5 Classic Children's Books With Horrible Hidden Messages

Children's books serve an important function in the early parts of our lives, and we don't mean that of helping our parents bring us down from our perpetual sugar high at bedtime. Their fables are designed to teach us important moral lessons. But looking back at some of these stories from our now wiser and more experienced perspective (read: a little buzzed and with way too much time on our hands), you can see that some of the lessons they teach, if viewed in the right light, could be considered marginally to completely fucked up.

We're not saying these books are definitively bad for your kids, or that these messages are intentional. We're just saying, "Waaaiiiit a minute, what if ..."

#5. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Preaches the Worst Kind of Entitled Fatalism

Judith Viorst/Ray Cruz

The Story:

Poor little Alexander just can't catch a break today.

Judith Viorst/Ray Cruz
"My job's a joke, I'm broke, and my love life's D.O.A."

After copious whining and inexplicable threats to move to Australia, that magical land where nothing bad ever happens, Alexander falls dejected into bed, resigned to the fact that some days are just plain shitty. The end.

Why It's Fucked:

Most of Alexander's issues are entirely his fault. He wakes up with gum in his hair -- maybe you should stop chewing gum in bed, Alex. He trips on his skateboard that he left on the floor -- pick up your shit, Alex. His teacher likes his friend's picture better than his -- because Alexander didn't draw anything. Draw something, Alex.

Judith Viorst/Ray Cruz
Get your goddamn shit together, man.

You'd think the book would end with Alex learning that all of his problems can be solved by taking some responsibility and resolving to do better, but instead he just shrugs his shoulders and concludes that God must hate him. Jesus, did Nietzsche ghost write this book? The worst part is that his mother totally reinforces this learned helplessness. Instead of teaching him any kind of life skills, she just reassures him that everyone has bad days sometimes.

Judith Viorst/Ray Cruz
"Sweetie, have you tried not being a little bitch?"

That's actually a fine lesson to teach a kid: Sometimes, no matter what you do, things will go wrong. There will be problems you cannot solve, and it's best to not let them get to you. But there are also problems you can totally solve, right now, and those are exactly the ones Alex is bitching about. Pick up that fucking train, kid; you're going to step on it tomorrow. Put your clothes away; you won't find your pants in time to make the school bus in the morning. Is that gum in your mouth, again?

Maybe you deserve the life you live, Alex.

#4. T Is for Terrible Is About Domestic Violence

Peter McCarty

The Story:

T Is for Terrible is the story of a lonely T. rex. He's sad that he has no friends because the other dinosaurs are scared of him. He mopes around as the smaller creatures run away in terror, explaining that it's not his fault he's so big and scary.

Peter McCarty
"Yeah, that makes sense. I guess."

Surely this is a nice T. rex who doesn't eat other dinosaurs and everyone's just jumping to conclusions about him based on his appearance, right?

Why It's Fucked:

Peter McCarty
"Yeah, that makes- fuck."

Oh no. He fully owns up to his violent tendencies -- it's just that he can't help it, so, like, cut him some slack, and don't give him that judgy face while he eats you. It's accurate to show the T. rex eating other creatures, and it's probably fair to teach children that they shouldn't hate nature because it is sometimes a brutal place, but this isn't a nature documentary. We gave up that angle when the T. rex started speaking English. We gave him an internal monologue, so he's a character now -- somebody the kids are supposed to listen to and learn from. If viewed in that vein, T Is for Terrible may just be a look into the flawed mindset of a bully or an abusive family member. He's clearly in denial about the effect his behavior has on others, projecting laughably wrong attitudes upon his victims.

Peter McCarty
"How could I have hit her, officer? Look how tiny my arms are."

Yes, T. rex: For the love of God, you would be exactly as terrible if you were pink. The problem is not and has never been your color; it's that you want to kill and eat everybody. By conveniently placing the blame on others ("You're all just prejudiced against green things"), he avoids taking any responsibility for his actions ("I wouldn't hit you if you didn't make me so angry"). He tries to elicit our sympathy, explaining that he started out as a cute little baby, just as we all did. It's just that ... something went wrong.

"He had a rough upbringing, so he can't help it."

Peter McCarty
"I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer,
no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing." -H.H. Holmes

The T. rex doesn't learn anything. He doesn't become a vegetarian (he laments that he would if he could, but he can't, so he won't). And that's the overall theme of this book: The T. rex in your life cannot and will not change. No matter how badly you want him to, no matter how hard you work to make him happy, he will inevitably eat you.

That's ... that's actually a pretty good lesson about domestic violence. Good job, book!

(It's still a pretty horrifying thing to learn right before nappy time, though.)

#3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Thinks Binge Eating Is Great

Eric Carle

The Story:

This classic illustrated story begins when a cute little caterpillar hatches and thinks to himself, "I have arrived. I am born. I have mouth, stomach, hunger -- and with them, I will devour the world." And that's exactly what he does, eating huge portions of clearly human food.

Eric Carle
Aww, he thinks he's pupal.

As he eats more and more -- literally eating holes through the pages of the book -- he grotesquely inflates into what is no longer a "cute wittle caterpillar" and is more like Jabba the Hutt on St. Patrick's Day.

Eric Carle
"Just be glad this isn't a scratch-and-sniff book. Trust me."

He reaches the inevitable conclusion of his binge, when there is simply no more of this wicked world to consume, so he lies down, tucks himself into his cocoon, succumbs to sweet nothingness ... and wakes up fucking fabulous.

Eric Carle
"Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me. I'd fuck me hard."

Why It's Fucked:

We all know that person whose biggest source of pride is their ability to devour an entire pizza all by themselves in one sitting. Hell, maybe you are that person. It doesn't matter if you're obese or not -- that's not the point. Regardless of your metabolism, ramming ice cream into your face hole until you feel like someone loves you again won't just gradually kill you; it'll make you miserable.

Our caterpillar friend is no exception. He is not at all the portrait of fat and happy. Just look at his face as he steels himself for another serving -- look how sad he is.

Eric Carle
Dude, it's food. Not love.

He explicitly eats to the point of pain, and then he keeps right on eating. Now, if we're taking this story literally, that may be biologically sound information. A caterpillar does indeed need a lot of stored energy for metamorphosis. But most kids' books are made to be read into -- to be considered metaphorically so the children can learn some basic but important moral lesson at the end. Even if you're not meant to take this particular one as allegory, some kids will still be looking for it. And when they do find the moral, it will tell them: "Binge eating is great, and the worst consequence will be waking up the next day even prettier than before!"

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