– Pamela, if you’re keeping score of all the friends I have –
recently told me she was horrified the other day when she read
Little Red Riding Hood
to her 3-year-old daughter. Apparently, the part where the wolf
gobbles up the grandmother and the woodsman frees her by carving up
the wolf’s stomach with an axe sort of got to the little
preschooler. Pamela spent about an hour trying to convince her
daughter to come out from under her bed.
One of my friends – Pamela, if you’re keeping score of all the friends I have – recently told me she was horrified the other day when she read “Little Red Riding Hood” to her 3-year-old daughter. Apparently, the part where the wolf gobbles up the grandmother and the woodsman frees her by carving up the wolf’s stomach with an axe sort of got to the little preschooler. Pamela spent about an hour trying to convince her daughter to come out from under her bed.
I wish I had thought to warn her. I could have told her. I had the same problem when I read “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Three Little Pigs” to my children. Sure, they sound like nice enough stories, but we’re talking a huge giant whose only mission in life is to step on, and squash, poor Jack, and a wolf who wants to carve up some cute pigs into slices of bacon.
Of course, my children are a little older now. I don’t have to worry about exposing them to children’s books. Now, I just worry about the types of TV shows they watch, the music they listen to, the movies – well, you get the idea.
The first thing I told Pamela was that this is a great time for her, and it really is, for any parent of a preschooler or young child who is still being read to. Books teach a lot of lessons, and to the children, too, of course. But the parents are the ones who are really learning – learning that you can never judge a book by its cute cover.
I remember when I once bought my son a picture book with a fluffy bunny on the cover. I didn’t read it first, since I spent four years in college analyzing English literature, and armed with all of my knowledge, I figured that it was probably a story about a cute little bunny.
It was. Sort of. After all, it started out with bunny frolicking in a sunny meadow with his mommy. But by page seven my son was crying so hard he could barely see the pictures. How was I supposed to know that the bunny would get lost in the forest, fall into a raging river and be swept away, only to be saved in the nick of time by a helpful beaver? I consider this false advertising.
After all, when I buy a trashy romance novel – er, if I were to do something like that – I would automatically know that it would be a tawdry romance with lots of racy scenes and not, say, a philosophical essay on raising the political consciousness of modern humanity. So you would think that, if you saw a children’s book with a fluffy bunny on the cover, it would have a happy, fluffy bunny type of story inside and not a depressing diatribe about working through scary situations and facing the world and all that.
It reminds me of the time I bought a book based on a popular cartoon character that was really, I suspect, a textbook for family life education. It started out with a group of kids setting a swarm of animated insects free to find mates so they could lay their eggs.
“What’s a mate?” my then-6-year-old daughter asked.
“It’s sort of like a really good friend,” I said, too weary to really get into a more detailed and age-appropriate explanation.
“We have to make sure the insects cross the sea so they can find their mates and have babies,” the next page said.
“What has flying over the sea got to do with having babies?” My daughter narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“Well,” I said, “sometimes the stork might be busy. In that case, the bugs have to fly over the water to the stork’s nest and pick up the baby themselves.”
“Is that was the book said?” she asked.
“Yes.” There was a long silence.
“How do they know how to get to the stork’s nest?”
“They take a special plane.”
Exactly. Not only was I now in over my head, I was feeding my daughter some pretty crazy information. Now whenever I ask her if she has any questions about boys, she just looks at me as if I’ve been drinking the cooking sherry. That’s why one of these days I’m going to propose a law to my Congressperson. I think that children’s books need warnings for busy, tired parents. Nothing complicated, just a line or two so we don’t naively pick up a picture book about a lost baby chipmunk as a light bedtime story, and end up explaining to a sobbing 4-year-old that Fuzzy was torn to bits by a pack of rabid hyenas.
Debbie Farmer is a humorist and a mother holding down the fort in California, and the author of “Don’t Put Lipstick on the Cat.” She can be reached at www.familydaze.
com, or by writing [email protected]