When I was a kid, my parents didn’t do fancy things like read me books. I never heard about most of the stories that people grew up with, like “Goodnight Moon” or “I Love You, Forever,” until I was in college and working at a book store.
Of course, I didn’t even read any of them until I actually had a baby of my own. I sat down to a lot of them with excitement and curiosity, ready to finally know what all the fuss was about. Here’s the thing: When you’re reading these books for the first time — and with a close reading because you’re trying to figure out exactly why everyone loves them so damn much — you start to notice some strange shit real fast. Like, you know when you go to the zoo and a monkey flings shit at the window but no one wants to acknowledge it because they don’t want to freak out the kids, but you’re still looking around waiting for some kind of reaction? Yeah, it’s like that.
1. Goodnight Moon
I’m sure you probably have a story about how your kids love “Goodnight Moon” and you read it together every night. Maybe it was even part of your bedtime ritual as a kid. Sure, it’s all well and sweet for awhile. We’re saying goodnight to the bears, the moon, the chair and everything else in the room, then — bam — “Goodnight nobody.”
What fucking existential angst is this? He goes on to say goodnight to the air. It’s like Camus for kids. I half expected Holden Caulfield to pop up on the next page.
Then he goes on to say goodnight to the mush and then “Good night to the old lady whispering hush.” Um, pretty sure that “old lady” is your mother — or maybe your grandmother or nanny. At any rate, not just some random woman in the room, and at least someone who merits a goodnight before “nobody.”
2. Guess How Much I Love You
“Oh, but it’s so sweet!” you say. “It’s about a parent’s unending love!” Sure. Or you can see it for what it is: The tale of a megalomaniac bent on winning at any cost.
You heard that right. Every time the poor Little Nutbrown Hare tries to express his love, his father (?) one-ups him. “Oh as high as you can hop, eh? Well, I can hop even HIGHER! Take that!”
I mean, just when you think the kid has won one and Big Nutbrown Hare is going to let him have the last word — that he loves him all the way up to the moon — he waits for the kid to fall asleep and then leans in and whispers that — oh yeah — he loves him all the way to the moon AND BACK.
He’s basically the parenting version of this:
3. Rainbow Fish
AW, but it’s a sweet message about sharing, right?
It’s about “sharing” if you count sharing as giving away parts of your body so that you can have friends. Or, if you prefer to view the scales as “accessories,” about giving away your possessions so that you can have friends.
Here’s the summation: Rainbow Fish has some mother fucking rocking scales. All of the other fish seem them and be like, “Yo, lemme have one of those scales.” Rainbow Fish says no, then they’re like “Well, fuck you!” When he comes around and gives them the scales, everyone loves him and he’s popular. Hmm…
4. Mother Goose Famous Favorites
We have this little book with a handful of Mother Goose rhymes in them, and holy shit are they twisted!
You’ve got “Sing a song of sixpence,” which offers up a pie made with 24 LIVE birds called “a dainty dish” for the king. Then one of the birds flies out and bites off the maid’s nose while she’s hanging clothes! What in the hell, Mother Goose?
The real prize in the collection, though, is “Wee Willie Winkie,” who’s running through the town in his nightgown and looking in the windows asking “Are the babes in their babes, for it’s now ten o’clock?” What in the actual fuck? Nice message, Mother Goose: “Hey kiddies, you better get in bed on time or else Chester the molester is coming for ya!”
5. I Love You Forever
Such a sweet story about a mother rocking her baby and telling her how she’ll always love her:
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”
Sweet until you get to the part about the mother creeping into his room at night when he’s much older and waiting until he’s good and asleep so she can rock him without him knowing it. She does this when he’s a teenager and even a man.
Um, I don’t know about you, but if my mother was creeping into my home at night so she could rock me while I was unconscious, I wouldn’t think that was a sign of her unending love. I’d think that was creepy as fuck, and I’d put down some firm boundaries real fast.
(Note: I know the true life story that inspired the book. While it’s heartbreaking, it doesn’t make the book any less creepy when viewed objectively.)
7. The Giving Tree
Seriously, what is it with children’s books and poor boundaries? What the hell are we teaching kids?
The story starts out innocently enough: The tree allows the boy to climb her trunk, swing from her branches and rest in her shade. It’s sweet.
However, as the boy grows, she becomes a needy, clingy thing that will give up literally anything to please him. He takes her apples to sell, he cuts off her branches to build a house, and he cuts down her whole trunk to make a boat. A fucking boat! How much more self-entitled can you get? When all is said and done, he sits on what’s left of her corpse — a stump — to rest (AGAIN to meet his own needs). And all this makes the tree HAPPY! Is this what love is? Giving your very life so that people can have unnecessary shit like boats?
I could go on and on and on about the ridiculousness that I find in children’s books. Don’t even get me started on Dr. Seuss.
What other kind of mind fuckery have you found in your kids’ books lately? Share them in the comments!