There are 587,287 words in Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War And Peace. It chronicles the Napoleonic era within Russia, highlighting the impact of Napoleon on Tsarist society through five interlocking narratives following different Russian aristocratic families. Imagine looking at that book and thinking to yourself, “I could do this in thirteen words and make it into a silly story for babies. No, fuck it. Twelve.”
Jack and Holman Wang found their children’s books about counting barnyard animals to be understimulating. “What children need is to learn what Tsarist means,” they collectively decided. So they created the Cozy Classics series, which takes classic novels that have fallen into the public domain and reproduces them as cardboard books for babies, primarily to chew on. Each book is twelve “child-friendly” words long and accompanied by twelve needle-felt illustrations. I’m sure Tolstoy would be thrilled to learn children in 2023 are drooling all over his very, very, very, abridged novel.
A lot of people today think kids are too anxious. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be that instead of introducing them to the concept of three adorable pigs and a horsey living in a barn, we’re explaining the horrors of the Napoleonic wars to babies with 587,272 words of missing context?
“You see, that’s a cannon, son. Do you know what a direct hit from a cannon can do to the human body? Can you say ‘eviscerate their intestines’? No? That’s fine; we’ll work on it.” I’d be pretty stressed out too, if before I could understand that ball begins with the letter B, I’m introduced to concepts like boom!, hurt, sleep.
Boom, hurt, sleep, all child-friendly words, but we all know what that means. That man is friggin dead. Super duper dead is the medical term, I believe. You don’t think that children are going to ask you to elaborate on the concept of boom, hurt, sleep? Famously, children love to ask questions. So beyond having to explain war, and boom, hurt, sleep, you’re also going to have to explain why the French were so loyal to Napoleon and his cause, which means explaining the concept of serfdom to your toddler. Or, alternatively, you could just be a little bit bored by the book about what chickens say. Your choice!
You might be thinking, aren’t there tons of public domain classics that could easily be adapted for children that don’t involve the horrors of war? Sure, there are, and they’ve done a few of those. The Nutcracker, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, and The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer were all made into Cozy Classics. They could do Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, or maybe The Secret Garden. Instead, they chose to do Moby Dick. It’s got a whole swear word right in the title, and they picked it over Peter Pa–, man a lot of classic novels have dick slang words in the name, never mind.
Ok, I do agree that Herman Melville’s tale of self-destructive obsession probably only needs twelve words. There’s a whale. It’s white. Ahab wants it. Uh oh, he’s dead. I didn’t really need two of those for a pretty accurate plot summary. However, my version deprives you the joy of telling a child about the process of limb amputation before anesthesia.
If you’ve only got twelve words to explain Moby Dick to a baby, I guess leg should be one of them. Then, if your kid starts worrying about their limbs randomly falling off, you can say, “No, no, sweet child, his leg didn’t just fall off; an animal ate it. Remember how I told you monsters aren’t real? Well, that wasn’t exactly true. There are definitely creatures that roam the seas and forests who will eat your limbs, but, oops, sorry, it’s juice time now. Let’s go get our juice and goldfish crackers.”
I have to say that the Wang brothers do manage to capture the look of Ahab’s madness perfectly in felt. That’s the softest looking madman I’ve ever seen. Normally, I wouldn’t say this about a classic fictional personification of delusion, but I think I can change him, you guys! I think babies will love this angry, harpoon-wielding lil’ man. From fabric’s heart he hugs at thee; for fuzzy’s sake, he nuzzles his last snuggle at thee!
Most of these books have happy endings, but Moby Dick sort of makes the ending sadder. Instead of ending the story with Ishmael being rescued, they cut it off at him floating adrift on Queequeg’s coffin. I’m sure that won’t haunt any babies forever. You can barely tell that’s an itty bitty felt coffin. It could be a box full of candy for Ishamael to snack on while he goes for a long swim. No follow up questions.
So far, these classic novels have been a real sausage fest. Isn’t there anything for sad, pale little girls to gaze at morosely? Of course! Do you think Cozy Classics is going to leave out the weird girlies? Your frailest daughter will be overjoyed when she sees the depressed little girl on the cover of Cozy Classics Jane Eyre. Finally, a Bronte for the babies!
Jane Eyre is a very long and sad book about an orphan with a terrible life who falls in love with an enormous jerk. If you know one thing about this book, it’s probably the old wife in the attic bit, which you wouldn’t think they would include because keeping an insane woman captive isn’t super cozy. Maybe her attic prison was full of books, plants, and north-facing windows with warm buttery light, but I still don’t think it’s a great vibe. Luckily, they never feature the attic wife, choosing instead to gloss over that whole section with the ominous word stairs. Again, don’t you dare let your baby ask a follow up question.
The menace in felt Rochester’s eyes is unparalleled, but the book never goes into more detail about what’s at the top of those stairs. I feel like even a baby who read this book would be able to sense the gothic menace behind it. They later cover Rochester’s mentally ill wife burning down their house and mutilating him with the word hot, which I think sets a bad precedent for future romances. I like my lovers to be sane and not burning down my house, but I have high standards.
And that’s not the only time we see fire in these tragic children’s books. I feel like Cozy Classics is kind of obsessed with people catching fire. They also did Miss Havisham burning to death in their version of Great Expectations, and it is harrowing.
Maybe this is good for children, somehow? Maybe somewhere out there is a little girl whose first word was “Miss Havisham,” and she’s doing just fine. Maybe she’s doing even better than your average uncultured baby, your ordinary little bald fool. One of her earliest memories is of Miss Havisham weeping into Pip’s lap in her tattered wedding dress, with her rotting wedding cake in the background, and it made her look at her book about barnyard animals and go, “This is fucking pedestrian. I don’t want to drink milk. I want baby wine. I want a tiny sustaining membership to NPR for my birthday. I want a mauve tote bag full of vape pens! I’m not like other babies; I’m a cool baby!”
I just remembered that George Orwell wrote a book about a bunch of animals in a barn that people went nuts for. If Cozy Classics ever remakes Animal Farm, that will be a real full-circle moment for them and for all the children suffering from melancholia who are obsessed with these books.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Dan B whose biography is “baby, sunglasses, backflip, waterbed, supermodel, ramp, fireworks, jetski, explosion, hurt, hurt, sleep.”