Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Children's Literature or American Horror Story?

Most parents fear their child growing up to be unkind or a serial killer or something (talk about unkind). Though of course I fret about that sort of thing, what this book geek has also secretly worried about is having a child who doesn't love reading.

Thankfully, my wee CEO has so far shown his mother's enthusiasm for books, and so I've enjoyed revisiting a number of my favorite childhood reads with him - that is, in addition to the umpty million books about transportation he also enjoys (I highly recommend "Backhoe Loader IV: Even More Photos of Tractors You Never Knew Existed). It has warmed this book lover's cold, icy heart, except . . .

. . . have you ever noticed just how creepy a lot of children's literature is? A lot of what I'd remembered fondly as gentle, whimsical tales turn out to be something straight out of the local TV news when read through an adult's eyes . . .

"The Cat in the Hat", Master P's current favorite, turns out to be a harrowing tale of two totally unsupervised children who cheerfully allow a perfect stranger bearing gifts to enter their home. Call me a helicopter parent, but if taken literally, those are perhaps not the life lessons one most wishes to teach a one-year-old?

Master P - lover of dark tales and long walks on the playground

And don't get me started on the classic "Goodnight, Moon" - because who doesn't like strange little old ladies and multiple clocks watching you as you sleep?

This extends to classic lullabies too, of course. We sing an adapted version of the long-loved, long-frightening "Rock-a-Bye Baby" here at Pretty HQ - a version that some might call self-serving, but I like to think of as feminist, in which "Mama will catch you, cradle and all." (Listen, Dada can make up his own lullaby lyrics when he's running the bedtime show, mm'kay?)

Lest you think I'm taking this all too literally - actually, if you think I'm taking anything too seriously, you've clearly not been reading this here blog for very long - I know that there's an army of English scholars devoted to understanding the dark undertones of children's literature*. Much of what appears unpalatably grim when read through a grown-up's eyes actually serves a valuable purpose in helping children learn understand their world - hence the enduring love for "Grimm's Fairy Tales" and such.
*This English minor actually took a course on this subject, therefore qualifying me as an expert in the field. Obviously.

That being said, I'll continue to sing my occasionally revised lullaby versions and sneak in some less sinister literature - for exampke, my own childhood favorite, "Eloise" holds up nicely upon further adult review - when I can.

Anyone else come across something unintentionally creepy while reading to or otherwise entertaining your kid?


Rachelle said...

And if you get into the fairy tales - esp the original versions - so creepy and gruesome. Germans especially seem to have cornered the market on terrifying stories. I wonder that my husband didn't spend at least a decade with night terrors.

Carly Anne said...

Even as a child I remember thinking that Rock-a-Bye Baby was deranged... And, it's probably why I dreamed that I was falling every. single. night. until age 13.

JMS said...

Curious George is a recent one I was pretty surprised at. Lots of issues with the whole capturing a monkey to begin with but then George smokes to unwind for the evening and goes to jail for calling the fire dept. Lastly he ends up at the zoo (man in the yellow hat's plan all along...)

Bloody Yanks said...

Where to start?!?
1)Pop! Goes the Weasel-Apparently, this song is actually about poor British people spending all their money on booze. 2)Ring Around the Rosy-Let's sing about death, kids! YAY! 3)There was an old woman who lived in a shoe-MmmmK, she can only afford to feed them vitamin-free slop; keep you're pants on lady! 4)Hush Little Baby-If the billy goat won't pull (whatever that means), momma will buy the baby a cart and bull. Presumably for transportation. An UppaBaby Vista stroller would be much easier.

The world is scary enough - No nightmare inducing nursery rhymes around my child please!

AEOT said...

Love the previous Uppa Baby Vista comment. Hilarious.

B hates Goodnight Moon. Least favorite book ever, he says. We currently love the Spot books and The Mouse, the strawberry, and the big hungry bear (j'adore, j'adore!!). Mommy will read that one over and over. It's sooo cute.

Really this comment is just to say that that is the CUTEST picture of Master P that you have ever put on the blog. I love it!!!!

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

You were definitely in my head on this post...I've had one brewing regarding my own Mother Goose book from growing up that I pulled out to share with N. Until I realized how violent it was. Example-

Little Polly Flinders
Sat amongst the cinders,
Warming her pretty little toes;
{cute image, right}
Her mother came and caught her,
And whipped her little daughter
For spoiling her nice new clothes.

No worries about her burning herself by putting her feet too close to the fire...apparently Polly's mama was a fan of expensive smocked clothes. And whippings.

Kate said...

I am so over the transportation books. I don't want to read about another backhoe loader, forklift or cement mixer again. I can't believe these boys can be so entertained by trucks! (I guess it's a good thing)

There are so many creepy kid books. It's a good thing toddlers don't know what they are really reading!

Jessica Hudson said...

Seriously. The "I'll love you forever" book when the mom crawls through the window in the son's house?

And I can't watch Yo Gabba Gabba without feeling like I'm on mushrooms.

EmilyB said...

Yes!! I was just going to post about the "Love you forever" book too! That one is seriously weird. Someone gave it to me as a baby shower gift, and I thought it was cute until the boy kept growing, and the old lady would drive across town, break into his house to pick up her adult son and rock him. Weird-o!!

Perfectly Imperfect said...

The little one loves Love You Forever, but I agree with the ladies above; there's something beyond weird about a woman crawling through her grown son's window (and a little too much like the MIL for my taste). Beyond the books though, can we talk about kids movies? All the Disney movies? I'm horrified (yet can't quit snatching them up as BG HAS to have them). Crazy. And the Wiggles? For real? And Yo Gabba Gabba? that ish gives me hives.

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