Will and I have always been readers. Books have always been precious to me, starting when I was a little girl. We started reading to Stella in utero and I guess by extension Felix got some of that during his own gestation as we put Stella to bed each night. We’ve always been a bit particular about what we’ve read our kids, choosing books that resonated with us as well. I mean it’s our money we’re spending, dagnabbit, and we have to experience these stories and illustrations as well. We might as well pick stuff we like, too. I have started to wonder, however, if perhaps our taste in children’s literature doesn’t run a bit on the dark side.
Stella isn’t shy about requesting that any available grown up read to her. She will put your ass – and eyes – to work. I love that she loves it. I think it’s a huge reason why she’s already reading such a great deal on her own, sounding out words she’s never seen. How in the hell do you explain the “silent K” to a 3 year old, damn it?
Anyway, hearing other people read to her, I’ve become aware that some of our books might not be the most “typical” or child-like selections. It doesn’t help that Stella gets hung up on certain titles. Many of her favorites are these lovelies:
- “Creepy Carrots,” which is exactly what it sounds like – a bunch of carrots trying to scare a boy rabbit out of eating them.
- “Black Rabbit,” which is about a rabbit who is scared of his shadow until he flees into the deep dark woods, nearly gets eaten by a scary wolf, and the black rabbit in turn scares the wolf away.
- “The Dark,” which is about a boy who is intimidated by the dark and the dark talks to him at night, luring him into a basement. Seriously, it’s a cute book, but there are moments that are a bit horror-movie like. “No, kid! Don’t go into the dark basement by yourself, damn it! What’s wrong with you??”
- “I Want My Hat Back” and “This Is Not My Hat,” both tales involving an animal’s/fish’s thievery of a hat (duh) and meeting dire ends when they get eaten by the hats’ rightful owners. Sure, the eating portion isn’t shown, only implied. But it’s there…
- “The Real Story of Little Bunny Foo Foo.” Did you know that Foo wasn’t a dick? The damn field mice kept stealing her cupcakes (there’s a lot of stealing in kids’ books, isn’t there??). Rather than acknowledge this, the tyrannical and obviously biased “good fairy” sided with the mice. So, why not eat that damn good fairy when you get turned into a monster?? Perfectly reasonable.
I could go on. I have a book that was mine when I was a little girl: “The Fat Cat,” based on a Danish folktale, in which a cat goes on a binge-eating spree, devouring pots, little girls, old ladies, some strange people named Skohotentot and Skolinkenlot, and birds until he gets sliced open by a woodsman. Those woodsmen sure do slice a whole lot of things open in stories, don’t they? But for the record, I have not yet shared “The Fat Cat” with my children. But that’s mainly because it’s mine, it’s old, and I’m afraid they’ll tear it up.
We do have some nice books. “A Sick Day for Amos McGee” won a Caldecott Medal and is much loved. I have an awesome copy of “Wynken Blynken and Nod” with gorgeous illustrations that we’ve about worn out.
I guess ultimately most children’s tales have an element of dark to them – from Red Riding Hood, to the original Cinderella stories, to the 3 pigs/bears. Those are the stories that endured and have been adored by kids now for generations. Shit like “Barney’s First Day of School” won’t even be available when Stella and Felix are shopping for their own potential little kids one day. That is, if proper tangible books are still around….