The 6 Creepiest Things Kids Have Ever Been Asked to Color
I believe it was Sigmund Freud who said, "Show me a child who refuses to color and I'll show you the next Adolf Hitler," which was a bold claim, considering Hitler was already alive and coloring his heart out in Austria at the time. The point Freud was making is that children are naturally drawn to the act of coloring. It's soothing, like a gentle pat on the back, or codeine. A new box of crayons is to kids as a new box of smokes is to American adults living below the poverty level. Everyone loves to color.
So it makes sense that over the years educators have tried to combine something kids love (coloring) with something they hate (learning). Unfortunately, just because you can create a simplified version of real-life events in an easy-to-color format doesn't mean you should. Some subjects are far too weighty for mulberry pink or macaroni-and-cheese orange. These coloring pages happen to be the worst of the bunch.
Experts have known for years that coloring can be an effective form of therapy for kids. Unless, of course, you're asking them to color the very thing that traumatized them in the first place. For example, a giant intoxicated Easter bunny or a national tragedy.
Imagine you're a New Yorker sitting in a classroom 10 years after the World Trade Center attacks. To commemorate the anniversary, your teacher hands you a sheet that requires you to color the smoke billowing from the towers. Do you choose gray? Maybe a nice black-and-white mix with a little splash of cadet blue to add texture? The important thing is that you keep your strokes in the lines while remembering that under all those windows are thousands of trapped office workers and firefighters running for the exits before the buildings fall. It's tempting to give the publishers of this crime against taste the benefit of the doubt, as if their hearts were in the right place, even if they had the subtlety of a nuclear holocaust. The temptation to assume the best about the publisher is obliterated once you see the rest of the coloring book.
The commemorative 9/11 coloring book was published in August 2011, so the illustrators were sure to include the capture of Osama bin Laden as the perfect bookend to the WTC attacks. Not only are kids given the opportunity to color the gray in bin Laden's beard (maybe the same gray as the smoke from the towers?), they're also allowed to color his human shield -- a WOMAN. If you take the time to use the sharpener on the back of your coloring box, you can really capture the twinkle in her eyes. If you waited a year, you could get the 2012 edition, which included real-life terrorist trading cards. Youths finally have an excuse to ask each other if they'd like to trade a Loughner for an al-Ghamdi!
Scenes from the Bible
If you want your kids to read about peace and harmony and all the good emotions and happy blessings that this world has to offer, hand them a transcript from an episode of The Cosby Show. If you want your kids to learn about warmongering, murder, gratuitous scenes of incest, and God-driven bear mauling, point them to the Bible, because it's all in there. Better yet, send them to Sunday school. There's a great chance the teacher will not only pass along the Bible story, but also make sure your kid does a craft to reinforce what he or she learned.
For example, do you remember the 10 plagues of Egypt? This was the series of atrocities God inflicted on the Egyptian people when the pharaoh wouldn't let the Hebrews leave the country, starting with turning the Nile into blood. Here's a craft any Sunday school teacher could use to help kids remember the first plague. The paper plate represents the Nile, the red crayons represent blood, and the enormous Seussian dead birds represent the wildlife killed by Pharoah's stubbornness. You can tell they're extra dead because of the "X"s where their eyes should be. I don't know why they're placed in that unfortunate sexual position, though.
Skipping ahead to the sixth plague, Egyptians were cursed with incurable boils. Not freckles or birthmarks or extra fingers or faulty broilers -- boils. Maybe boils that exploded in pus; the Bible isn't clear what they were filled with. But that's OK, because it's always better for children to use their imaginations anyway. How else will they learn?
The "google" eyes will really make the picture.
Moving along, the 10th plague cuts to the chase and straight up murders the firstborn gentile children of Egypt. Don't worry, the Angel of Death does the deed while the kids are sleeping. He can tell who to kill by the blood on the door. If there's lamb's blood on the doorpost, the AoD passes over. Get it? Passover? Ha ha. Modern kids won't forget the lesson after coloring in the lamb blood or the gleam on the angel's sword.
It's hard to find coloring sheets depicting what happens when the houses aren't marked ... but not too hard!
The Least Important Icons in Black History
I'm of the opinion that Black History Month should be Black History All the Time, and every snide comment about "What about white history month??" should be followed with an eye roll and a gentle reminder to stop being awful. But here's the thing -- if you're going to celebrate the best and the brightest of your culture, let's stick to the best and the brightest. The folks at KnoxNews.com disagree. Why only illustrate coloring pages of heroes, innovators, and geniuses when you can also color the most important black entertainers from April of 1989?
Someone had to draw that picture of Jackee. Then someone else had to make it available for the Internet. Both of those actions took place AT LEAST 10 years after Jackee was a relevant part of pop culture conversation. So what Knox News ended up with was a roster full of A-list important people mixed with H-list celebrities whose moment in the sun ended before the Clinton administration. On the other hand, good luck finding any other Lionel Richie coloring page that's this ... perfect.
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.
"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!"
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.
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.
For tweets that would barely pass muster in a sixth grade Twitter class, follow Kristi here.