#3. The Deadly Hazards All Around You
Let's imagine you're a city bureaucrat tasked with educating local children about the hazards of, say, storm drains. It's an oddly specific scenario, but one that must have happened, because why else would anyone dream up a coloring book featuring Storm Drain Dan, the sleepy-eyed concrete storm drain who magically came to life to teach kids about the dangers of himself? He's kind of like Frosty the Snowman, if Frosty the Snowman were a conduit for wastewater and suspicious discharges, and if Frosty also spent his days and nights doing battle with weedkillers.
At least whoever came up with Storm Drain Dan knew enough to incorporate a weird approximation of something that kids enjoy: superheroes. Somewhere out there, a 3-year-old is excited to be coloring a storm drain wearing a cape because, hey, it's a storm drain wearing a cape. You could stick a cape on another cape and a toddler would color it. They're stupid like that.
Winky Lewis / Aurora / Getty Images
"I'm coloring 'feelings'!"
Unfortunately, the guys at the Environmental Protection Agency didn't get the memo that kids like things that are fun, not crappy. Despite working with the greatest word for disaster sites ever invented -- SUPERFUND -- the EPA managed to botch their task of educating kids in the laziest way possible. Superfund sites, you might remember, are areas so contaminated with toxins than the government had to give them a distractingly exciting name. (Poison Dumpster Hoovervilles didn't test well with focus groups.) The weird part is that the EPA kids' site decided to use horrifically crude illustrations coupled with aggressively simple instructions. This one just says, "Color the polluted town!"
And this one reads, "Color the EPA Worker!"
Are kids intuitively blessed with the knowledge of the color of toxic sludge? There's no text or enlightenment from the EPA, just the implied command, "COLOR, MONKEYCHILD! COLOR!"
#2. The Horrors of War
Educators walk a fine line between glossing over the uglier parts of history and brutally shoving the truth down their students' throats (literally, if they're teaching about the Irish potato famine). News stories are full of teachers taking lessons too far, holding a mock slave auction here or playing waterboarding games there. So maybe on the face of things, the idea of a semi-realistic depiction of World War II isn't so awful. It's not like a coloring book would actually show a corpse face down on a battlefield or anything!
I spoke too soon!
Sure, the Dover Coloring Book's Story of World War II is recommended for kids age 10 and up, but is there ever an appropriate age to color the hollowed cheekbones of a soldier confronting a fallen comrade? Other than age 54? At least this coloring book had the balls to confront the skin-ripping, soul-crushing realities of battle. One fun little newspaper insert thought the best way to introduce readers to Anne Frank was with a densely numbered dot-to-dot activity sheet.
Who could it BE? If a five-nanosecond glance at this picture didn't have you filling in the blanks on your own, how are you even reading these words and connecting multiple phrases into coherent ideas at this point? The partially finished picture above is obviously Anne Frank, whimsically rendered in dot-to-dot format so children can explore her dots and connect them as reverently as possible without lingering too long on the chest area.
And the dot-to-dot activity isn't even the most egregious part of the "Meet Anne Frank" Universal Syndicate Press mini-page. The worst was when they trotted out a word search for kids to hunt the English language's saddest vocabulary words: CONCENTRATION CAMP, HOLOCAUST, HITLER, BIRTHDAY.
As bad as this is, the first version included a section called "How many words can you make out of Zyklon B?" Turns out there weren't very many.
#1. The Black Panther Coloring Book
The sad thing about the Black Panther coloring book isn't that it existed; it's that it was a complete fraud. The FBI wanted a way to discredit the burgeoning Black Panther movement, so they did what any counterintelligence agency in their position would do: They created a fake coloring book featuring outrageous, hateful drawings and disseminated it across the country. The Black Panthers themselves disavowed the whole thing once they saw it. You can't blame them. The pictures are really low quality and the storyline is negligible. It starts with strong African warriors meeting whites for the first time in Africa.
Things go downhill from there. It turns out that white people are the bad guys in this story.
We don't know how many kids actually saw this coloring book; probably not many. It's hard to picture anyone, black, white, or existent, setting up their kids at the kitchen table with this deranged interpretation of race relations. So picturing a child looking at these pages isn't the sad part; I'm 90 percent sure it barely happened. The sad part is picturing a grown man or woman sitting at a cubicle trying to create an exaggerated version of the Black Panther ideology and coming up with drawings so comical that they wouldn't pass muster in a sixth grade art class.
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