6 Popular Children's Books That Teach Kids Horrible Lessons
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 ...
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.
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.
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?
Related: 5 Fish Clearly Designed by a Madman
Because Your Daddy Loves You
From award-winning children's book author Andrew Clements, Because Your Daddy Loves You is a sentimental father-daughter tale that has been praised by School Library Journal and the American Library Association. It's all about a cartoon dad who is the patron saint of patience and loving support.
The Horrible Message:
In case you were wondering how much of a jerk this awesome dad isn't, the story helpfully contrasts all of his loving reactions with the petty, impatient thing he could have said but didn't. In fact, Dad never once says "No," or "You could do that yourself," or otherwise actually teaches the child any self-sufficiency in the slightest. The girl's every whim is obeyed unquestionably by the slave/father, whether reasonable or not. Sure, it starts out harmlessly enough, with Dad not being a total dick about story time:
"... even words like 'the' and 'palimpsest' and you should probably start reading on your own now."
But soon he's carrying her around like Cleopatra on a palanquin with basically no provocation ...
And if you wake up frightened of the dark, he doesn't reassure you that those are just dreams -- after all, they scared you, and you're the super-importantest in the whole world, so Daddy is going to take your bad dreams very seriously and hold your hand until you nod off safely.
And you're going to sleep with a nightlight for the rest of your life to ward off the terrors because of it.
He doesn't teach you to value your stuff, or how to clean up after yourself, or how to treat people like human beings with compassion and empathy; he teaches you that you're the only thing that matters and Daddy is just a drone ant in a form-fitting sweater.
"I don't know why you want this portable stripper's pole packed."
Why, a less saintly man might start to resent the spoiled, entitled child he's inadvertently raised ...
Yes, dear. Daddy may drown for your ball, but he will never speak a word of warning to you about the dangers of the ocean. In fact, Daddy doesn't want you to worry about the big bad dangerous world at all. He wouldn't want you to fret about things like riptides or looking both ways in traffic or feeding yourself; Daddy will worry about that for you. Why, if something happened to you, Daddy wouldn't know what to do with himself. He'd be left all alone, with only his sweet, sweet freedom for company ...
"He doesn't, because he's sharpening his knives."
Maggie Goes on a Diet
"... and finds an awesome magic mirror guarded by some dude with a face in the back of his head."
Poor Maggie is an overweight teenager with bad hair and no friends. Self-conscious, teased at school and clumsy at sports, this girl needs to somehow get healthy and learn to love herself. And because this is America, it's time for a workout montage! So after four months of sensible diet and exercise ...
In which she pulls down the Iron Curtain ...
Maggie gets herself a badass body upgrade ...
The Horrible Message:
Wait, what the hell? Four months and she lost a whole other person? The girl looks to have dropped at least 100 pounds. Is this realistic? Is it even safe?
"We're worthwhile people now!"
Maggie looks amazing. Even her stupid hairstyle looks cute now, and everybody is her friend (now that she looks good). Besides, the story itself explains that she only shed a mere 30 pounds -- well within the safe guidelines. And if the kids -- who probably do not have a concept of weight by pounds, but only by appearance -- get confused about how much they should drop safely, so what? We are in an obesity epidemic. With so many 14-year-olds one bag of fried Oreos away from Type 2 diabetes, it's time for some tough love. There's nothing wrong with a little superstar body image incentive to help husky teens get those pounds off.
Oh wait, teens?
You thought this book of simple language and colorful pictures is supposedly for teens? Or even pre-teens? Ten-year-olds would feel talked down to by these cutesy rhyming couplets.
"And she peed all over the floor. And then she paused, and peed some more."
So unless we're trying to tackle that oft-neglected demographic of overweight semi-illiterates, this is clearly meant for a much younger reader. While the character in the book is 14, the target audience is nowhere near that old.
That's right: This is an inspirational diet book for grade schoolers.
The lazy eye demographic.
A diet book. For 4-year-olds.
Put down that juice box, you fat fucking toddler; it's high time you learned to count calories, even if we have to teach you to count first.
A hammer and bone crunchingly awesome adventure!
From the schoolroom to playtime to life at home, Arthur the Aardvark's cumbersome nose gets in the way of everything. So he decides to see a plastic surgeon. But wait, don't change yourself, Arthur! You need to love who you are!
The Horrible Message:
And he does!
We lied to you, there's no horrible message here. Much to his friends' relief, Arthur decides that he wouldn't be himself without his nose. He thanks the doctor for her time and leaves intact, resolved to love life the way he is.
No, the only thing seriously wrong here is that the dangly-nosed Arthur from this story ...
His sniffles take 30 seconds and exhaust the oxygen from the room.
... is the same wildly popular Arthur from the PBS children's television and picture book series. You know: The cute, bespectacled, anthropomorphic third grader considered one of the greatest cartoon characters of all time.
Cargo pants! He's leveled up to a Bro.
Did you know he was an aardvark? No? Why would you? He doesn't have a dang nose! He looks more like a deformed clementine than any aardvark we've ever seen.
So he didn't go through with the procedure in the first book, but he clearly had it done at some point. We accept that cartoon characters get revised over time -- early Homer Simpson looked like a seizure drawing of a jaundiced penis -- but if the first book in the whole series is specifically about your character's long nose and the consideration of surgery to remove it, you can't just phase it out later without comment. Because if kids starting from the beginning read that 1976 debut all about loving what you are, then read the rest of the books in order, they're going to watch Arthur nurture a massive, decades-long, unhealthy obsession with drastic cosmetic surgery.
We don't like making comparisons, but someone should really check his police record.
The message is pretty clear: Kids, you have to learn to love yourself just the way you are!
And then you can change it completely, until everybody else loves you, too.
For more horror that we fed to our children, check out 7 Horrifying Moments from Classic Kids Movies and The 13 Most Unintentionally Disturbing Children's Toys.