Creepy Carrots, by Aaron Reynolds [an offbeat review]
I’m not sure how I got tipped off to this one. I’m a big fan of the author, Aaron Reynolds, but I don’t know if his name led me to the book, or the book led me to him. It might have just caught my eye in the bookstore. (I’m easily distracted by shiny things, especially Caldecott award stickers.) Or it might've been the hint of malice in the cover art, which is admittedly an unusual draw when picking bedtime stories.
Creepy Carrots follows Jasper Rabbit, a character who falls somewhere on the spectrum between cliché and candidate for a 12-Step program. He's absolutely hooked on the carrots from the local patch, stopping by at every opportunity. Jasper’s carefree hedonism transforms quickly to budding paranoia as he catches a trio of homicidal (leporicidal?) carrots out of the corner of his eye one evening. He scurries home, as one does when threatened by sentient root vegetables. But, per horror movie trope, he convinces himself it was only his imagination. Or the wind. Or the completely unmenacing guy in the mask standing motionless on the sidewalk in front of his house all afternoon. Willful ignorance is what I’m driving at.
Like any good scream queen, he dismisses the obvious warning signs and quickly returns to the field for his beta carotene fix. From there, the story falls into a pattern. Are those creepy carrots lurking in the bathtub?! No, it's a carrot-colored washcloth, shampoo bottle, and rubber ducky. Are those creepy carrots in our eerily-lit shed?! No, it's a paint can, garden shears, and orange chainsaw. (I’d like to think that last one is an homage to Sam Raimi’s ‘The Evil Dead’, but I may be projecting.) Creepy carrots in the bedroom, creepy carrots in the storm drain, creepy carrots in the cemetery he wanders through for no apparent reason. Jasper’s descent into madness is given the cute treatment by Peter Brown’s excellent illustrations, so the psychotic break isn’t Telltale Heart unsettling. The upshot is that Jasper constructs a medieval style stronghold around the carrot patch, complete with alligator-filled moat, to keep the carrots contained. Which is as much a testament to his general contractor skills as his declining sanity. The twist [SPOILER] is that the carrots have been capable of locomotion and Machiavellian intrigue all along, and were stalking him. They'd planned the whole thing to get an impenetrable barrier built around their patch for protection.
Oblivious to the revelation that Jasper has been chowing down on sentient beings with hopes and dreams and loved ones, my kids loved both the story and the alligators at the end. If it's any indication of the scare factor, they still eat their carrots to this day, and I haven’t heard about a single vegetable nightmare. (The 40’ tall man-eating Spinosaurus from Jurassic Park III is another matter.) Creepy Carrots has just enough spookiness to be suspenseful, but not enough that you’ll have to check in the closet or under the bed every night before the lights go out. It instills a suspicion of fresh fruits and vegetables, a favorite message of mine. And it encourages a manipulation of the feeble-minded and gullible, which I suppose makes it an allegory of modern times.
In closing, I'd like to circle back to Sam Raimi's magnum opus above. Come November 3rd, when stepping into the ballot booth, give serious consideration to Ash Williams as a write-in candidate for the highest office in the land. He's not the worst option by a long shot. Hail to the king, baby.