Why Would They Have a Book Like That for Kids? Or, Woe to the Sensitive Soul

Long, long ago, when everyone in my house was much younger, there were certain books that had to be banned. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. See, some books were just too painful to read—their stories were too traumatic, their messages too sharp. And while we generally view ourselves in the tough as nails bunch here, when a book is too harsh, too real, too gritty…well, we have to stop reading it, that's all.

Public Enemy # 1: Are You My Mother?

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The first time we read this, as the baby bird was wandering the parched desperate land, asking the various things "Are YOU my mother?" we got to the snort and—well. That was it. A howl of grief, a gush of tears. "No! No! No! WRONG!" Or something along those lines. The book was slammed shut, and the person refused—refused—to ever read it again. For YEARS. When teachers read it she left the room, when adults pleaded she was stony and unyielding.

Did I explain that it all worked out in the end? Of course I explained that it all worked out in the end! But to no avail. She could not forgive.

It wasn't just this book, and it wasn't just her. Another young person of my acquaintance (do you like how we're protecting reputations here at TDITW?) was traumatized by this nihilistic horror:

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Yes, that's right, Five little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away, Mother duck said "Quack quack quack quack"—but only four little ducks came back.

Oh my god. Only four came back.

The child in question wept. "Why?" she pleaded, "Why would they have a book like that for kids?"

Explanations, again, went pretty much nowhere. Let's just say logic is not the most effective tool with this bunch.

All of which begs the question: What is up with my children? I mean, they're over it. They could (probably) read these books now without turning a hair (they could, right? RIGHT?). But for whatever reason (incompetent reading/mothering) these books just…well, it goes beyond bombed really. They backfired.

I wrote this post because I figured, I can't be the only one. Other peoples kids have misread and turned against well-loved children's classics, haven't they? It doesn't indicate anything bad—of course not! Heh heh.

Your kids have, right?

26 thoughts on “Why Would They Have a Book Like That for Kids? Or, Woe to the Sensitive Soul

  1. Acorn did not much like Fox in Socks because the Fox was not very nice. He just kept harassing poor Mr. Knox, who obviously Did Not Want to play that game.
    Not a book, but he also cried when he learned the Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Four years old, and he had fat tears rolling down his cheeks. “Poor Pluto! Pluto must be so sad. Why can’t Pluto be a planet any more? Oh! Poor Pluto.” (I told him Pluto did not know or care, but he was not fully convinced.)

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  2. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is still in purgatory because of the wet pet. My daughter had nightmares about that thing for YEARS and still, now that she’s ostensibly over it, won’t let the book out of its hiding place.

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  3. When we read Ivy and Bean, my daughter was very worried about whether the dancing curse was going to really work on Bean’s sister and she wouldn’t let me read any more of it to her until I checked the end to make sure it was ok.

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  4. My SONS fast-forwarded through DISNEY movies if they were the least bit “scary” — the hunter chasing Snow White through the woods, etc. Also, they HATED The Lion King. Too sad.

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  5. Make Way For Ducklings.
    Freaked out during a, well perhaps slightly overly dramatic reading many years ago and ever since has refused to let me finish it.
    I think we got to the part where the police officer stopped traffic.

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  6. We had to take a 2-week break from the 1st Harry Potter book, not because my child was afraid of Voldemort, but because all the other Gryffindors were mad at Harry, and she was worried that Harry and his friends were going to make everyone MORE mad at them.
    We made it through, but it took a while…

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  7. I was at least 8 and started sobbing when my sister and friends were re-enacting Peter Pan. “You mean Wendy could never go back to Neverland?” Traumatic.

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  8. Yes! Sylvester and the Magic Pebble! Also, A Bad Case of Stripes because the kids laugh at her and also the illustrations start to get a little surreal. I had to ban that book for a long time. My daughter still has that reaction to many children’s movies. Just last week, we barely made it through Ramona and Beezus–first, the cat Picky Picky dies, then Ramona runs away and then her beloved aunt moves to Alaska with her new husband. It was declared NOT a children’s movie!

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  9. Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss–a Caldecott Honor book. My 5 year old son made his preschool teacher stop reading the book because if the folks got stuck in goo, how could they breathe? Wouldn’t they all die? He also hated the Magic Treehouse #2 about the mummy.
    And I’ll just say that the book that creeps me out is “Love you Forever”–I’ll never read that one again!
    And how funny is it that both my kids just LOVE “Are you my Mother” and they read my copy of it from when I was a kid because I saved my favorite books!

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  10. I found ‘Are you my mother’ fairly traumatic once I was a mother. That poor baby bird. And the horror for the mother if it returned to the nest to find the baby gone…
    Owl babies was pretty upsetting for all my kids, even after they knew that the mother comes back.
    And when singing our (practically) national song Waltzing Matilda I always had to change the last verse from ‘And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong” to “And his VOICE may be heard…” because ghosts were just too scary.

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  11. I still can’t read Dandelion by Don Freeman without crying–the lion gets new clothes and makes himself look handsome for his friend’s party, and then his friend rejects him, turning him away at her door. Too, too sad.

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  12. I remember Dandelion! I hated how he looked all dressed up, though, I had a real problem with his mane most of all.
    I am wondering, also, what is the problem with Sylvester and the Magic Pebble that you all seem to feel? I love that book! Is the part where he is a rock just too painful?

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  13. You’ve obviously struck a chord with this, judging by the volume of comments. My daughter shares many of the fears and blocks other have described. I think I forced her to the end of Are You My Mother? once when she was 3 or 4, but we’ve known better than to glance at it since. Same problem with Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and now with certain surprising parts of Harry Potter. As someone else said, it’s not the scary parts that upset her, but the social ones–she stopped for a couple of weeks after Draco got a new broom in the second book, and she worried that Gryffindor would never win at Quidditch.
    Rosine

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  14. I don’t have kids, but when I was little, what broke my heart was a puppet production of Charlotte’s Web. I mean, hello, she dies! I know, I know, her babies come back to keep Wilbur company at the end, continuity of life and all that. Didn’t make a bit of difference.

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  15. I can’t think of any books – though surely there were some. But my daughter used to freak out if I sang (or even hummed) “On Top of Old Smokey”, because when you sing it in the spaghetti version, it contains the line “And then my poor meatball, rolled out of the door.” That poor little meatball just seemed to crush someone’s tender heart, and so the song was banned.

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  16. It’s so, so, sad when he’s a rock! He’s so sad and lonely. But the worst part is his parents– their grief is so incredibly wrenching. I mean, yeah, Sylvester’s okay in the end, but really it’s about death.

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  17. Puff the Magic Dragon. We have the book and cd, but they are both banned. Instant, and I mean instant tears at the thought of what comes at the end, when Jackie Draper deserts the friend he loves.
    I’m laughing over the wet pet. Who could predict?

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  18. “Blueberries for Sal” was “too scary” and we had to stop reading it. Both the little girl and the bear cub get separated from their mothers, and it was just too much for my elder child. I think she could probably handle it now — she’s 15.

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  19. Oh I have a tenderhearted one. My daughter is made of steel, but my son, now age four, cried this holiday season when we sang the Rudolph song. He wanted to know WHY they wouldn’t let him play!
    Two books he’s cried through/rejected recently were The Story of Ferdinand and Otto the Book Bear.
    We basically can’t read or watch (or sing) anything where someone is teased, lost, or left behind…

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  20. I hate The Giving Tree. The boy/man completely takes advantage of her, and she’s perfectly happy about it. Grrr!

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  21. Yup. Sylvester breaks my heart. And I, too, am creeped out by Love You Forever AND by the hyper-controlling helicopter mom in The Runaway Bunny. That child simply can’t escape! My own children, like some others in these comments, have been more troubled by social situations in books and movies than the things that seem obviously scary to me.

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  22. When I was a kid, we had a much loved copy of “Donkey Donkey,” a simple story about a donkey who doesn’t like his ears, thinks they are silly, and tries to make them look like other animals’ ears, causing much grief, before he realizes that his ears are just right for him. But there is one page where Donkey gets his ear, sticking out like a donkey’s ear shouldn’t, caught on a nail. Scared me to my very core, the sort of thing that you realize as an adult you still sometimes have nightmares about. I recently read it (yes, I still have it; I don’t know why; maybe it’s like sticking your tongue in the hole left by a tooth, you just can’t help poking) to my four-year-old, with no terrifying introduction. She was completely unfazed, liked it fine but no strong feelings. And I can’t help feeling like she ought to be traumatized by this clearly terrifying book!

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