As only buzzkills like us would want to point out, some children's books seem to intentionally traumatize kids with hard adult themes of vice and dysfunction. But those are the exception, not the rule. What about all those other cutesy, cartoony little picture books you find in the beanbag section of the library? The ones that aren't actively teaching kids to idolize crack dealers or mock the disabled? Those are OK, right? Apparently not: Even some of the biggest names in the industry are practically seeding our children's brains with impending personality disorders. Books like ...
#6. Love You Forever
"... but if you flush that Rolex, I'll skin you alive."
In this best-selling picture book, an impish boy tears apart every room in the house and runs his mother ragged. But that's OK, because when she sees him lying there sleeping peacefully, he's impossible not to love. From newborn through the toddler years and beyond, Mommy always finds a chance to sneak into her boy's room, cradle him in her arms and sing a lullaby. Because he will always be her little baby.
"But if he keeps peeing on the carpet, we might have to have him put down."
The Horrible Message:
No, seriously, he will always be her little baby. Until death itself comes to claim his husk from her viselike arms ...
Mommy won't ask what that brown stuff is, even though she knows it hasn't rained in days.
For example, here: We're past the hugging stage now, right? We're pretty sure the tape in his Walkman cassette player is Run-DMC's Raising Hell, and we're almost positive he's going to masturbate into that catcher's mitt later (he's a 13-year-old boy; he's pretty much going to masturbate into everything at least once). So maybe he's getting a little bit old for this stealth coddling stuff, right?
She washes out that catcher's mitt and lovingly places it on her face at night.
No? OK, that's cool. He might start associating his mother's perfume with his wet dreams about Samantha Fox, but it's not like a few mommy issues will turn every kid into Ed Grimley or anyth--
That shirt has "fat Elvis" all over it.
Huh. Well, he's not off to a galloping start, is he? Your high school age son is wearing loafers and doing a Sha-Na-Na fantasy number in front of the cat and his almost certainly deceased friend (human beings do not bend like that, nor do they possess terrifying visages that lifeless). Maybe it's time to lay off the covert cuddles.
At school, he finds himself licking girls' faces. He's been suspended twice.
Or hey, you could also sneak into his bedroom on ... on ... all fours like the creepy girl from The Ring. Jesus, what would you do if he woke up right at this moment? He would never stop screaming.
And what are you going to do when he eventually grows up and moves out of the house? Strap a ladder to the roof of your car, drive across town, break into his house and sneak into his bedroom there, too?
"Sheila? Sheila ... not again. I want a divorce."
Whoa, wait a minute. She's not seriously ...?
He paws at the windows of nursing homes and whispers "Soon."
Wow. Just wow. That's so balls-out crazy stalker-core that even your mentally imbalanced son's bizarre Bed Rodent is trying to escape that mise en scene. So remember: Sleep soundly, kids, because the bellowing furnace of Mommy's uterus will smother every bad dream inside your head ... forever.
#5. The Berenstain Bears and the Bully
Based on the cover art alone, we would have guessed at a much darker story.
Kiddie book mack daddies Stan and Jan Berenstain have sold hundreds of millions of Berenstain Bear books over the decades. With roughly a blazillion titles in the series, the Berenstains were bound to throw in at least one blood-soaked reboot full of violence and retribution, if only to keep the series fresh for their ever-maturing fan base. The Berenstain Bears and the Bully is that book.
"There's a talking time and a face-eating time. This is a face-eating time."
After getting beaten up by a playground bully named Tuffy, darling little Sister Bear nurses cruel revenge fantasies that are a bit excessive, even for the hyperbolic imagination of a slighted child. We hated bullies, too, Sister Bear, but most of our fantasies involved either whupping their ass in front of our karate mentor (a proud Jean-Claude Van Damme) or else besting them in some kind of ski race in front of our ski mentor (also a proud Jean-Claude Van Damme). But Little Sister ain't no punk: She's going to stab the bully with lances, bust her head open with morning stars, crush her with tanks or just straight up kamikaze a plane into her furry ass.
"Boy, I sure am glad thought bubbles aren't visible, otherwise I'd look like a psychopath."
Jesus, when your kid starts fantasizing about suicide-bombing the local bully, don't run to the crayon box to turn it into a heartfelt children's book; call the therapist and start putting locks on the scissors.
The Horrible Message:
But that's not on the Bear family's checklist when they find out about Little Sister's Inigo Montoya-caliber revenge vow. The family instead breaks into two factions: Mama Bear in favor of mealy mouthed avoidance, and everyone else in favor of physical confrontation -- and nobody in favor of contacting school authorities. Because even in the Bear universe, snitches get stitches.
So naturally, Brother Bear's next move is to set up a scrappy Rocky-style training session in the basement with a bag of beans standing in for Tuffy.
"Hit her hard enough in the kidneys and she'll wet her pants. Remember -- shame is half the battle."
When Sister Bear shows up at school the next day, she finds the bully doin' what bullies do (mostly bully stuff), and immediately pops her in the face.
"Oh hey, this feels familiar. My father does this all the time when he's drunk."
Sister Bear's punishment: A warning from the principal. Tuffy's punishment: A loss of recess privileges and twice-weekly visits to the school psychologist. The parents aren't even notified. So Sister Bear gets off scot-free, all of her problems solved by good old vigilante justice.
Now toughened by the streets, she takes to the shadows and unleashes her own brand of justice. She ... is Bearbear.
There's no discipline, no talks about pursuing other means besides violence and certainly no retaliation from the bully. Because you see, kids, no matter how weak you are, it's always a good idea to sucker punch the kids with a history of kicking your ass -- they're sure to back down and not put your little bear muzzle on a curb and American History X your little pink hair bow into the pavement.
#4. The Rainbow Fish
Get used to that lobotomized stare; you'll be seeing it quite a lot.
This here is an award-winning book that subsequently became an HBO Family animated series. In the most fabulous study of loneliness this side of a Liberace biography, the beautiful but vain Rainbow Fish cannot seem to make any friends, because he's just too proud of his bright, shiny scales.
Don't feel sad. Three seconds later he was fine.
But then the wise old Octopus teaches him about sharing. So now he shares all of his scales with all of his new friends, of course!
The Horrible Message:
Unfortunately, those plain fish "friends" of his don't give two squirts of nitrogenous waste about the Rainbow Fish. They never asked if he wanted to swap scales or hang out or anything -- they only asked for his skin, because they thought it was pretty.
"Of course," said the Rainbow Fish, as he screamed in agony.
And the kindly old mentor, the Octopus, didn't step in to stop the Rainbow Fish from sharing the wrong way -- this is exactly what he meant. He doesn't urge the Rainbow Fish to be nice, or take an interest in others, or help out his fellows -- he just hops right to "buy their affections." Here's a no shit, serious, actual quote: "You won't be as beautiful, but you will have friends."
Really, Octopus? Disfigure yourself so your beauty doesn't make them feel insecure? Give them the only property you have to make them like you?
Look at this pathetic slice of pan-fried, crispy, lemony, we've forgotten our point.
He may as well have said "If the other girls are jealous of your looks, just put an iron to your face!" Or "If the other kids don't like you, pawn everything you own and buy them all PlayStations!"
If you're the fish to go to for free flashy fish scales, every schmo in the ocean will be at your door -- not to be your friend, but to get them some free shit. And giving away all of your assets for feigned affection quickly sets a precedent:
Kids: If someone compliments your hair, immediately tear a handful of it out and force it into their pockets. You have now made a friend.
..."and was left with nothing but a pool of vapid, fair-weather friends," is the implied next sentence. Did we learn nothing from every episode of VH1's Behind the Music?