“Where’s Goldbug?” The two year-old was sitting on the edge of the step with the cardboard book open in her hands. I smiled at the little blonde cutie with the intense look of concentration on her face. For a moment, my mind went backwards about twenty-five years when the little blonde cutie holding that same book and uttering those very same words was her mother, or just as often, her uncle. The book is by Richard Scarry, who has written many children’s books, each of them a joy to the eye for the child in each of us. The particular book I refer to, though, has what I call a hook, meaning that there is one certain thing which captures the children and keeps them coming back again and again.
The artist has depicted all sorts of automobiles and trucks, both fanciful and real, and drawn them into a fun story wherein one reckless driver, Dingo Dog, is chased through the pages by the police officer, Officer Flossie. I’m not sure if any of the children in my family (even the grown-up ones) could tell you what the plot is. Each and every time they open up the book, the search is on. You see, in every scene in the book there is a little character hidden, always in a different vehicle. He is introduced simply as Goldbug and he is just that…a tiny gold bug. On one page, he might be hiding in a car being towed away, eyes and whiskers barely visible in the side window. Flip over the page and he is in his own tiny car, dwarfed by the big fire engines and buses, racing along so close to the ground that he is hardly to be found at all. Goldbug is by far the tiniest character in the book, actually not playing a part in the plot at all. He is mentioned a time or two, to remind the kids to keep looking for him. They don’t need the reminder.
As I said, I’m not sure the kids in my life could tell you much of the plot. I can’t either. Whenever the book is in my hands, I’m surrounded by children, all of them vying to be the first to find the insignificant and imaginary little bug. As soon as he is located and his whereabouts shouted out with excessive pointing and laughter, it is time to be on our way to the next page immediately. We don’t read the text, don’t take time to examine the interesting-looking vehicles, like the Pickle Truck (a huge pickle-shaped thing) or the Alligator Car (yep, looks just like one); we must instantly flip forward to the following page, once more scanning the windows, the truck beds, or the convertibles for the by-now familiar shape and color. “There’s Goldbug!” I’m as anxious as they are to find him and claim the glory of yelling out the phrase.
I consider the experience I’ve had historically with this book and I can’t help but think that Goldbug is actually a “red herring”. What’s a red herring, you ask? The red herring myth was begun way back in the early eighteen-hundreds by a political journalist who related, in print, the story of using a red herring, which was actually just a smoked kipper, to draw hunting dogs off the scent they were following. He used the term derisively about some fellow reporters who had mistakenly reported the defeat of Napoleon in a battle. The problem is that the story of using the smoked kipper, the red herring, to train hunting dogs is itself false. No such training method has ever been practiced. It would seem then, that the red herring is itself a red herring. Go figure.
The search for Goldbug seems to me to be exactly like the proverbial red herring which draws the juvenile reader (and occasionally, a more mature one) away from the plot of the story, keeping all of us from learning the lesson the author intended and frequently preventing us from even admiring the artist’s craft. I wonder if that’s not just a little more like real life than we care to admit. We are so easily drawn away from the pursuit of our goals and dreams, to follow shadows and imaginary prizes. We have a destination, a purpose, and a plan to get there, but along the way the billboards point to exciting side shows and distractions. “Stop and see the caves!” “Visit the prehistoric ruins!” “Eat our huge steak dinner in an hour, and it’s FREE!” Enough distractions and stops, and we have forgotten why we started the journey in the first place. We begin to believe that the side shows are the actual destination, the ultimate goal. I’m confident that the Author has loftier plans and goals for us, if we’ll just read the rest of the book and keep moving.
The Goldbug search will continue in the years to come for the kids in our house. I will encourage it. In real life however, it is to be hoped that Officer Flossie will catch that reckless driver, Dingo Dog, and bring him to justice. There are places we need to go!
I’ve got my Pickle truck polished up and ready to get me there. Let’s see if we can keep on the right track together, moving on up the road.
“Then Hopeful groaned in himself, saying, “Oh, that I had kept on my way!”
Christian: “Who could have thought that this path should have led us out of the way?”
(In the castle of the Giant Despair from “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan~1628-1688)
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
(Will Rogers ~American humorist~1879-1935)