It was World Book Day recently. And I love the idea of celebrating the gift of the written word. The daily ritual of reading to your child is a beautiful moment of bonding and learning. Or, at least that's what you tell yourself before you crack open the same book for the 68th time in a row. Sometimes I wonder how some certain books become classics. All the ones on those "must-read" lists (yes, even those listed here at Today’s Parent) are often the ones that make parents' skin crawl the most. They're also the ones that make for popular gifts for kids—a choice likely made by other parents who want to make you as miserable as them.
I've always hated Robert Munsch's Love You Forever, even though I still tear up singing the little ditty. The whole stalking element is very disturbing. I asked some friends what classic children’s books got under their skin. And I found I wasn’t alone in a lot of the choices.
So, here's a list of popular children’s books that I hate (a little):
Love You Forever: It tops many "must-read" lists and yet the whole notion of a mother stalking her son and hiding in his bedroom so she could rock him while he was sleeping is incredibly creepy. Sure, I cry when I read it—but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.
The Giving Tree: Why are people so devoted to this book? A narcissistic boy grows into a sociopath and takes everything from a tree—leaving only a stump behind. This book is not a parable about parenting—it's about colonialism. Interestingly, there is an element of subversive humour in Shel Silverstein’s poetry books, such as "Where The Sidewalk Ends", so maybe I'm missing the point?
Goodnight Moon: Let’s be honest—without that random page about “nothing” this book is not worth the awkward rhyming scheme and garish colours. Also, where are the parents? Why is the room so big? Why does the bunny have to eat mush?
Junie B. Jones series: Grammar Nerd Alert! Junie takes pride in “not talking so good” and murders the English language on a regular basis. I admit, at first I found her shenanigans funny but I'm not a fan of the name calling—with three kids in the house, I hardly need more reasons for people to yell “stupid!” and “dumb!” at each other.
The Rainbow Magic series: We have only read one of three trillion Rainbow Magic fairy books out there, as neither my daughter nor I buy into the "girls love everything with fairies" stereotype. According to my pal Ceri Marsh, if you’ve read one, then you have read them all. It’s computer algorithm writing with all the things that girls are supposed love. Don’t fall for the stereotypes.
Anything by Robert Munsch: Yes, he's a Canadian icon and invented beloved Paper Bag Princess. But every other character in his books are whiny (I'm looking at you, Mortimer!) and behave badly. The adults are even worse.
We Are Going On a Bear Hunt: The bear follows them home and traps them in the house. My daughter cried. We had to give the book away.
The Rainbow Fish: It’s so sparkly! But what is the lesson? That it's OK to give little pieces of yourself away so others will like you?
Books based off TV shows: The sounds of Dora the Explorer's voice already gave me the shivers, but it echoes in my head as I found myself saying “Backpack! Backpack!” in the same tone as her. Books based on TV shows feel like rip-offs, are often poorly written and just reinforce your guilt of letting your kids watch too much TV. Books are supposed to erase the bad influence of TV, not reinforce it. And yet, those are the books the kids grab from the racks right by the cash register. Any reading is good... right?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (and other books by Eric Carle): Let me be clear, I always liked The Hungry Caterpillar and the finger games that go along with it. But Daniel Smith at Slate hates it, and writes a very cogent post about how all of Eric Carle’s books have “a laziness and repetitiveness that in time can breed deep parental resentment.” He also argues that, unlike Carle, Maurice Sendak never forgot his audience, never repeated himself and should be considered the king of kids’ lit. I don’t disagree. (And I will defend Max to the end—he’s not bratty! He’s just a kid!)
I take pleasure in snuggling with my kids so we can read together, even when the idea of reading the same book again makes me feel slightly nauseous. But now that the older ones don’t need me to read to them anymore, I would give anything to lie down and crack open Love You Forever again—tears and all.
What books do you hate reading to your kids?
Originally published March 5, 2015
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