind with this one, it’s teeming with American values after this rendition. Also, you’re sure to find the illustrations to be truly whimsical and inspiring.



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