In 2019 I wrote an essay every day for a year.
In 2023, I’m drawing one image that pairs with a short story every day. Below are days 20 and 21. You can read more here.
Book Review: I am a Panda
In the seminal work “I am a Panda: A Finger Puppet Board Book”, we are taken on a journey where we see a day in the life of your average panda. I have read this book 37 times as it is a big hit with our baby.
I love a good children’s book (“Stellaluna”, “Runaway Bunny”, “Berenstain Bears”, “The Velveteen Rabbit” - does anyone not sob during this story?), but “I am a Panda”, unfortunately, is lacking in one big, glaring area: narrative arc. We first meet the panda on a typical morning (he lives in the “foggy mountain forests of central China”) where we see him enjoying his usual breakfast of bamboo followed by taking one of his many naps. The panda then falls asleep for the night. And…. that’s the last page. I know, I know what you’re thinking. Lily, it’s a children’s book, not War and Peace. Hear me out though: "Stellaluna", "Runaway Bunny", "The Velveteen Rabbit", "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" – these, too, are all children’s books and have a beginning, middle, and denouement. Take Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: all of the letters make a run for the coconut tree, as the plot builds, they tumble down and are wounded in various ways (loose-toothed-t being one of the more egregious injuries that will most likely cost his parents some serious $$$ in dental bills.) Everyone goes to bed and we think the narrative is wrapping up, until we reach the epilogue where we see that one letter has made a break for it and is going for a second attempted ascent up the coconut tree. Bam. A full narrative. A plot twist. An epilogue. All in 20 cardboard book pages.
“I am a Panda” assumes babies don’t care about plot or continuity or character development or story arc and it feels patronizing. And so, in my next post, I’ll be writing (AKA rewriting) the end to “I am a Panda.”
An alternate ending to “I am a Panda” for those of us who are not satisfied with the lack of story arc in the original version. For context, in the last scene of the book, we are left with Panda sleeping in a tree as night falls in the forest….
Panda woke some time after dark and reached for a stalk of bamboo–more than 99% of his diet was bamboo, and he liked to keep it nearby for midnight snacking.
A Temminck's Tragopan sat nearby, enjoying his late dinner of rhododendron buds, onion bulbs, and centipedes. He scoffed at Panda.
Bamboo? Again? How pedestrian, he said, between beakfuls of bulb.
Panda looked at the bamboo shoot in his paw. It was true – his diet was fairly monotonous. But what was wrong with that? Bamboo was sweet and earthy, crunchy and nutty. He looked at the feast the Tragopan had gathered. Panda sniffed an onion bulb and his eyes started to water. Maybe the Tragopan had it all wrong. Maybe he didn’t know what was good.
So Panda got to work. He staged at a few notable restaurants, qualified for a small business loan, and opened Bamboozled to rave reviews the following year. Several months after receiving his first Michelin star, Panda invited the Tragopan to a special tasting. He pulled out all the stops:
Sous vide bamboo au vin, poached arrow bamboo on a bed of frizzled bamboo roots, caramelized bamboo with a bamboo shoot reduction.
He was sweating through his fur coat when the Tragopan arrived. Despite his many accolades, two-year waitlist, and James Beard award, it was the Tragopan whose opinion mattered most. Panda couldn’t say why. Maybe it was because the Tragopan was the only creature to ever speak ill of bamboo. Maybe it was his ostentatious plumage. Whatever the case, Panda held his breath as the Tragopan opened his beak to taste the first course.
The Tragopan smiled to himself. Well done, he said to Panda.
The next morning Panda woke up to a headline on Eater:
No bamboozling here: Chef Panda is making bamboo magic at his new restaurant
Panda did a double take.
The byline? A Mr. Temminck's Tragopan.
A collection of my photo essays