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Random Complaints about Certain Children's Books - You Know You've Been Thinking the Same Things I Have
Books equal happiness
Huge Disclaimer - I Love Children's Books Pretty Much Without Reservation
I have always loved children's books, even since I was a child myself. I guess that part is not particularly surprising. But I still love them, and it's been one of my favorite parts of having a child - getting to relive my childhood by reading some of the books I used to read all the time as a child, but now with my toddler.
However, as a re-read some children's books from an adult's perspective, some of the books I used to love unabashedly give me pause. I thought I'd just put my thoughts out here and see if anyone else has had the same reactions I have.
Starting With the Weirdest First
Anyone with half a heart has to admit that "Love you Forever" is a very sweet book. Especially the first few pages, they really rope you in. Cute stuff about a little boy growing older, but still as a child, and his mom still saying that she'll love him forever and singing him a special song she's made up for him. So far so good. Fast forward to the end of the book (sorry, spoiler alert), and she's sneaking into his bedroom as he appears to be 40+ years old and cradling him in her arms??? Are you kidding me? This is some freaky stuff. All I can think is that if my mom did that I would have to sit her down and have a real talk about boundaries. And that I would never do that to my own son. And finally, how did this old woman haul the ladder up to the side of the house, get the window open, and get inside without waking anyone else up? That aspect is actually fairly impressive.
Weirdness factor: High.
Have We Not Made Any Progress as a Society?
This one is less of a big deal, but still it really has given me pause. "Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site" is currently on the NY Times bestseller list for children's books (bet you didn't know they had one of those! I wonder how many 2 year olds are perusing the list deciding what to go for next time they go to the library). It's a wonderful book - great text, great pictures, very fun. It goes through five different types of trucks/tractors at the construction site and talks about what they do during the day and then tells them goodnight. My son actually put the sexist issue on my radar because he decided to name each one after me, my husband, and his closest friends, some of whom are girls. This made me realize that every single character in the book is male. As they would say on the mildly annoying Saturday Night Live segment, Really??? We are still seriously not able to have anyone involved with a construction site have a female identity? Really?? This seems like a weird and irresponsible oversight by what I imagine must be fairly educated and aware authors.
Offensiveness factor: fairly low, but come on now, we should be past this point.
Particularly Poor Word Choice
I really loved the book "Noisy Nora" as a kid and have really enjoyed reading it with my son. It has one of the best endings, and it's really fun for kids to try to say the end (another spoiler alert) - "But I'm back again, said Nora, with a monumental crash!" Just writing it makes me smile. And it's super cute to hear your toddler try to say "monumental."
But part of a refrain that is repeated throughout the book ends with "Nora, said her sister, why are you so dumb?" A couple points - as they say in The Princess Bride, I do not think that word means what you think it means. Her sister says this in response to Nora doing things like slamming the door, flying a kite in the house, and other acts of mischief that, while not great decisions, seem quite intentional and clever and not particularly "dumb." The second point, that was not on my radar, but put there by a friend with older kids, is that it's not really great to give your kids the idea of telling a sibling or anyone else that they are "dumb." I think my friends ended up substituting the word "silly." We have just been flying by the seat of our pants and reading the book as is, but I am not going to be so foolish as to say we will never regret this.
Bad judgment factor: Mild, but could get to be a hassle if your kid decided to go around calling everyone "dumb."
What's your take on The Giving Tree?
Too Easy of a Shot, But I'll Take it Anyway
I feel like every parent ends up commenting on the weirdness of The Giving Tree, or maybe that's just the crowds I hang around with. It's such a beautiful book in so many ways, and such a classic, but when you read it, you really see how dysfunctional the tree and the boy's relationship is. It also really makes you think that you do not want your child to think of the tree as being a good role model. Sacrifice everything you have for someone who just takes, takes, takes from you and then leaves you. But when they come back, you are still there for them. On the one hand, this might perfectly sum up what it is to be a parent (I say this fairly tongue in cheek), but on the other hand, it's really not a great model for a friendship.
I have a hard time ripping on this book, even though it's such an obvious shot to take, because it still moves me. And I think Shel Silverstein is one of the greatest geniuses (along with Maurice Sendak) who has ever written children's books.
Dysfunctional factor: High, but somehow you can forgive the book because it's just so good.
In Conclusion, I Still Love These Books
Maybe I love The Giving Tree despite its dysfunctional relationship because when it comes to children's books, I am like the tree. No matter how weird or problematic a children's book, I still basically end up loving them all. I almost felt guilty ripping on any of the books above, because I actually love all of them. But these were thoughts I just had to share, and I had to see if anyone else had the same thoughts too! And please share other books if this gets you thinking about other children's books that have some weirdness factor that you've noticed!