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 ..."
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Preaches the Worst Kind of Entitled Fatalism
Poor little Alexander just can't catch a break today.
"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.
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.
"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.
T Is for Terrible Is About Domestic Violence
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.
"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:
"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.
"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."
"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.)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Thinks Binge Eating Is Great
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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!"
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Hates Welfare
It starts out innocently enough, with the always appreciated gesture of gifted baked goods. To an adorable mouse!
It ends with scathing commentary on welfare.
"Like Stalin, who was also a socialist."
Why It's Fucked:
OK, let's back up. A child gives a mouse a cookie, so the mouse asks for some milk. The child obliges; the mouse asks for something else. And on and on. The child becomes ever more harried, exhausted, and drained by these interactions, until he starts slapping racist bumper stickers on the back of his Big Wheel and quoting Atlas Shrugged during snack time. He gives and he gives, but this leech-mouse just never stops taking. The cycle never breaks.
"Like the USSR swept up Eastern European countries."
One lesson you can take from this book is: Respect your own rights as much as others. Another lesson is: Don't be feeding mice in your house, kid -- we don't want mice up in this piece. Yet a third lesson we can take from this story is: Charity is for the weak-willed, and poor people are greedy, lazy assholes who only want to steal your hard-earned cash and/or snickerdoodles.
Fish Is Fish Is Pro-Segregation
Fish Is Fish is the story of two best friends, a tadpole and a minnow. When the tadpole grows legs, both are shocked to find that they're not of the same species.
"I don't know, but I suddenly have the urge to hop haphazardly through traffic."
Presumably they learn to appreciate their differences and live happily ever after. The end.
Why It's Fucked:
You know what they say about presumptions, right? It makes a pres out of um ... ptions? Look, the presumption was wrong, is what we're trying to say here: They don't live happily ever after. The frog and the fish have a brief argument, then the frog decides to take his newly discovered respiratory system up to the surface, which of course the fish can never do.
The frog returns with joyous news: The world is absolutely filled with potential for air breathers like him! It's too bad the fish is stuck with stupid gills, but as the frog explains, different species belong in different worlds -- and incidentally, the frog's world happens to have a whole lot more opportunities for creatures like him. It's just the natural order of things, due to the fish's inferior DNA. Of course, he regales the fish with tales of all the neat things he's able to do since he's white ... er, upper class ... er, amphibious.
There's a reason that cow has a Hitler mustache.
The fish is understandably pretty miffed about all the privileges he's denied in this system of underwater oppression, so he tries to make a break for it. That ends about as well as you'd expect -- sorry, buddy, but this here lake has a glassy ceiling.
"Uh, how long does evolution take?"
After the fish aspires beyond his station and finds he can't handle it, the frog quite literally shoves the fish back into his place. The fish seems to come to terms with the realities of the society in which he lives and stops these silly dreams of seeing the world outside of his little pond.
The nightmares of the frog's sexual assault remain.
Sure, maybe the book is trying to say "Don't judge people, because maybe their differences will turn out to be awesome." Or maybe it's trying to say "Accept what you are and don't try to be anything else." Or maybe it's trying to say "The fish is an inherently inferior being that God put on this Earth to serve the noble frog race, and the two bloodlines should never mingle."
Or maybe it's trying to say "Look at the colors and the cute animals, kids." We have a habit of reading too much into things.
Related Reading: If you think these are some fucked up messages to teach little kids, read The Berenstain Bears and the Bully. Once you've learned how violence can help solve your problems, check out how much racism was in The Secret Garden. Ready for the most inappropriate children's book covers of all time? Click here.