When Barbara Kaye finds a baby kangaroo in a box of breakfast cereal only she and her sister believe the creature is real. They decide to keep it as a pet and as it grows larger and stronger on a steady diet of cereal it begins to outgrow their bedroom. Soon the animal is big enough to take the girls for rides in its pouch, in the attic. At last the animal has grown so large that its head breaks through the attic ceiling. When a concerned neighbor calls to alert to the girls’ father to a kangaroo stuck in the roof, the parents finally realize the kangaroo is not a cute toy and take action to have the animal returned to the makers of the breakfast cereal from whence it came.
The Kangaroo in the Attic was written by Harrison Kinney and illustrated by Alain in 1960. It is the fun story of a larger than life pet, late-night rides in a kangaroo’s pouch, children who are keeping a delightful secret from their parents, and parents who are slightly clueless. These are all factors that will appeal to young readers. But I see the book as a learning opportunity, primarily for parents. Why? Because the parents in this story are not listening to their children. Most of their responses to the fantastic claims their children make are of the, “that’s nice, dear,” variety. The girls are not permitted a voice to explain the origins of the kangaroo or, in fact, that it is real and not a toy. They are dismissed as silly, with overactive imaginations. Neither parent believes there is a live animal, much less an enormous kangaroo, living under their roof, even when they see it with their own eyes. Each blames the other parent for buying what is first thought to be a highly realistic toy and later, a toy that is much too big for the house. The mother does not seem particularly concerned that one of her children has taken to eating nothing but breakfast cereal while the father is not even aware of this new development.
When the kangaroo is finally revealed to be a real, live animal, the father’s primary response is to worry that it could effect his job security if the story reaches his boss. Parents, we must be vigilant and we must listen to our children. Yes, this is a harmless children’s book with some fun and amusing moments. But what if a child was telling a parent, not about a kangaroo that came in a box of cereal, but something frightening and dangerous. What if a child was trying to communicate about an inappropriate touch, or an unsecured gun, or the girl who cuts herself, or the confusion and ambivalence she or he feels about growing up? As parents our job is to guide and to teach and it is also to listen. With an open mind, an open heart, and open ears. To really hear what our children are saying to us. To make them feel heard. To make them feel believed. To make them feel safe. And to make them feel loved. Because we’ve all heard of those phone calls that no parent wants to receive. And I don’t mean the one telling us there’s a kangaroo stuck in the roof.