Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.


Sun 26

Max reviews the classics: Rub-a-Dub-Dub

Max Rub-a-Dub-Dub[Previously in this series: Sealed With a Kiss (Mary-Kate and Ashley #20).]

Join the Tubby Buddies for oodles of bath time fun! promised the blurb, and that sounded like a good idea to me. So we gave it a road test: Jen (in bath) narrating, Fin (also in bath) staring at it, grabbing at it, and trying to chew its pages, and me sitting beside the bath and listening with increasing horror.

“Rub-a-Dub-Dub,” it’s titled, by Nancy Parent (yes, really). And the thing is, I wanted to like it. Really. The cover is a little Disney-cute, sure, but it’s got bright colors and clear lines, and that’s probably what the seven-month-old baby demographic demands. Also, the book is made of soft vinyl. Not just the cover: the whole thing. It’s not until you get a vinyl book in your hands that you realize what a brilliant idea this is; indeed, that you begin to wonder why all the world’s great tomes aren’t published like this. You can spill things on it, roll it up, and if you were reading it in bed, bunch it up and use it as a pillow.

Fin certainly made an effort to digest the story early, which Jen was required to arrest so she could begin reading. It’s quite short, so let me take you through it line by line:

There’s a duck in my tub.

This is where I started to get uneasy. It’s a two page spread, one line per page, and the first illustration is exactly the same as the cover with two exceptions: first, the duck’s eyes are looking in a different direction, and second, instead of being in a soapy bath, it appears to have drifted out into the open seas. I mean, there are foaming waves and everything. Which would be an interesting plot twist, only it’s contradicted by the text, which makes it clear this is still meant to be a tub. And that text! Apparently this wasn’t a clever post-modern homage to the classic “Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub” at all; it was just a rip-off. Once again, I thought I caught the stench of Disney.

The facing illustration depicts a smiling tug boat, who is looking at the duck. Or rather, he’s looking a little below the duck: their sight lines don’t quite match up. But I was prepared to let this go, since technically they’re in two separate illustrations. I presumed that Mr. Boat was the story’s protagonist, since there didn’t seem to be anyone else around to be remarking on the presence of ducks in his tub, but on this I was to be disappointed.

Meet the little fish.

Now I started to get confused. The illustration shows the duck meeting a very happy fish. There’s no sign of Mr. Boat, but I guess he must be off-page somewhere, still narrating. Because otherwise this giant bath must contain some shadowy third party we haven’t yet met, and that’s a bit scary.

I wasn’t thrilled with “Splish-splash-splish”—that struck me as something Nancy made up in a hurry to rhyme with “fish.” And the characters still seem to be navigating the oceans, rather than a bath. On top of that, even though this is a single illustration, the duck’s and fish’s eyes don’t line up, which gave me a headache the more I looked at it.

I love a bath, don’t you?

I’m sorry—what? What? Is this some kind of duck-rooster hybrid? Quack-a-WHAT? I was stunned. I’ve heard some strained rhymes in my time, but this is clearly the worst. The only possible excuse for something that excruciating is that Nancy is stuck in a cubicle somewhere, forced to churn out about forty of these books a week. (Later, I did an author search for “Nancy Parent” and got 342 results. So I guess she is. But still. Hang your head, Nancy.)

That terrible line concluded the book. I was annoyed by the unresolved mystery of whose tub this was in the first place, given that the duck itself appeared to be delivering the final stanza—he’s even looking directly at us—so this is either a brutal point-of-view change, or earlier the duck was describing himself in the third person. Either way, my head hurts.

But as sickened as I was, the target audience seemed impressed. Fin’s reaction seemed to be: “A terrific book. I couldn’t get enough of it (into my mouth).”


This is where site members post comments. If you're not a member, you can join here. There are all kinds of benefits, including moral superiority!

Genevieve SaDiablo (#2035)

Location: USA
Quote: "BAM! Now I have a SPICY ROCK!"
Posted: 4986 days ago

Did you also notice that the fish looked suspiciously like Flounder from Disney's "Little Mermaid"? Yarr!

Nancy Parent is the only author in the Library of Hell.

Colette (#324)

Location: Houston, Texas, USA
Quote: ""The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy" -- Kurt Vonnegut"
Posted: 4986 days ago

I had a similar book. Except the only words in mine were: "Rabbit takes bath!" Not only did it teach me incorrect grammer early on, but the characters were also navigating high seas.

I wonder which came first, the "poem" or the "illustrations"?

Chas (#537)

Location: Free Country USA
Quote: "./configure, make, make install."
Posted: 4986 days ago

I wish I could write such poetry.

Jockey (#142)

Location: Chicago
Quote: "Ooops, that was my insulin inhaler."
Posted: 4986 days ago

Trust in the power of song and get some books a little more complicated. I highly recommend Iza Trapani's elaborations and illustrations of I'm A Little Teapot, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Oh Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?, and Shoo Fly.
Her rendition of Froggie Went A Courtin' was a little bit too difficult for me and my brothers to follow.
When my baby brother was one, we read a half dozen different versions of the Itsy Bitsy Spider.
We also enjoyed Dr. Seuss's ABC and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Monkeywright (#1732)

Location: Los Angeles, Californi-YARGH!
Quote: ""China is Here?" I don't even know what the hell that means! - PS - visit scenic"
Posted: 4986 days ago

What's been excised from the story is what happens after the final page. You see, the tugboat and the fish, they don't really love a bath at all. So then, it turns into an all-out bloodbath. Because the one thing nobody commented on is the item on the cover that never makes it into the story. Due to the editing, you're to believe it's a bar of soap. In reality, it's a brick of C-4 plastic explosive, and ducky's about to wage war on the high seas with all who disagree with his policies of pre-emptive bath fun. He's a metaphor for Bush see... because he mixes up his words at the end and... and now my joke has gone on too long. Goodnight everyone.

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: ""
Posted: 4986 days ago

Compared to an episode of TeleTubbies, that's 'A Tale of Two Cities.'

Maureen Ryan (#2265)

Location: East Cleveland, OH
Quote: "Truth is just an excuse for a lack of imagination"
Posted: 4986 days ago

I recommend getting Boynton's Hippos Go Berserk. It, sadly, does not have a fabulous vinyl version, but it is in that chunky board stuff. I sold books for about 14 years, and this is the only one for infants and toddlers that I ever thought was really enjoyable. She doesn't use the really bright colors in this one, but she does catch you off guard in the middle when the hippos, in fact, go berserk. You're warned that it's coming, but you can never be fully prepared for it.

I may hit a backlash with some parents here, but I would not advise "Love you forever" by Munsch. Most people think that it's a heartwrenching story of parental love. I, on the other hand, think it's really creepy and feel at the end of the book, the mother has crossed a serious line that would lead to either incarceration or committment to a state facility.

Machine Man subscriber Myke (#2316)

Posted: 4986 days ago

Hahaha. What a literary snob you've become after three hit books. Obviously there's a vast conspiracy by the elite literati to blacklist Ms. Parent for some reason. Cool entry, Max.

Machine Man subscriber Katrina (#847)

Location: SF, CA
Quote: "Good sex is like good Bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand." -- Mae West"
Posted: 4986 days ago

Duuuuuuck!!!! :D Maybe the boat will get his own story. Or you can get the devil duck next.

Phill Sacre (#1822)

Location: London, UK
Quote: "Computers are like air conditioners. Both stop working, if you open windows."
Posted: 4986 days ago

Max, do you ever think you over-analyse things - even just a little bit? ;-)

To be honest, I don't really care - that was funny :-D

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 4986 days ago

Perhaps the ultimate solution is to have edible childrens books. The kids can experience both the joys of reading, and eating their books. And as an added bonus, parents have to constantly buy new ones!

Chris (#2156)

Location: Melbourne, Aus
Quote: "somebody said something once. i can't remember what it was."
Posted: 4986 days ago

Monkeywright, if you write that book, i'll buy it.

I wonder what Nancy Parent would say if she were to write a page-by-page analysis of your work, Max - although, come to think of it, she wouldn't be able to get her head around it, because she's conceptually dyslexic. But in her honour, if i ever write an essay about Jennifer Government, i'm gonna print it on vinyl.

Ruth (#288)

Location: Bath, United Kingdom
Quote: "Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane."
Posted: 4986 days ago

Narain, you're an evil marketing genius!

What particularly disturbs me is that in the last picture they all appear to have left the bath/high seas and yet the duck is still without legs? I don't really want to think about the implications of that, nor the poor fish being beached and deprived of water to breathe...

Tony Quin (#1310)

Location: Plymouth -urgh
Quote: "Yoga is NAILS"
Posted: 4986 days ago

Max Barry: take no quarter!

Joscelyn (#754)

Location: California,USA
Posted: 4986 days ago

this was the perfect morning wake up i just glad i dont currently have children to over analyze their books! bit now homework awaits!
oh and by the way,know Powells in Portland made me imensly happy, i got one of the Syrup copies you had signed and it just made my trip!

Zoomy (#1546)

Location: Outside Glasgow
Posted: 4986 days ago

Ah, man, review the classics some more. You gotta man. Funny as hell.

This gives me somewhat disturbing images of the Barry clan at bathtime, with you reading Finlay a vinyl copy of 1984...

Anyone else notice that in the last page, the boat, duck and strange fish were all looking at the letter "Q"?

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 4986 days ago

I think McBride has the right idea... compared to a lot of the gumph churned out for kids, like Teletubbies or Fimbles or a lot of the crap on children's TV, this is practically a masterpiece.

I'd say I could write a better children's classic myself, but I remember that episode of Black Books all too well.

Yubi Shines (#1664)

Location: Canada
Posted: 4985 days ago

I had two books made of cloth as a wee little Yubi. So they could be drooled on, chewed, et cetera, but they didn't get torn and the drool could be washed off. So that was okay. :D Not sure where they are now...

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 4984 days ago

"The author expected children to be marvellously thrilled about the fact that they could See Fido Run", to quote Terry Pratchett.
But what if these books where made for adults? And what if, to top it off, they were science-fiction by Isaac Asimov?
"Quack-a-dozicronic-prain! Meet Multivac, the positronic brain!"

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 4983 days ago

“Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub”? No wonder they changed the rhyme! It's all a bit... ah, suss, you know? I'm sure the Disney-trained vinyl book publishers immediately saw the terrible danger inherent in that old piece and realised that they had to make their version "family-friendly" and avoid any suggestion they were advocating gay marriage, or other acts against the laws of God.

I'm not sure that I approve of giving children the idea that ducks and fish might live in their bath tubs though (you know what they do in water!), no matter how marvelously skilled the rhyme may (or may not) be.

All in all a good try but too much worrying material remains in this book for young children. Rewrite immediately to remove all remaining traces of dangerous and unsanitary ideas.

Kim (#615)

Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Posted: 4983 days ago

That was a very funny entry.

But what I don't get is why did you buy the book? Because, being so short, surely you read it in the bookshop and realised it was a tad bit weird then?

JJ MacMillan (#819)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "I just wanted you to see what bad planning looked like."
Posted: 4982 days ago

I could be wrong, but it sounded to me like a subliminal plug for Intelligent Design.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 4981 days ago

Sat. 4/1/2006


Not that I am upset or anything like that, but I just noticed that since the birth of Fin(and about seven months before her birth) almost all of Max's blogs involved or at least mentioned Fin or something involving fin(or babies) in some way. The blogs are still funny and interesting, but Max...I think you need one of those "proud parent" bumper stickers.


Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 4979 days ago

> why did you buy the book?

It was a gift. I'm hoping they don't read my blog.

Machine Man subscriber ajdlinux (#2380)

Location: Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia
Quote: "apt-get moo"
Posted: 4946 days ago

For an author you don't seem to care too much about copyright.

Yoyodyn (#2480)

Location: TN, USA
Quote: "Yay though I walk through the valley of Gates, I shall fear no Windows."
Posted: 4896 days ago

Have you read "Stand back said the elephant, I'm going to sneeze."? I would really like to see your review of that one.

KaelSeoras (#2580)

Posted: 4854 days ago

Oh wow XD

Don't forget Max, it's a little kid's book.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Built on Blosxom