My daughter is two and doesn’t really understand lying yet, but she is enjoying this book by Marjorie Dennis Murray (illustrated by Kevin O’Malley) that illustrates the danger of rumor and jumping to conclusions. Hippo wakes up with a toothache and crashes around wordlessly, causing minor havoc and waking up Cuckoo Bird. Cuckoo Bird tells Monkey, in the process vastly overstating the extent of the damage. Each animal in turn adds something to the story, accumulating “This Is the House that Jack Built”-style. In the end, they end up curing Hippo’s toothache, but they also nearly risk causing the very environmental damage they’d baselessly imagined Hippo would have caused if they didn’t intervene: Hippo did not throw anything into the river, flooding the savanna, but that’s just what they do to him.
Another cool thing about the story is that surprisingly, it seems to be a variant on the Trolley Problem! Instead of tipping a Fat Man over a bridge onto a railroad track, so as to save the lives of the people on a different siding, the animals tip Hippo over a cliff into a river, so as to prevent the spread of his supposed case of “skeeter fever.” (Compare the illustration of their pushing him over to the illustration at the third of three links, above.) Were their actions, in bumping Hippo down a cliff (illustrated in comic-book format), justifiable? Was it okay to give Hippo a knock on the head and consequent headache in order to preserve the rest of them from the risk of catching skeeter fever? If so, what if he had been big enough, or the river had been small enough, for him to have blocked its flow entirely—would it then still have been okay to dam the river and flood the savanna, so as to save themselves? Or am I just thinking too much?