Muppet Book Club

“Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree”

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Once Upon a Time


Ryan Roe:

This was a favorite of mine in my younger days. I don’t think it ever occurred to me then to question where the forest was in relation to Sesame Street, but it’s one of the first things I thought of this time. Maybe the tree is actually in Central Park.


Alaina Breeden:

I had totally forgotten about this book. It was one of my favorites as a child. I dug through my closet and found my copy — all the cookies are colored purple, but other than that, a great book.


Tom Holste:

Ooooh, this is one of my favorites. I still have this one. I once read it to my little cousins, doing all the voices and everything. She told me to stop; she didn’t like it. She wanted to have it read to her one word at a time, in a very slow monotone. Sometimes I don’t understand my cousins at all.


Quinn Rollins:

This hasn’t EVER been one of my favorites, although we owned it growing up. There are a few things that distanced the book from me that I evidently haven’t completely overcome:


There are two things in it that linked the book in my mind to the scarier parts of The Wizard of Oz, a movie that alternately delighted me and terrified me when I was a pup. First would be the witch of course, and although she’s ultimately kind enough to share the bounty of the tree with Cookie Monster, she’s definitely a Muppet we don’t know, she’s an outsider, and she’s threatening. That concerned me when I was four. The second “Oz” link would of course be the living, talking tree with food on its branches, which was as terrifying as the flying monkeys to me, and I was worried that Cookie Monster would get beaten by the tree if he tried to get the cookies.


So those two things bugged me then.


One last thing that was a bit off-putting before I talk about the things I liked: Did anyone else notice that both the narrator and the characters referred to Cookie Monster as “THE Cookie Monster”? I know they did that sometimes when he was first introduced, but by 1977, I’m pretty sure Cookie Monster was his NAME. It just seemed to distance Cookie from the other characters — “Everyone knows you’re the Cookie Monster…” I don’t know where I’m going with this, just thought I’d mention that it stuck out to me.


I will say that I love Joe Mathieu’s illustrations — especially his texturing of the furry characters (obviously important in this book) and, for some reason today, his version of Betty Lou. Very sweet drawing style that’s true to the puppets, instead of drawing cartoons based on the puppets. If that makes sense at all.


I liked this book more today than I did when I was young — though now it may be more nostalgia for 1977 Sesame Street, which would have been when I was four years old. I’m sure my parents thought I would have grown out of Sesame Street by now.


Jessica Evans:

To me, the witch was reminiscient of HR Pufnstuff, and as a kid, I wasn’t too keen on seeing those two worlds collide. I didn’t like this book as a kid, and I am not wild about it now. The witch scared me. And cookies don’t grow on trees.


Scott Hanson:

Have you ever seen a cookie not grow on a tree? Huh? Huh? I don’t think so.


Towards a Theory of Cookie Trees


Nate Downs:

This book is proof that Sesame Street was the product of the Red Scare — see Big Bird’s Red Book — and preaches against Socialism.


The Tree, with its wealth of cookies, represents America in all its wealth. Forever blooming and bountiful.


Cookie Monster, of course, stands for the oppressed part of society, deprived of the luxuries the upper class (witch) takes for granted. While Cookie Monster struggles to attain equality with the witch, he discovers the drive of socialism. You want to create a society where everyone is equal and shares in their wealth, but those who are higher up the social ladder than you don’t want to see you climb.


The witch is a representation of that upper class society, trying to keep those “lesser” than herself where they are.


Of course, in all good American propaganda tales, Cookie Monster finally achieves the equality he desires with others, but then realizes his hunger to achieve more, and he leaves the very person who pulled him up the ladder of success behind him, broken and devoid of wealth. Leaving her with her new altruism, and a pauper until her next cash crop comes in.


Julia Noomen:

This book has given me valuable insight into the origin of Cookie Monster’s cookie addiction. It’s like a vicious circle. He tries to share — for personal gain, but it’s sharing nevertheless — but everyone laughs at him. He has no friends that are willing to believe Cookie has changed his ways.


So if no one is willing to give him a chance, why would he change anyway? They just push him further into his selfish addiction. That’s why he doesn’t really share with the witch; if even his friends won’t believe him, why would he share with an evil witch?


I think Cookie Monster is a product of the eighties before they even existed, and maybe a comparison with American Psycho would be interesting and insightful.


Jogchem Jalink:

The witch looks like one of the witches from the cooperation sketch, where three witches cooperate to make chicken soup. I’m surprised that no one brought that up yet.


The tree looks like the “This Is Your Life” tree, but a lot scarier and more unpleasant… Maybe because he’s not friendly at the beginning of the book.


Cookie Monster looks like that guy from that kiddies’ show who eats all the cookies. And that’s the great thing. The art is fantastic.


Why does Big Bird touch Cookie’s eyeballs? Aren’t you supposed to feel someone’s forehead to check if he or she has a fever?


If a cookie tree loses all its cookies, would it get a depression from not being an extraordinary tree anymore? I kinda felt sorry for him at the end of the book.


John Hamilton:

I think what I love about this book — not to mention all the Sesame Street sketches that I appreciate more now than before — are the little, inappropriate details that take it from harmless kids’ show to unsettling disaster film. There’s that mash-up of slapstick action with realistic reaction that always freaked me out, and I can’t get enough of it.


In this book, that specific moment comes when Cookie is devouring the entirety of the cookie tree’s foliage. His over-the-top eating binge is clownish and ridiculous, but the expression on the tree’s face is that of abject horror and violation. “Hey! Slow down! Take it easy!” The tree is obviously in pain, but not reacting in a typical cartoon tree way. He’s trying to reason with the monster, when he could just as easily fling him out of his branches.


If the scene were re-enacted on the show, we would expect to hear those familiar, grittily realistic crashing effects, the sound of breaking twigs, and the voracious ripping of leaves alongside the tree’s pathetic crying.


Vintage Sesame Street lived on great sound effects seemingly lifted from far more adult series, and I believe that contributed to the so-called “edge” of the show. When I read the books, I hear the sound effects. However, unlike the books, the most chaotic sketches on TV Sesame had “open endings,” leaving the viewer to ponder exactly how the dust was gonna settle.


Cookie Monster, Untamed


Danny Horn:

This is re: the unrepentant Cookie Monster.


I just got an old Sesame Street Book Club book called “Don’t Forget the Oatmeal” — (1980, wr by BG Ford, illus by Jean Chandler, if anyone cares) — which is about Ernie and Bert going to the supermarket to buy oatmeal. (Hilarious surprise ending: They forget to buy the oatmeal. Bada bing.)


Cookie Monster shows up while they’re at the store. He finds his way to the cookie aisle, and has a 5-page cookie-eating binge, where he essentially shoves the store’s entire cookie stock into his mouth and ends up slumped on the ground, full, just like at the end of “Cookie Tree.”


Then they do this completely nauseating thing: Ernie and Bert help him clean up the mess. “Ernie and Bert helped Cookie Monster put things back where they belonged and reminded him to pay for the cookies he had broken and eaten. They left just one bag of cookies in his cart.”


Then on the next page, we actually see Cookie Monster pushing his little cart up to the cashier with one bag of cookies and a carton of milk. Which I just found completely horrifying.


It’s amazing to me that they published the essentially antisocial, anarchist “Cookie Tree” in 1977, and then the embarrassingly nerdy “Oatmeal” just three years later. Why does Cookie Monster have to be tamed? Why do we have to worry about every little “message” that kids might pick out, like it’s okay to eat all the cookies without paying for them?


What happened in those three years that suddenly sucked the life out of Sesame Street books? I’m starting to think Reagan was to blame.


Tom Holste:

Ugh! Everyone has to be so careful and sensitive these days. I remember reading a Muppet Kids book that belonged to a little cousin of mine. (Too Many Promises, 1991, wr by Ellen Weiss, illus by Tom Brannon.) Little Piggy and Fozzie were pestering Little Kermit about something all through the book. Then at the climax, they’re pestering him on the schoolbus.


Finally, Kermit stands up and shouts, “WAIT A SECOND! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” Then the author quickly adds, “Kermit stood up, right on the school bus. Then he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to do that, and he sat down with a plop.”


Safety precautions work like a vacuum on dramatic moments.


If it was that big a deal, why set the scene on the bus in the first place? The author can place the characters wherever she feels like it. For that matter, if they really want to drive the point home to the kids, make it a cautionary tale. “As soon as Kermit said this, the bus came to an unexpected screeching halt, sending Kermit flying through the air and splatting him against the window.” That’d make the kids behave themselves the next time they’re on a bus.


Scott Hanson:

What I love about vintage Sesame books is their ability to take the fantasy that’s been created in all its craziness on the show, and transform it into this alternately skewed dimension all the more wacky than before to fit the needs of the moment.


Reading these books as adults and looking at their chronology, it’s amusing to see just how little sense (on a grand level) went into making these little items that have become modern treasures. For example, reasoning where the forest is in relation to Sesame Street is so silly. The writers didn’t even give it a thought. It was natural for them to say that Cookie Monster can be in a forest in one moment and then Sesame Street in another. This all despite the fact that we know that Sesame Street is supposed to be located in the middle of the city.


It’s so pure that the writers didn’t give it a thought. It’s almost as though they subliminally set us up for these very types of conversations years later. Any minute now, we may all get up and proceed to complete a program that was written into our little brains decades ago by the pencil strokes of Joe Mathieu. Cool!


Danny Horn:

I agree, I think it’s a great strength of these books — and Sesame/Muppet stuff as a whole — that the rules of the fantasy are kept flexible.


Nothing about Sesame Street is stable, especially not in the books. Are the Muppets kids or adults? Is Grover a waiter or a kindergarten student? Do they live in the city, in the suburbs, or on a farm? The characters and settings shift around, based on what’s needed for that story.


I think that freedom makes the Sesame books way more appealing than, say, Flinstones Kids books, where the characters always have to live in the same place and do the same things.


Actually, I think that flexibility of character and place is part of what allows for the anarchic ending. (I’m still comparing “Cookie Tree” to the “Oatmeal” book.) When there’s a single, coherent setting — like the Sesame Street supermarket — then you end up getting all anal-retentive about whether we’ve messed up the cookie aisle. Having a fuzzier, less restrictive fantasy space, like in “Cookie Tree,” gives some room for the characters to make a mess, or not learn their lesson perfectly, and it’s okay to just move on to the next thing.


“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Of course, Emerson was talking about the Muppet Babies contradicting The Muppet Movie, but I think it’s relevant to this discussion too.


Speak for the Trees



I’m a little disturbed by the ending. Cookie Monster is made out to be an untrustworthy promise-breaking ravenous tree-raping jerk. I think that over the years he’s been tamed a bit to be a more sympathetic character.


Danny Horn:

Untrustworthy, promise-breaking, ravenous — all those I agree with.


I take issue with characterizing it as a rape, though. The tree doesn’t seem violated to me, just irritated. It says, “Slow down! Take it easy!” — which sounds to me like he’s just annoyed that Cookie is bending the rules and not sharing. Its frustrated grimace at the end looks to me like what everybody does when Cookie Monster tricks them and steals all their cookies.


The tree seems annoyed to me, but not traumatized.



No means no — er, “Slow down! Take it easy!” means “Slow down! Take it easy!” in this case.


Does Cookie Monster listen, or care that he’s ravaging another living thing? No. He just gobbles and gobbles, and then leaves the tree naked and angry. It made me very disappointed in Cookie Monster. I think, on the show, that he cares more about other people’s feelings.


Danny Horn:

Yeah, taking a part of the tree’s body is definitely more of a violation than taking somebody’s cookies off a plate. I agree with that.


What I was saying about the tree’s dialogue is just that “Slow down” feels different to me than “Hey, get off me” or some other expression of horror/trauma. I interpret the tree’s dialogue to mean that it’s okay for Cookie Monster to eat the cookies; he’s just doing it too fast.


Although, now that I think about it, that is kind of like making out with someone, and then having them go farther and faster than you wanted them to. Which, you’re right, would make Cookie Monster a tree rapist. Eesh.


Tom Holste:

I’m sorry, I still can’t see it. Let’s assume for a minute that trees can talk and have feelings. The leaves and the fruit would be like the hair, right? A tree wouldn’t be screaming in pain every time a leaf or an apple fell from it. It’d be like having your hair cut. Basically, the tree is annoyed because Cookie Monster just gave him a really atrocious haircut. But the “hair” (ie the leaves and the cookies) will grow back eventually.


Jessica Evans:

Okay, this did bother me as a child, and so I think I can speak up here to say that Cookie Monster is forcibly taking something from the tree, thus causing it great discomfort, maybe pain. That might not be “rape” to you, but it sure comes close to my definition.


John Hamilton:

As a kid, I was turned off by this book’s ending — I guess I wasn’t alone! And I suppose the Warner Brothers cartoons with similar scenes didn’t bother me because those characters always seemed to either really deserve it or be “in on the joke.” Here, the benign tree — whose bitchiness wasn’t even its own fault — is assaulted, however comically, without an opportunity to even up the score. I still love the book, of course, but this was just something that always stuck in my memory.


Scott Hanson:

I suddenly have the urge to go out and violate a cookie tree.


Is Cookie Monster raping the Cookie Tree? From his point of view (although he never pauses to worry about it), I believe he is. The real question is, does the tree mind? Clearly the cookie tree exists to provide sustenance in the form of cookies. In this case, The Cookie Monster, in the symbiotic relationship developed between the two, is doing his part by eating the fruits of the cookie tree, and spreading its seeds/crumbs around in his fur.


However, this serves more as a metaphor to humans and what we are doing to the Earth. The same relationship exists between the Earth and humans, but are we smart enough to use only what we need in order to live and prosper? Of course not. For thousands of years, we’ve been raping this planet and taking more than we need. It makes no sense to devour all that we have, and leave nothing for future generations. But still we do it, because we are greedy.


So to answer the question, does the Cookie Tree mind that it’s being raped? Or rather, does the Cookie Tree feel as though it is being raped? I think the Cookie Tree, like the Earth, is smart enough to realize that it will outlast the cookie monsters. It was happy before the cookie monsters came along, and it will be happy after they are gone. But it being truly zen-like and void of conflict, it brushes the incident aside and lives on to the next day. After all, while the tree may be essential to the cookie monsters, the cookie monsters are not essential to the tree.


Holy shit, this just became my new favorite book.



What We’ve Learned


Ryan Roe:

I’m trying to figure out what the real lesson is here, but I can’t really decide.


Is it “Don’t try to change people, because they’ll always revert to their old ways”?


Is it “You can get your way by tricking people”?


Or is it “Monsters are the only people who can successfully wear pants like Herry’s”?


Jogchem Jalink:

The lesson I got out of this is that you can have anything, as long as you pretend that you’re willing to share. Then you can use some sneaky plan to get more.


Chris Smigliano:

I would think this book would be an excellent story for people in law school. If you can find a loophole, take advantage of it!


Julia Noomen:

If you’re trying to reform your wicked ways, Bert and Ernie are not the friends that will support you all the way.


Nate Downs:

If you are going to rape a cookie tree, beware you could get crumbs. A rubber tree would be a safer alternative.


Emmy Miklasevich:

If I learned anything, it is this: If you have cookies, and Cookie Monster is around, just give in and let him have the cookies. It will take too much effort to save your cookies, and in the end, he will win.


Of course, this would make for a short book.


Jessica Evans:

I read this book to my daughter Emileigh this afternoon. She was mostly quiet throughout the story, only commenting at the part where Cookie Monster goes into town to find someone to share. She mentioned that he must be feeling sad because he didn’t get any cookies, and he loves cookies. I asked if his feelings were hurt when the tree didn’t believe he would share, and she said no, he just wanted those cookies no matter what.


At the end of the story, here’s what our conversation was like:


Me: So, what did you think?

Emi: The witch was mean.

Me: Oh?

Emi: Yeah, she made the tree sad.

Me: How?

Emi: Look at the tree’s face.

Me: Well, look at Cookie Monster!

Emi: Yeah, that wasn’t good to do.

Me: What?

Emi: He ate all the cookies! Look at the tree… no cookies left.

Me: Why wasn’t that good to do?

Emi: It is better to share.

Me: Who is the hero of the story?

Emi: Cookie Monster!

Me: Cookie Monster? But you just said he ate all the cookies, and that wasn’t good to do.

Emi: But he saved the day.

Me: He did? How?

Emi: From the witch. She is mean.

Me: What do you mean?

Emi: Cookie Monster ate all the cookies before the witch got them. You know, the tree looks nice. It wasn’t the tree’s fault.

Me: But… the tree belongs to the witch. Did Cookie Monster still save the day, even though he took something from the witch that belonged to her? And what about the tree?

Emi: Well, there aren’t really Cookie Trees, so the witch couldn’t really have one of those. Cookie Monster saved the day because he kept the witch from winning!

Me: So, even though what he did wasn’t good, he is still the hero?

Emi: Yeah! Better than the witch!

Me: But…

Emi: He is Cookie Monster. (*pointed look*)


It seems that even though she didn’t approve of Cookie Monster’s actions, she felt that what he did was better than letting the witch have her way. So I guess the moral of the story is, even if our friends do something wrong, we still love them, and want them to be happy.


Prior bonds override current events. Especially when it comes to Cookie Monster.

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