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21 March 2012 @ 09:42 am
Children’s books piss me off.  

We have a baby book called “Time for Christmas”, starring Duck and Goose. It has rather charming paintings, each depicting a wonderful, fun activity–building snow forts, making snow angels, having snowball fights, skating on the frozen pond, sledding, etc–

–and the text for every page is “It is NOT time for sledding/skating/building snow forts”, until finally you get to the last page and it’s TIME FOR CHRISTMAS.

What kind of stupid book tells children not to play? Because that’s what this does, as far as I’m concerned. And no, I do not read it the way it’s written, I read it so after all the wonderful playing and fun, *then* it’s time for Christmas, because ARGH HOW STUPID

There’s even a Dr Seuss-approved sort of thing (not by Seuss; Seuss never ever falls into these traps) called “Ten Apples Up On Top”, in which rather than working cooperatively, up until the very end there is a nasty “Neener-neener, I’m better than you!” air to the three animals who are trying to balance more and more apples on their heads. Seriously, what the hell. It says in the copyright information that that one’s been adapted from an earlier version of the same text, and I really want to know if the 1968 or whatever version was less unpleasant.

And don’t even get me *started* on the Sandra Boynton books, which are probably the worst offenders. There’s “One, Two, Three”, which makes mockery of the person who comes in last in a running race, and which shows a family car trip where everybody starts screaming at each other and is miserable. Right. Because those are really good ideas to present to baby minds. After all, we want to indoctrinate them good and early that this is not only how it is, but how it has to be. Or “But Not the Hippopotomus”, which is about a variety of animals having fun and leaving the hippo out, until they all come back and say “Well come on then!” And she goes with them, all happy: “But YES the hippopotomus!”

Which would be great, except the last page is a miserable, sad armadillo standing all alone and the text says “But not the armadillo.”

What. The. Hell. What is that? A promise that don’t worry, there’s always someone sadder than you are? A guarantee that down the road there’s always going to be someone left out? Because YEAH GOOD PLAN, TEACH THAT TO BABIES.

There are obviously many examples to the other side of this, but the ones that stick are the negative ones. They make me so sad and angry. They’re templates for HI I HAVE ISSUES LET ME SHARE THEM WITH YOU, and I think they’re horrible, horrible things to read to babies.

And before you say “Write some of your own!”, I have. I am. But anybody reading this blog should know by now it’s not that easy. Writing them is one thing. Getting published is another.

(x-posted from the essential kit)

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irishkateirishkate on March 21st, 2012 11:48 am (UTC)
I can't understand those books and suspect there is some secret publishing information which allowed this dross to get made into read books for kids.
Myles Corcoranmylescorcoran on March 21st, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
I suspect the same. There are some clearly wonderful and superior picture books for kids and then there's complete crap, and I don't understand how they get equal attention from the publishers and promoters.

roseaponiroseaponi on March 21st, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets weirded out by kids books - before I had kids, all books were too precious to throw away. Now I can make exceptions. :(

I think people are going for cheap shots for their surprise endings:/

There was a winner of the Cheerios book contest (they published the book and distributed it in the cereal boxes! Brilliant! ) that was "How do You Hug a Porcupine?" I was starting to get concerned that the porcupine wouldn't get a hug, but it was solved at the end, so I thought that was an example of a good surprise end.
verseblackverseblack on March 21st, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
While I remember plenty of young children's books from when I was a kid, I hadn't really seen many of the tiny baby books until I started getting some as gifts for my new arrival. And you are right, some of these are downright disturbing. I mean, I'm not one who goes around looking to be offended by innocent things, and I'm likely a bit tone-deaf when it comes to some PC issues, but I was still raising my eyebrows. I think I'll stick to accidently warping my child with fairy tales...
roseaponiroseaponi on March 21st, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
The sort of warping from fairy tales is apparently benign, if not outright beneficial, anyway ;) I mean, hey, when weird stuff happens, you have to know what to do and not do, right? Say what you mean and mean what you say is a great takeaway lesson from any story involving fairies ;)
Bethany Powellidiosyncreant on March 21st, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
Even though I don't have kids when I come across a good picture book I buy one. Because they are rare, and if I can enjoy them they're worth having.

Some of my favorites are a little more advanced, but for example I like "Rabbit Pirates of the Spinach Main".

I have the same problem with a lot of the picture books that I have with fairy tale retellings: that people are bringing a deconstructionist bitterness to it without the glee of finding the spark of a story and making it work in a new way.

Some of the big "Treasury" books have some gems and some problem-children, but are worth it for the gems...
A large duck: boyburger_eater on March 21st, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't have expected you to be an "indoctrinate" reader.

I liked those books because that's peoples' real world experience. Some people get picked last, sometimes families fight, sometimes they taunt. I wanted to show those things to my son even at a small age.

I don't think you can indoctrinate someone into something they would do naturally anyway.
Marithmarith on March 21st, 2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
Yes, I quite like a lot of the Boynton books, but reading "But Not the Hippopotamus" is just awkward.

Last weekend I was called on to read "The Poky Little Puppy" several times, and that's one I remember from my own childhood. Man, it's such a mean, unhappy story as written! Fortunately J can't read at all yet, so we told a different story based on the pictures in which all the little puppies got dinner every night.

I do get that babies enjoy getting to say No and having the power role in stories, because they're always on the other end in real life. One of the recent favorite games is to have me and the stuffed baby lizard stand in her room, while she closes the door and pretends to be the parent at bedtime. "You no say aaa and no say wah!" "Are you very sad?" "Why are you sad?" "Did you poo?" "You did have a core breach! We change diaper."

So I suspect the "Don't let the pigeon" books may be a major hit when she's a bit older. :)
silkiemom on March 21st, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
People may look askance at your parenting skills when your child begs you to buy him something and says things like, "I'll be your best friend!" and "How about I give you five bucks?" and "I'll bet your mom would let me!". :)
Al Pettersoneyelessgame on March 22nd, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
... as our six-year-old did to me, to the consternation of just about everyone in the store.
Megabitchmegabitch on March 23rd, 2012 09:21 am (UTC)
They look even more askance when you step over your screaming, tantrum-throwing toddler in the supermarket and totally ignore the fuss they are making. It worked though.

The only time one of my children manage to embarrass me, and probably cause people to question my parenting abilities, was when my 4 year old daughter, in a busy shopping centre/mall, asked loudly "Mummy, why don't I go to Gran's any more so you can have those men over?" I used to have a regular tabletop RPG session at my house and she would go to her grandmother for special "her" time (baby brother stayed at home as he was easier to keep occupied). So she was right... FCVO right.
Chrysoulachrysoula on March 21st, 2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
Have you seen the Good Dog, Carl books? Mostly wordless? I should totally dig what we have up and see what Robin thinks of them these days.
Janne: Yzma bah humbugjanne on March 21st, 2012 08:28 pm (UTC)
Cat loved eating broccoli until some stupid cartoon on tv featured a kid who hated eating broccoli. Grr. At least with books you can just not buy the offensive ones, but pre-censoring all tv programs doesn't work well.
hegemony hedgehogagrimony on March 21st, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
When you said that it's a Christmas book starring Duck and Goose, I totally thought it was going to go in a completely different direction because it made me think of the traditional Christmas goose dinner and I was going to have to say, "what kind of messed up books are you reading to that kid?!" :)
Dinidamedini on March 21st, 2012 10:06 pm (UTC)
The childhood books that I remember (and still have) are:

The Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales, which has lovely illustrations, happy stories and happy endings for all!

The Color Kittens, which is a Little Golden Book. It's a silly think, but full of color. If you can get a pre-1975 printing, do. The more recent one wasn't as good.
silkiemom on March 21st, 2012 10:38 pm (UTC)
Doesn't Sturgeon's Law say that 90% of everything is crap? There are so many kids' books coming out all the time, that makes for a lot of lousy books.

Book interpretation is personal. Josh adored Knuffle Bunny when he was little. But some people think it is a horrible book because it portrays dads as bumbling and incompetent. Maybe the books we think are horrible resonate with other people and that's why they make so many different kinds of them and we only think a small portion is good personally?

By the way, "Ten Apples Up On Top" was written by Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel. He wrote it under the pen name Theo. LeSeig (LeSeig is Geisel backwards). It's one of the books he didn't draw.

ruford42 on March 22nd, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
I came to parenthood a bit late, in that bed time reading didn't happen until after the wedding and the step son was 5. I had a few old books from my childhood still, including a bunch of Childcraft books from the distributors of the World encyclopedia and dictionaries -- I left the 'pedia's behind...because well, they're heavy, bulky and...there's a wiki for that now :)

I did learn that some stories are perhaps not appropriate just before bed time for a five year old...Like the story of the peach boy and his battle with the oni/ogre -- I lost track how many times we were waken up by the boy's bad dreams that night. :( Although stories about dragons and other similarily large critters...Never seemed to induce such problems.

For the baby books, I'm mostly relying on memory of working in a day care for two years -- the Little Golden Books were big, otherwise books with nursery rhymes are usually good. When I was a little older, I remember my mother reading to me usually from a children's illustrated Bible; though my favorite story times never involved an
actual book but were times sitting with Granny and getting her to tell me all of the brer rabbit stories again and again...
Trent the Uncatchableknappenp on March 23rd, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
As an aside, armadillos do not make good pets. They're nocturnal and tend to knock into things in the dark, which makes lots of noise while you're sleeping. And they don't smell very nice.

But, for cry-yi, children's bookwriters. Listen to the Kit.