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10 Great Books For (Traumatizing) Children

Originally, I wanted to write this article because of a book read to me when I was a child called Love You Forever, about a mom who rocks her son to sleep every night of his life.

And I mean every night. When he's middle aged, she drives to his house while he's sleeping, climbs through his bedroom window with a ladder, picks him up and rocks him in her lap. I'm assuming he never marries, because, well, let's not kid ourselves.

Then when his mom is old and bedridden, he returns the favor by rocking her in his lap and screaming “YOU MADE ME THIS WAY!” Sure, the message was one of a mother’s undying love, but as a child all I understood was “Mommy is a crazy stalker, and one day she’ll die.”

But even that macabre tale of parental breaking and entering was swiftly booted off the list by these 10 atrocities. Brace yourselves; we’re talking Giving Tree levels of disturbing here.

#10.
Hiroshima No Pika
The Screwed Up-edness:

As all Westerners know, exactly one important thing happened in Hiroshima. And yes, this book for kindergartners is about that. According to the author, the book is based on a true account of a woman leading her child out of the A-Bomb’s blast radius while carrying her wounded husband on her back. According to the picture on the cover, it’s about women running topless through a sea of blood.

What Were They Thinking?

“Too long have the people of our country felt bewildered sorrow whenever they think of Hiroshima. We must help the new generation come to terms with an event that is, like it or not, a part of our history.”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“Men from the sky can kill us, our friends and our family at any time. Also, fuck America.”

#9.
Who Cares About Disabled People?
The Screwed Up-edness:

If you’re not already convinced this book was a terrible idea, try reciting the title at a cocktail party and see if you don’t get beat down. And while the book’s answer to the question is actually “we should ALL care about disabled people,” the people it considers “disabled” include fat kids, kids who huff paint, alcoholics, athletes and child prodigies (you know, because they’re so lonely). Maybe I’m not as tolerant as I could be, but the day I see a drunken, paint-huffing basketball prodigy park in a handicapped spot is the day I get arrested for vehicular manslaughter.

What Were They Thinking?

“If kids learn to see that everyone has their own unique imperfections, they will realize that intolerance harms us all.”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“Great, I’m surrounded by cripples. And you can get high by huffing paint? Who knew? Me, now. Awesome.”

#8.
I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much
The Screwed Up-edness:

I find it really hard to believe that an alcoholic father would buy this book for their own child, and we can assume if he found the mother reading it he’d smack her one. So who exactly is this book for? My theory is that it was written so kids with a functional family can learn that there really are monsters in the world, and sometimes they look like daddy. Because, yeah, you’re never too young to get that little life lesson out of the way.

What Were They Thinking?

The author’s other books—gems like My Big Sister Takes Drugs, Nobody Wants a Nuclear War, My Two Uncles and When Eric’s Mom Fought Cancer—suggest that she thinks any traumatizing event in a child’s life can be cured with about 12 watercolors and 150 words.

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“I wish Daddy didn’t drink so much, and this book helpfully reminded me of that fact in public when the teacher read it to us. Now I also wish that I hadn't cried and wet myself in front of all of my classmates.”

#7.
Outside Over There
The Screwed Up-edness:

This is the book the movie The Labyrinth was loosely based on, so you know it’s going to be pretty horrifying. And where the movie had a young girl battle self-decapitating monsters to win her kidnapped brother back from David Bowie’s enchanted crotch-pouch, the book has her doing… basically the same thing, but then she makes all the goblins kill themselves by dancing until they collapse due to fatal exhaustion. Many other details were altered, but thankfully the movie stayed true to the simple, heartwarming story presented in the book: young girl hates baby brother, wishes him away and must slaughter a goblin army to win him back.

What Were They Thinking?

“Children are often jealous of the attention lavished on younger siblings. They should know that this is normal, and that their parents love them both equally.”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“I am often jealous of the attention lavished on my younger sibling. It’s good to know that goblins will gladly take them if I ask.”

#6.
The House That Crack Built
The Screwed Up-edness:

A parody of “This is the house that Jack built,” this book takes children on a magical, whirlwind tour of things they have no reason to want to know about: from the workers toiling in Colombian fields to the pushers on the street corner to the homeless crackheads auctioning off their orifices for that next sweet hit. It’s like the film New Jack City crossed with an episode of The Magic School Bus. Read this one to your kids at bedtime, and they’ll never look at Pixy Stix the same way again.

What Were They Thinking?

“The earlier kids learn about the evils of drugs, the better chance they stand of avoiding them.”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“That crack dealer lives in a GIANT MANSION! Screw fireman; I want to be a dealer when I grow up!”

#5.
Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry
The Screwed Up-edness:

Ever wonder what someone with bipolar disorder looks and sounds like to their children? The answer is as upsetting as you’d imagine, and thanks to this book you don’t even have to develop a mental disorder of your own to let your kids know the depression and terror of that experience. Annie’s (single) mommy behaves like a coke fiend on one page and Debbie Downer on the next. Thankfully, Annie’s grandmother calls her on the phone to help talk her through things, and Annie learns a valuable lesson: her grandmother doesn’t love her enough to save her from her crazy mother.

What Were They Thinking?

“Mental illness in a parent is heartbreaking, and children need to know that it’s not their fault and that they can turn to friends and family for support.”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“No matter how normal our parents seem, they could easily snap at any moment and try to drown us in a bathtub.” Actually, pretty solid advice; probably saved some lives.

#4.
The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pinscher
The Screwed Up-edness:

This German collection of children’s stories has the double distinction of being the only book on this list to feature an abomination of nature on its cover, while also being the only book on this list that’s Nazi propaganda against the Jews. Whimsical tales like “The Poisonous Serpent,” “The Tapeworm” and “The Filthy Jew” help teach Nazi Youth a host of valuable lessons. OK, really just one lesson. Seriously, this is the written equivalent of Joe Camel, assuming he's beating a gypsy with a bag full of candy-coated plutonium Tootsie-Pops.

What Were They Thinking?

Well, to quote directly from the source, probably something along the lines of “Just like the bacterium, the Jews bring plague and decline to the peoples they infect by race mixing and infecting Gentile peoples with Jewish thinking. They maintain, for example, that all humans are equal. But that is not true. It is a terrible lie! ... said the happy flower to the sad old snail.”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“Heil Hitler!”

#3.
Latawnya, The Naughty Horse, Learns to Say “No” to Drugs
The Screwed Up-edness:

At first, this book seems like a fun read. After all, drawings of horses smoking cigarettes and struggling to drink booze with their gigantic hooves are inherently hilarious. Unfortunately, the author couldn’t just leave it at that. No, she had to make the three main characters black horses names Latawnya, Latoya and Daisy, and the villainous drug pushers four white horses. And voila! In one simple move, she’s turned what could have been an excellent desk calendar into an idiotic oversimplification of race relations. Tack on a horse overdosing near the end and you’ve got yourself one of the worst books ever made, children’s or otherwise.

What Were They Thinking?

“No one will listen to my theories about the White Man pushing drugs on our brothers and sisters! Perhaps if I thinly veil them and target kids…”

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“Horses are silly. Why… why isn’t Daisy getting up, Mommy? Mommy?!”

#2.
Cautionary Tales For Children
The Screwed Up-edness:

This one’s almost cheating, since it was written more than 100-years ago and was probably meant as a satire of the Grimm fairy tales. Nevertheless, its misleading title, saccharine-sweet rhymes and 2002 re-release with new artwork by renowned illustrator Edward Gorey leave little doubt that somewhere, a young child is reading poems about “Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion” and “Matilda, Who told lies and was Burned to Death.”

What Were They Thinking?

Since Gorey also wrote and illustrated The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a children’s picture book of children dying in various horrific (and alphabetized) ways, I’ve got to assume he probably knew exactly what he was doing.

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“You know, I haven’t shit myself in a few years, but I’m thinking of taking it up again.”

#1.
Alfie’s Home
The Screwed Up-edness:

Take every author on this list, put them in a room together, fill that room with a gas that makes people retarded, and promise to kill their families if they don’t write the worst children’s book of all time, and I guarantee they will produce Alfie’s Home. It’s not JUST that the book tells the story of a child getting molested by his uncle while his angry parents ignore him. It’s not JUST that the word “faggot” is emblazoned on page nine. It’s not JUST that the rudimentary artwork makes the picture of the “proper manifestation of a father’s love” look like Alfie’s getting molested all over again.

It’s all those things, but it’s mostly the fact that after 16 pages of the most fucked up childhood this side of Michael Jackson’s, Alfie has a single meeting with a counselor, and everything’s immediately fine. His uncle apologizes, his parents make up, he realizes he isn’t gay after all (Oh thank Christ!), rainbows shoot out of his ass, the whole bit. It’s like if Requiem For a Dream ended with a big tea party/dance number.

What Were They Thinking?

Not much.

What Kids Who Read It Think:

“Wow, this is shit. I’m going to go watch Pokmon.”


When not reading at a third grade level, Michael serves as head writer for and co-founder of Those Aren't Muskets!

You can also follow him on Twitter! And this is likely the last time he'll remind you, so get on that shit.

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