The very worst books for kids…

Now, while the blogosphere is burning up with responses to Kristof’s “best books for kids”, I think it’s time to post a little essay I wrote, back when Betsy was paying attention to our best loved picture books.

Enjoy!  Respond!  Criticize! Tell me what you think! And when I get back in a few days, I’ll have some quotes from folks you know, about the books they loathe the most!


The Worst Books of All Time!

Recently, I conducted an informal survey on my blog, asking readers to name a beloved picture book that they absolutely hate.  Because that’s the kind of person I am. I enjoy seeing sacred cows burned.

And while it didn’t surprise me that many of my readers hated the same books, I was surprised to discover that three of the most despised books in the history of classic children’s literature share a common theme viagra prix generique.

Each of these horrible books is detested for the same reason, for artfully describing what I’ll call overlove.  Each is about a parent (or a tree) who cannot separate themselves from their child.  Each depicts an adult who cannot live beyond or outside their children, who cannot set healthy boundaries.

By now, you’ve correctly guessed at least one of the terrible titles.  And maybe you’re nodding your head, and thinking, “Yes, yes—that book is over the top. It’s almost creepy, really.”

And in theory—as you chuckle you might agree with my basic premise: that our discomfort with such books is related to our discomfort with our own over-parenting culture.  Because sure, the world is complicated, and we’re inundated with scary stories about toxins and bird flus and child abductions and the rising cost of college and so on.   And it’s hard to watch our kids grow, and leave, and we only want the best for them.  But still, we wish we could lighten up and let the kids run loose a little more.

Olly olly ox and free!

But here’s what’s most interesting to me—since I began this project, whenever I talk to people about the three horrible books, I find that though everyone dislikes the idea of over-parenting, and though everyone hates at least one of the books, most people also love one of them.

People who find the Giving Tree a good model for a doormat, and who also think the mother in I Love You for Ever is a  felon, love The Runaway Bunny.  Though friends who think Mama Bunny is dominating and oppressive will argue all day that The Giving Tree is simply about generosity.  And so forth.

Which  begs the question—what kind of overlover are you?

Are you a Giving Tree—unable to say no, to draw lines, to put your own needs before the needs of a child, even a grown child?   “Oh, honey, no—just take the money I’ve been saving for my vacation to Greece and buy yourself a car. Have a nice time!”

Are you the mom from I Love You Forever—who cannot handle her child’s growing independence, but is unable to be honest about her own need for a place in his life?  “No, that fine, sweetie.  I don’t mind that you never tell me anything about your personal life. I can always stalk you on Facebook if I need to know what’s going on.”

Or are you Mama Bunny—domineering and restrictive, convinced that your own presence is what keeps your child from harm.  “Dear me, no.  I would never let the babysitter drive Bobby anywhere. Who knows what might happen!”

I will tell you that for me, this little exercise was tricky.  As a sacred cow-burner, I wanted to loathe all three of these books.  I wanted to. But in fact I don’t.

I’ll admit it.  I think the mom in I Love you Forever is a psycho—“But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town.  If all the lights in her son’s house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. “


And I think Mama Bunny is an absolute control freak— “If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,. “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

Fish for him?  Like, with a hook?

But as much as I want to hate it, in my honest memories, I only remember The Giving Tree as a sweet book about unconditional love.  A book about a parent who never forgot their kid at the bus stop.   Who always had time to listen.

Now I can’t help mulling the question over each night.  As a grownup will, I think critically about the books I read with my kids, and see them through the eyes of an adult, a parent, a self-aware creature of therapy.  I analyze our choices, and question what they say about us.

Each night, as I settle down in pajamas, with teeth brushed and songs sung, and my own darling child reaches for his very favorite book—

Goodnight Moon.

I wonder just how I’m messing him up.  Bowlful of mush indeed!

(***Note– Rainbow Fish was a very close runner up, and I think it suffers from a very related emotional issue/ lack of boundaries. But it didn’t get quite as many votes, so I didn’t include it here)

16 Responses to “The very worst books for kids…”

  1. Jennah Says:

    I’m with you on The Giving Tree. While I see that book as sad (very, very sad), I see the others as sad AND creepy. And, of course, my mom bought me a copy of “Love You Forever” when it came out – I don’t *think* she stalks me :)

  2. Gregory K. Says:

    These books spark huge reaction on both sides of the ledger – passionate defenders and those who think they’re the worst books EVERRRRR. I’ve done Oddaptations (think attitudinal, rhyming, short Cliff’s Notes) of all of these on my blog, and in each case have gotten irate emails from people hurt that I was denigrating their favorite book. Then again, I’ve Oddapted some of my own favorites, too, so that’s off the mark. Anyway, people will find your post for years now and leave you comments!

    And here, for your own darling child, is my Oddaptation of Goodnight Moon :-) (oh, with the Giving Tree thrown in for freeeeeee at the same post!)

    For the record, by the way, my Love You Forever Oddaptation got two visits yesterday from people Googling “love you forever creepy”….

  3. Jody Marie Says:

    Repeating what I posted on FB: Though I can definitely understand where one would find [the mentioned stories] “creepy”, I too caught myself disturbed at various parts, I adored the book for the message it intended to present. :)

    It was a book my daughter loved and many others, before her- babies love repetition. what can you do?

    Because I’m aware I have over-protective tendancies, I try to make a habit to put myself in check. Many thanks to you, for this blog. It helps. :)

    Having said that: I must be a VERY evil mother.

    I am not about to give up my money for my trip to Greece (how did you know that is my dream?) so my darling ADULT child can buy his/her dream car. They can scrimp, save, and sweat blood and tears just like I did! I believe in the teaching of children earning thier OWN experiences (that includes the joy of toys and exotic get-aways). If that money isn’t going to benefit me, the only likely heirs are my Grandbabies!


  4. Sherrie Petersen Says:

    Wow, I always thought the Momma Bunny was a bit creepy and the mother slithering across the floor to rock her grown man-baby was beyond weird, but I’ve never heard anyone voice those opinions before! YAY! I like the Giving Tree, but the co-dependency issues there have always bothered me. I’m pretty sure I would not let my children chop me into little pieces and carry me away in order to further their dreams. And I threw away the Rainbow Fish. If those superficial little fish couldn’t be friendly until they stole my essence, then why would I want to be their friend? But that’s just me ;)

  5. Scott M. Kenemore Says:

    What about the Bible, Torah, and Qu’ran? Those flagitious tomes are foisted upon the young with great alacrity by parents far and wide. (Also, the Necronomicon… That would be really bad for kids, too.)

  6. Kate Coombs Says:

    Ha! Yes, I can’t stand creepy Love You Forever or The Codependent Giving Tree, but I don’t mind The Runaway Bunny because I’ve always felt it was a mother rather creatively reassuring a child that even if got really mad or ran away from home, she would still love him. Or rather, it seemed like a game they were playing. Maybe I should rethink that! As for The Rainbow Fish, double yuck! For that matter, I’m not too crazy about Guess How Much I Love You, another overloving bunny title… Maybe it’s manipulative sentiment we’re objecting to, in broader terms.

  7. Saints and Spinners Says:

    I’m definitely the Mama Bunny kind of overlover– or would be, if I didn’t keep myself in check and talk myself down from bouts of anxiety. What redeems Runaway Bunny for me is the very last line, as it injects some humor into the whole thing. Also, the cozy picture-spread at the end was one of my ideal cozy spots.

    I didn’t know about Love You Forever until college, so it didn’t have a chance to warp my childhood. ;) However, The Giving Tree made me angry the first time I read it. The idea of giving to the point of destroying oneself seemed to be a value that a number of grownups I knew seemed to share, and I wanted none of it.

  8. Rita Says:

    A genuinely thought-provoking, insightful post on a topic near and dear to my heart! I once wrote a college paper trying to get at the difference and similarities (and successes and failures) between The Giving Tree (which I loathe) and Maurice Sendak’s There Must Be More To Life Than Having Everything, aka Higglety Pigglety Pop! (which I feel complicated about). Your post skewered the topic much more successfully and succinctly! You sized it right up! Of course, I was writing it from the point of view of the child, not the parent, and once guilt is involved . . . so much for succinctness. :)

  9. amy Says:

    I’m convinced that the Giving Tree was never meant to be a model of parenting. I don’t even believe that it’s a really a children’s book. I think he intended it as a dark and ultimately depressing, existential tale of martyrdom confused for love.

    However, I’ve never met anyone else who shares that opinion.

  10. Maddie Says:

    It is my opinion that many people responding to these books negatively have taken a couple of small aspects of each book and turned it into a very cynical, cold, representation. I used to read “Love you Forever” with my son, and I never once thought of the mom as a creepy pyscho stalking her son. It was just a way of saying that even as an adult she checked on him to make sure he was alright. I think it might have been a metaphorical representation of her care and concern for him even as an adult. This book represented the passing of time, when if parents (and we live long enough), we will all go from being the caregiver to being taken care of. It may be a stretch for some of us to think that our children will take care of us, but maybe a few of us will be so lucky as the “psycho” mom whose son is there in the end. I suppose several of you might rip “Stone Fox” by John Reynold Gardiner too? After all, how can a dog’s heart really burst out of love for his owner? I guess I am naive and try to take the positive approach to these books first, and then look at the negative, and I know there are some poorly written children’s books out there. I think sometimes we try to dig just a little too deep into what these books are saying. I’m confident that the author never intended to even say this mother was overprotective. Besides, if we aren’t a little overprotective, then we aren’t doing our jobs. That’s a whole different discussion though, isn’t it? This will really scare you. I am a teacher (oh that explains my rambling, right?), but have all intentions of reading Ms. Snyder’s new book and will likely read it to my class, as it looks excellent.

  11. Maddie Says:

    P. S. I meant to write . . .dig just a little too deeply. .”

  12. Andy L Says:

    I had always found the “stalker” scene in Love You Forever to be more than a little weird, but then my storyteller girlfriend told me that when Robert Munsch actually tells the story, he plays up that part so that it’s actually pretty funny, rather than dramatic…Can anybody confirm/disprove that? If true, it might be a case of the illustrator misinterpreting authorial intent (although I’m sure Munsch doesn’t mind, as he takes yet another laugh-filled trip to the bank…).

  13. Mary Quattlebaum Says:

    Oh, great discussion! “The Giving Tree” horrified me the first time I read it as a kid. I was appalled by the narcissistic kid who so selfishly destroyed something that cared for him. As an adult, I’m more horrified by the tree who allows herself so uncomplainingly to be used and essentially abused. What’s interesting is to switch pronouns as you read, making the kid “she” and the tree “he.” Suddenly, the whole relationship seems weirdly wrong (the all-giving male and the all-taking female). Is that because as a society we’re so used to the opposite (all-giving female and all-taking male) that we don’t question the gender issues at the heart of this story? And I also see deep parallels between this story and our destruction of the planet.

  14. lishacauthen Says:

    Oooo. I think I’ve found a new BFF. Never read The Giving Tree to my kids. Found it downright sadistic. I read I Love You Forever and The Runaway Bunny to my kids, but in a way that was funny, like “Watch out! Crazy Mom is coming for you!” Because my kids were raised to be independent. And even when they were little they could see how ridiculous the moms in the books were.

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