A children’s book, Free / Not Free

I am not entirely convinced this book should be categorized as a children’s book. Yes, it follows a simple text blurb + picture outline, but the depths it goes can be hard for older generations to grasp. The book is two-in-one, two perspectives on the same concept of “gift economies” or of a Kropotkin mutual aid. Geneviee Vaughan states “People need to learn from nature where everything is given free”. I believe it to be a bit more complicated than the environment and all the creatures constantly handing out their resources and affections without some sort of exchange, but that exchange can certainly take on different faces – one not defined by capital exchange.

Side Free: Trilly, the canary in a music store sings, sings, sings and influences the store owners granddaughter Sophie to recognize that within the store where music is being sold, exists a creature, singing for ‘no cost’. She carries ethic over and passes out free music to poor, young children. She thanks Trilly for this. She entertains the idea of ‘free’ to carry over to the very mobility of Trilly, asking her grandmother if they can open the cage and let Trilly “go where he is needed”, and he does just that. On his travels he spreads the sentiment of ‘free-ness’, to only use what you need, to share the rest, to redistribute the goods like the local shop owner does.

Side Not Free: Trilly, the canary in a music store sings, sings, sings, until the day he recognizes the women whom owns the music store he is caged in exchanges music records for shiny, clattering coinage. He then withholds the songs he previously filled the store with until they ‘pay up’. This is where interspecies communications fails both parties, and Trilly is brought to the vet over night. That evening, Trilly joins in conversation with the other animals like the cat’s who just aren’t cuddling, and the parrot who just is not being a parrot. They all rejoice together they won’t perform their expectations unless shiny, clattering coinage is sent their way. This second half or beginning, depends how you read it, concludes that animals and the natural elements like sunshine and rainĀ cease doing what we find most resourceful of them. The world is dark. The sun has the final word, “I won’t shine unless you pay me”.


This book troubles the idea for young readers of how to get things, and offers a re-imaging of how to get these things, share resourcesĀ and be in this world. I am going to take a step back however, and trouble the idea that nature just “gives for free”. I think it is worthwhile to see nature’s exchange systems, where the holistic gears run the scene. Bodies decompose, animals defecate, animals and elements disperse seedlings, and sometimes it really is not all that fair.

I will make sure whenever a friend come’s over, to sit with them for a few minutes and read this together. It offers so many points to talk about different issues, like animal liberation, human-animal communication, exchange, poverty, capitalism, and even how important this type of literature is in young readers purview. I am also thrilled to see animal’s making their way into a children’s book in such a way that grants them agency and wiggle-room outside of the confines we bind them to!

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