My four-year-old son brought several of Mercer Mayer’s children’s books home from school today (book fair purchases). Of course, Sean wanted me to read them to him at bedtime this evening.
I read the first one, concerning Little Critter forgetting to do things (as well as not forgetting, choosing instead not to do them because he deemed them unimportant).
At the end of the story, Little Critter doesn’t learn anything from his experiences in the book.
Okay, I thought, that’s kind of a strange way to end a children’s book, but, whatever.
Then we moved on to the next book:
I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading Sean this story. After the first book, I could see where this one was headed, so I skipped to the end and, sure enough, it offered a garbage resolution to the story, with the character’s bad behavior being rewarded.
In the book, Little Critter throws tantrums when his parents tell him not to do the destructive things he wants to do and constantly threatens to run away, until the end, when he’s distracted by his friends coming over to play baseball with him.
As Little Critter trots off to play with his friends, he reminds us that, the next time he doesn’t get his way, he’ll just run away.
I visited Amazon’s page for the book and found only a small percentage of parents had reviewed the book negatively.
Most of the parents, however, loved it. How they managed to glean anything positive from this story, I don’t know. I don’t care how ‘adorable’ the artwork is, the story’s lesson, for lack of a better word, sucks.
When I was three or four, my mother’s favorite book to read to me was…
…which illustrated a little boy getting up in the middle of the night, while his parents were asleep, to play in the night kitchen. During the process, the character winds up losing his pajamas and has a great time playing naked, wearing only a pot on his head.
Loads of fun, right?
Not long after my mom introduced me to this book, I decided it’d be fun to wake up before she did, strip out of my pajamas…and ride my tricycle up and down the sidewalk outside our house at 7 a.m. I remember being more than a little confused when my mom dashed out of the house, yanked me off my trike and angrily spanked my bare ass while dragging me back inside.
Why was I in trouble? All I did was emulate the behavior– minus wearing a pot on my head– of the little boy in my mom’s favorite children’s book.
I don’t know if she ever made the connection between the book and my decision to play naked that day, but having her beat my ass for it taught me an important lesson, that just because you see a character do something in a story doesn’t necessarily make it a cool thing for you to do yourself.
Obviously, playing outside naked at 7 a.m. was not okay. Her spanking– the only one I ever remember her giving me– made such an impression that I never wanted to streak naked outdoors again.
I never looked at that book the same way again, either. All it had done, I realized, was help get me in trouble.
I don’t care how young they are, kids absorb things that can manifest later in different ways, good or bad.
Children’s books ought to teach kids positive lessons, to encourage the kinds of behavior you’d like to see, not reinforce negative, antisocial behavior by rewarding or ignoring it.