A Jennifer Trafton print of a quote from Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga adorns a shelf in my daughter’s room. Vibrant colors speak over the nursery, “It’s a story the maker has always told, and the story, my child, is true.”
The Rabbit Room celebrates that beauty; good stories echo the True Story. Some of the best stories I’ve discovered in my daughter’s first year-and-a-half have been shared in seven-minute segments by a family of animated dogs. Bluey is a kids’ show from Australia that landed in the US in 2018 and quickly became a sensation. There’s an Airbnb that resembles the characters’ home, celebrities make guest appearances (I’m particularly excited to see Lin Manuel Miranda’s cameo in Season 3), and the show has won well-deserved awards. While I don’t know much about the show’s creator, Joe Brumm, or his beliefs about faith, I do know that for our family, Bluey echoes the story the Maker has always told because the story centers on love.
Bluey highlights the beauty in ordinary, everyday love. The jaunty music and charming animation work together to enhance the stories of the Heeler family: sisters Bluey and Bingo, their dad Bandit, and mum Chilli. Kathryn VanArendonk compares Bluey to other children’s TV shows: “All of it is about imagination, but almost none of it is all that imaginative. Bluey is the only one that knows how hilarious play can be, how silly and intense, how trivial but life-changing.”
Some episodes seem to be created primarily to celebrate beauty in storytelling. In “Camping,” Bluey meets Jean Luc, and though they don’t speak the same language, they imagine together. They build a mansion from plants, plant a seed as “farmers,” and hunt a wild pig (Bandit). Jean Luc’s camping trip ends before Bluey is ready. Ever insightful, Chilli counsels Bluey through her sudden sadness (all during a middle of the night “bush wee” for Bingo). Bluey asks if she’ll ever see Jean Luc again and Chilli responds, “Well, we’ll never know. The world is a magical place.” The episode concludes with a time-lapse of the planted seed’s growth, and every time I watch, I’m better able to see the world’s magic.
Similarly enchanting, in “The Creek”, the kids venture far enough outside the playground to stretch beyond Bluey’s comfort zone. Her bravery is rewarded with the simple and refreshing beauty of a creek. I love when children’s literature (and television) trusts the kids to enjoy the splendor of creation and creativity. The plot in “The Creek” is not the most profound. Kids aren’t directly handed a moral. But the point of the episode is so seamlessly delivered: beauty is a worthy risk. The reward often cultivates imagination.
The point of the episode is so seamlessly delivered: beauty is a worthy risk. The reward often cultivates imagination. Sarah Bramblett
In Bluey, love is the fuel for imagination, even when imagination becomes the “villain” in the story arc. Bluey’s colorful imagination drives the family’s adventures, creates hilarious games for friends, and writes stories, but it often distracts her from important things. The Heeler family plays “Hide and Seek,” knowing that Bluey tends to lose focus. As predicted, Bluey’s mind wanders and she is entertained by a toy called, Cheeky Chattermax. Parents of small children are given a nugget of empathy—the toy is really annoying!—and a nod of truth: distractions have downsides, even when the diversion is imagination.
Despite the occasional drawback, Bluey’s family doesn’t shame her for her imagination, and one of my favorite features of the show is that it echoes the idea that love doesn’t shame. The rule-follower in me strives to follow and respect the recommendations that my child shouldn’t be exposed to any screen time at such a young age, but the story-lover in me knows that I need quick, good, true stories. Our modern parenting culture seems to thrive on shame. The internet should be a trove of helpful advice and community for parents. When I google questions like “how to keep my toddler from climbing?” or “can my child overdose on blueberries?” I should get helpful “here’s an idea” or “you too?” responses. Instead, every search leaves me with the overwhelming sense that I’m doing everything wrong. By merely asking the question, by watching the show, by ever feeling tired, by not letting myself feel the whole spectrum of emotions about being tired, I’m a failure. Instead of creating a culture that fosters friendship, many of the answers and algorithms feed shame and competition.
Bluey is different. Bandit and Chilli have phones, and the Heeler family asks great questions about technology in “Bob Bilby.” Bluey’s parents get tired (“Mount MumandDad”), and they don’t always want to play with their kids. In my favorite episode, “Baby Race,” Chilli reminisces about Bluey and her friend Judo as babies racing to walk. In a flashback, a more experienced mom, Bella, comforts Chilli: “There’s something you need to know.” Chilli hesitantly asks, “What?” Bella replies, “You’re doing great.” Remembering the scene, Chilli tells her daughters, “From then on, I decided to run my own race.”
There is a principle that’s commonly taught to young writers: “Show, don’t tell.” Mommy Blogs tell me I’m doing everything wrong; Bluey shows me that truth and beauty are abundant in the parenting adventure. In the same way, the first few Hutchmoots I attended made me want to devour the Bible, not because someone was telling me I needed to read more Scripture or humble-bragging about their own quiet time rituals, but because I saw people genuinely love the Word and I wanted Life in the Big Story. Shameful places make us feel alone, but when I watch Bluey, I feel comfort and the courage to be authentic. The episodes of Bluey offer me the hug of friendship, and I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’s quote “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What? You too? I thought that no one but myself….” Bluey asks “you too?”
Good art reflects a life we can relate to while encouraging us to become better versions of ourselves. Lucy Pevensie makes me want to see Aslan, even when the other children cannot. Star Wars compels me to resist the empire. The Great British Bake Off actually lures me to believe I can efficiently create an exquisite seven-tiered cake (I can’t). Bandit and Chilli invite me to enjoy playing with my daughter. Bingo and Bluey inspire me to love as I grow into my emotions.
Bluey isn’t always a perfect show, and it doesn’t always reflect a perfect family. Watching Bluey won’t turn me into a perfect mom. But the magic of good stories is that they seep into the heart. Bluey reminds me to imagine. I picture life lived with a whimsical soundtrack. I’m encouraged to delight in everyday happenstances. The best elements of Bluey then become true, or as Bluey and Bingo would say, “for real life.”