Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: The Worst of Kids' Lit

Last week we talked about a book that represents the best of Children's Literature. This week, let's talk about some that represent the absolute worst. Now, bear in mind that the qualifying factor here is that I think all these books are terrible, and also that, for some unknown and ideally unfathomable reason, they're super popular.

I didn't put all the stinking truck books on here, the ones that I hate but the little munchkin loves, because while I am sick to death of reading about monster trucks and semi-trailers and snowplows and what the poop ever else, they're not really offensive books. Just kind of annoying in their volume. 

These, however, are the books that I really do find personally offensive. Or just irritating. But either way, I find these books to be genuinely detrimental to children everywhere. Why? Well, check it out:

No More Diapers for Ducky! and No More Hitting for Little Hamster! by Bernette Ford. (Illustrations by Sam Williams).

So, I just looked online, and apparently these are not the only two books in the series. And while I haven't read all the rest of them, I'm going to make some broad generalizations here, because I can and I'm sure I'm not wrong. These books suck. They are everything that is wrong with America.

Okay, that might be overselling it a little, but I really do dislike these books. In No More Diapers for Ducky!, like I mentioned last week, the story follows a little duck who goes over a friends house, finds him using the potty, kicks off her diaper and decides to be potty trained. Just like that. In No More Hitting for Little Hamster!, the titular rodent is a jerkface who hits all his friends and then doesn't get why they won't play with him. But then instead of him learning about anger management and compassion, his friend just tells him not to hit, and then it's all okay. All better.

I'm going to take a stand now and suggest that No More Pacifiers for Piggy! and No More Blanket for Lambkin! are along a similar, weird, and unhelpful vein. The problem isn't really that all of these books seek to modify the child's behavior in some way, but rather that they do it in such an abrupt and unhelpful fashion. As anyone who has attempted potty training can tell you, you don't just wake up one day and suddenly have an ability to control your bladder. Especially not after a couple of years of no one making a big deal about it.

There is no, "Just stop it!" in child-training, or in anything really. Humans don't really ever just stop anything. You can reason with them, and cajole them, and bribe them, and beg them, but ultimately, whatever you do, it's a long process because we have to learn how to not do the thing. And that's okay. It doesn't make potty training or not hitting or not using a pacifier or whatever impossible. It just means that it takes a little bit of time.

And what I really hate about these books is how easy they make it seem. Like it's a snap decision and then it's done. That wholly disrespects the kids who find it genuinely hard to change. It's a like a movie montage of positive behaviors, only real life doesn't work that way. Real life is messy and involves a lot more paper towels.

Learning any good behavior, even learning not to do something bad like hit, is a long process. In the No More Hitting for Little Hamster! book, it's like a switch is flipped and all of a sudden Little Hamster doesn't hit at all. Ever. He's fixed!

The problem is that most kids really don't work like that. You have to tell them not to hit. And then tell them again. And then give them a time out. And then tell them again. And eventually, yeah, they learn not to hit. But it takes time, and it's kind of insulting to insinuate otherwise, because it makes it sound like kids are just little robots who have to be programmed correctly and then they'll run bug-free! They aren't. They're people. And people are messy.

I Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. (Illustrations by Sheila McGraw).

So, a lot of people have noted that this book is creepy and weird, and I would just like to add my voice to the chorus. There's nothing really wrong with the premise of the book, I guess. I mean, unconditional love is a good thing, or so I've heard, but this book really takes it to a fuller, creepier level. Because no matter what this kid does, and trust me, he does some intensely annoying and crappy things, his mother will love him.

That's nice. But what the book doesn't show is that his mother will also discipline her freaking kid. The implication then is that you can do whatever you want to your mother, and it's all fine, because she'll love you no matter what, and it's okay if you never learn the consequences of your actions. Because that is totally a message that's going to serve people well in their adult lives.

There's a lot of talk today about love meaning perfect acceptance, and while I think part of that is true, there's also an element of love that requires judgment. Why? Because if you really love someone, you want them to be their best self. So you tell them when what they are doing isn't okay. Loving someone means reminding them of who they really are. Loving someone, really loving them, is being ready and willing to discipline them. Because if you don't discipline and instruct, then that's just kindness. That's not love. There's no accountability. 

I mean, wouldn't it be so much worse than a time out to live your life with the idea that your parents don't care what you do? That sounds horrible.


No, David! and Too Many Toys and Good Boy, Fergus by David Shannon (aka, everything he's written)

These go largely in the same vein as I Love You Forever, but with a different tinge. You see, David Shannon's books are all about slightly maladjusted, annoying, bratty kids, who are constantly trying to get one over on their parents. In No, David!, the titular character is constantly getting into trouble and being a little stinker, and in the end, he's just like "Right. Sorry!" and everything is okay.

Um, no. Pretty sure that kid needs some serious consequences (like maybe having to clean up after just one of the messes he causes?). But there is a serious lack of implicit or explicit discipline in the book, which makes it sort of a horrible thing. A horrible thing that somehow won a Newberry Award. Grrrrr.

I'm just saying, the last thing I want an impressionable two year old reading is a book where some smart-mouthed kid destroys his parents' house and then wanders smugly off to bed. It's infuriating. And probably really horrible for children.

Also horrible for them is the book Too Many Toys, though for a slightly different reason. In this book, the little boy in question has a lot of toys, and it's not so much that he's a terrible little kid, but that he just has a lot of toys and he loves all of them, but his mother has had enough and wants to give some away. And he won't let her. So they bargain and bargain and finally she fills a box of used toys, only for him to empty out the box and decide to play with that instead.

It's not that the book is unrealistic or anything (trust me, it's super realistic), but it's really annoying because of how the parents are portrayed. They have absolutely no power here. The kid runs the family. And that's just not healthy.

I mean, ultimately, that seems to be my problem with all these books. They suggest worlds without emotional or physical boundaries, where kids are left to run wild and have no discipline, and where nothing is earned. In other words, they sound like a recipe for some truly awful kids.

It's not that I think kids should be corporally punished, or that we need to bring back thumbscrews or anything (though I am still mildly curious on what a thumbscrew actually does). More, it's that I think that boundaries are important, and kids need to know that. They need to know that it's okay if it takes them a while to learn good habits, because learning good habits is important and not easy, and the sooner they get used to working hard at a skill, the easier their lives will be in the long run. They need to know that respect isn't just blind obedience or saying yes until a back is turned, it's understanding who you are and what your place is in the family, the society, and the world.

And they need to know that if they intentionally cover the dog in chewing gum and dirt, then heck yes they're going to get a time out.

Sigh.

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