The Do-something Day is one of those didactic stories in which the parental figures are too busy working to play with their precious little children. In such stories, the child usually goes out and has their own adventure, or an elderly neighbour/grandparent steps in to fill the psychological need, which is loneliness/boredom. And that’s what happens here.
STORY STRUCTURE OF THE DO-SOMETHING DAY
Bernie wants to make the most of the great weather outside.
His family are too busy to spend time with him, absorbed in their own work and play.
Bernie got mad. “No one needs me. I’ll run away!”
He left the house and went down the street.
The plot relies on mythic structure as Bernie leaves home and encounters a variety of people along the way. This is a very Sesame Street sort of neighbourhood — the old-fashioned view of a capitalist utopia in fact, with a friendly neighbourhood mechanic, a Mr Dimple who runs the delicatessen, Bertha who owns a bakery and so on. Each of these friendly adults with endless patience and time on their hands lets Bernie ‘help’ them with their work. Bertie collects talismans on the way (a map, a salami, a sour pickle, warm rye bread. This lends the story a distinctly fairy tale feel. Eventually he meets a horse and cart, which puts me in mind of a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk.
The running away scene is already the start of other famous tales such as The Three Little Pigs (who are pushed out of home due to economic constraints rather than leaving of their own volition, but still).
The big struggle in The Do-something Day is entirely psychological. At each stop we hear Bernie’s sob story about how everyone is too busy for him. The gifts he receives culminate until eventually he is given a dog.
Don’t you love it how white boys in storybooks so easily acquire dogs… a pet which takes a lot of work, a lot of money and a suitable home with consenting adults? How many kids think they can bring home strays just because they’ve seen that so many times in picture books? And how many adults? (Quite a few, according to my mother, who worked for some years at the SPCA.)
Bernie has his anagnorisis when he sits down to rest.
They all needed me and wanted my help, thought Bernie with satisfaction. He looked at his things and had an idea. He got up and started walking home.
Obviously, the family have been worried about him, having undergone their own anagnorises about the importance of attending to the needs of the youngest member of the family:
His mother, father, and brother were on the porch waiting for him. Slowly he walked up the steps and said, “I ran away.”
Bernie gives the talismans to each member of the family. The map goes to the father, of course (since women can’t read maps). The food goes to the mother (because women are in charge of the day-to-day feeding of the family).
His mother smiled. “We need help from one another, Bernie. But we really need you to love.” And she gave him a great big hug.