Friday, May 01, 2009

Kids' Books that Creep Me Out

With a two-year-old and a four-year-old in the house, our family has been given an inordinate number of books. Books when they were born, books for their birthdays, books for visits from grandparents, hand-me-down books from my siblings, hand-me-over books from neighbors, books that were treasured by Super Ninja and came packed tightly among other presents from his parents.... Their collection of literature rivals ours. They've filled three bookshelves, and their over-sized books spill out onto the floor. WHY, by the way, are many of the books for little children HUGE? It would be like me reading a novel on poster board. This would make me very angry, and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Anyway, Super Ninja and I are huge bibliophiles, so it's no surprise that our children are quite fond of the written word. The Boy, who will be five in July, is reading independently. I can't take credit (much). It's all due to his daycare provider. He's not fluent, yet, though -- there are a handful of words in each book that he doesn't know. When he stumbles over one, he pads over to me, looks at me, looks at the word, looks at me, looks at the word, until I tell him what the word is.* You can tell that he's filing it away for future use, and I very rarely need to tell him what a word is a second time. The Girl is doing that pre-reader thing where she kind of makes up her own story to fit the pictures.

Periodically, these lovely children of mine will bring books to me that I really, really don't want to read to them. Because (shhh) I don't like them. They creep me out or irritate me in a big, big way. And then I feel bad that I'm imposing my taste on them. I mean, listen, they ARE going to love Depeche Mode when the time is right. That's a given. But when it comes to books, they should have freedom of choice, right? So I read them. Reluctantly, but I read them. Why? Because nothing piques interest like parental disfavor, right?

Here are the books that I may have to disappear from the collections:

1) The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. Thing one against it? The monstrous picture on the back of Shel Silverstein in all of his gap toothed glory. Seriously, the guy looks like a Island of Dr. Moreau combo of a serial killer and a jack o'lantern. Forget the graphics, though. Let's talk about the message in the book. A boy keeps asking things of the tree, and the tree keeps giving, and giving, and giving, until the tree is a stump. And STILL the tree gives when it allows the boy, now an old man who needs to rest, to sit on her stump. You may tell me that the book was originally intended to be an ecological statement about all that nature gives to us. That may be true, but most folks I know interpret the tale as a metaphor for the parent-child relationship. And if you take it that way, the parent gives until s/he's eviscerated. The boy NEVER says thank you, never says, "Gee, you know, I've asked so much of you, it's time I figure things out for myself." Oh no. He's like, "Awesome, you've given me everything you've got to give. Anything else?"

No, you greedy bastard. I'm JUST A STUMP.

2) Love You Forever, Robert Munsch. Okay, all of you weepies out there. I know that you lose it at the end of this book when the Circle of Life rolls along and the man carries his graying tiny mother to bed, just as she put him to bed when he was an wee babe. I get it. Know what I don't get, though? The page where the mother, under cover of darkness, props a ladder against her adult son's house, sneaks in through a window, and gazes at him adoringly. As a woman married to a man who's mother might do something like this, I shiver a little when I get to this page.

3) Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister. I want my children to share. Really, I do. And I want them to be nice to other kids. But I don't think I want them to give of themselves until they are almost completely depleted just so that other kids like them. Isn't that what the message of this beautifully illustrated book is? The rainbow fish is a little hoity-toity about his sparkly scales, the other fish don't care for his big ego, so he gives away all of his scales to the other fish so that they, too, have sparkly beauty of their very own and will be nice to him. What are my kids supposed to do? Pluck strands of blond hair and pass them out at recess? I think that would earn them a trip to the guidance counselor for a psychological evaluation. "Hello, Mrs. Super Ninja? This is Mrs. X from the Boy's school? Yeah, he's got trichotillomania."


4) Any book that makes noise. Not that these books are all bad or anything, but the Girl has been keeping herself awake at night by secreting one of these under her covers and then pressing the buttons relentlessly. So, I am only against them because in the morning I get a grumpy toddler to, ahem, enjoy after one of her late night adventures.

I'm sure this list will grow, but those are the only ones... For now.

*Right now, the Boy is physically incapable of ASKING for help. We're working on this. I don't want to fall into a pattern where I'm helping him simply because he emits a grunt of frustration. Know what that gets you? A grunty kid whose mother interferes before he has a chance to solve his own problem, and then, before I know it, I'm in the middle of a pattern where he's allowed to be mad at me for not fixing his problem AND he's mad at me that I tried to fix it without really knowing what the problem is. No thank you. I want him to request help and to state what the problem is so that (A) I don't have to guess, (B) he doesn't take his frustration out on me, and (C) he acknowledges that I am doing him a solid by helping him, and that he should be grateful and not grumpy.

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