The Giving Fish

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givingtree

John Schwenkler has asked his readers to nominate the world's most overrated children's books. He starts the ball rolling with Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree:

I guess that this is a pretty common target in these kinds of discussions, but damn is it ever deserved. Tree loves boy. Boy loves tree. Boy grows up. Boy exploits tree. Tree takes it all silently, growing less happy with each lonely year. Boy gets old, tree is a stump, boy sits on tree, no apologies. I mean, I get the point: the tree loves the boy. But heck, even Jesus was able to rise triumphant when all was said and done; couldn't Silverstein have made the love at least a little more, you know, mutual?

That book is a common target, so much so that I have to wonder whether we've been missing the point of it all these years. Silverstein had a dark sensibility and a wicked sense of humor. Maybe he set out to write a bleak fable about kids who selfishly milk their elders for every drop they've got. Is it possible that he finished the manuscript, looked at it with satisfaction, and said to himself, Yep, that boy sure was a bastard?

Well, it's probably a mistake to dwell on authorial intent. One of the pleasures of reading is finding your own meanings in the text, and that applies to children's books as much as adult literature. Teachers may read The Poky Little Puppy to teach kids the virtue of following the rules, but I can't possibly be the only boy who noticed that the poky puppy came out ahead. (He missed out on one helping of strawberry shortcake, but he got five helpings of both rice pudding and chocolate custard. You do the math.) On that note, I'd like to make my own nomination for the overrated-kids'-books list: a schlocky little story by Marcus Pfister called The Rainbow Fish.

rainbowfish

This one wasn't around when I was a boy, so I didn't learn about it til my daughter was born (four years ago today!) and we received a flood of books as gifts. It's about a beautiful fish covered with shiny scales who doesn't have any friends until he gives the scales away. "Finally," Pfister concludes, "he had only one shining scale left. But now, as he swam off to play with his friends, he was the happiest fish in the sea." The book has been condemned as socialistic for its sharing-is-good message, but that isn't my problem with it. I don't think the story's core moral is It's good to share, no matter what the author intended. The real lesson here is You can buy friends.

The book has a bunch of sequels, none of which I've read. But I'd like to imagine that the second tale begins like this: "With virtually all his scales gone, the Rainbow Fish lay abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. His so-called friends had taken all they could, and now he was as lonely as before." Sort of an aquatic Giving Tree.

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  1. The Little Prince
    The most over-rated piece of Franco crap ever. Its not insightful. Its not profound. Its just the drunken musings of a leftist buffoon. And the artwork sucks!

  2. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel reminds me of my time at Tribune.
    They’ll praise you if excel at your job, but dig one hole too deep and you are rewarded with a new title and harder work.

    Who remembers “Fortunately, Unfortunately?” A beautiful parable of the insensate universe.

  3. I nominate the Grim’s fairy tales. They are way too violent for kids.

  4. Goodnight Moon: WTF?

  5. I show people a drawing of a box. Some of them say “it’s just a box” but, every now and again, someone says “there is a little prince in that box and he is scrabbling at the walls to get out but he never, ever will” and then I know that this person and I share kindred spirits.

  6. Fortunately, there was a pile of hay beneath him.

    Unfortunately, there was a pitchfork in it.

    Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork.

    Unfortunately, he also missed the hay pile.

    And yeah, I kinda feel the same way about Goodnight Moon. I had never heard of it until I had little kids and a couple other parents were like, “You’ve never heard of Goodnight Moon? Aw, you have to get it.” So someone got it for us and after we read it, I was like, “Well, that’s kinda cute, but what was all the to-do about it?”

    Seuss is always a winner – mostly his earlier stuff.

  7. jtuf | July 21, 2009, 5:01pm | #
    I nominate the Grim’s fairy tales. They are way too violent for kids.

    Couldn’t be more wrong. Grim was appropriately violent for kids. Seriously, DON’T go wandering around in the woods, and DON’T talk to strangers. It was the Disnefication that ruined them as stories (though I genuinely love Disney’s animation).

  8. I nominate Mr. Pine’s Purple House as one of the better childrens books

  9. I didn’t learn about it til my daughter was born (four years ago today!)

    Contemplate the horror of this unfortunate fact: Your daughter and I have the same birthday!

    Along with Cat Stevens and Ernest Hemingway. So much for astrology.

  10. The real lesson here is You can buy friends.

    I’m guessing Congress, or all politicians for that matter, were read this “fish story” as a child?

  11. Couldn’t be more wrong. Grim was appropriately violent for kids. Seriously, DON’T go wandering around in the woods, and DON’T talk to strangers. It was the Disnefication that ruined them as stories (though I genuinely love Disney’s animation).

    I pick up the Andrew Lang colored Fairy Tale books when I come across them. I’ve always loved the explicit message: poor behavior gets you killed. I guess we don’t teach kids that anymore, huh?

  12. I had the same reaction to The Rainbow Fish when I read it to my daughter. How is it that this book became so popular? Because he had such sparkly scales?

    I nominate Alice in Wonderland. Although not really a children’s book, it’s often treated as one. I had never read it until I started reading it to my daughter. Talk about blank stares. “No dear, I can’t explain this, because nothing it this book makes any sense.” Yes, it may be a literary classic for English majors to study, but as a children’s book? Bah.

  13. Robot Chicken did a spoof on “The Giving Tree” where the tree gets fed up and sends the boy (now a man) to his “cousin” telling him it’s also a giving tree. Turns out to be a raping tree. Ah well, I guess it’s only funny with the puppets and clay.

  14. Just wait until you read The richest crocodile in the world. Pure. Socialist. Crap.

    The crocodile is the richest animal in the world, but he doesn’t have any friends. Only once he gives away everything that he has and then goes to live in the water hole with the other animals does he find happiness. Blech!

  15. Silverstein had a dark sensibility and a wicked sense of humor.

    Let’s not forget that he also has a band named after him.

  16. “You can buy friends” (or “Tear off chunks of you and give them to assholes”) is a more socialist message than “It’s good to share.”

  17. “He missed out on one helping of strawberry shortcake, but he got five helpings of both rice pudding and chocolate custard.”

    So how exactly did the puppy win, when anyone who cares about pets knows that chocolate is poison to dogs and cats? Is it because he is “in a better place now”?

    I was always partial to the story of Ferdinand the Bull (Munro Leaf), but got a chance to re-read it a couple of years ago. Although I was reminded of why I liked it as a kid, I also realized that, in the modern day at least, the non-performing Ferdinand would NOT be returned to the country to sit under his favorite tree and smell the flowers. He would be turned into a steer and ultimately into hamburger.

  18. The real lesson here is You can buy friends.

    It’s never too early to learn that lesson, now, is it?

    I nominate Alice in Wonderland. Although not really a children’s book, it’s often treated as one.

    I have no idea why. It was written by a (alleged) (repressed) pedophile, but that really doesn’t make it a children’s book, now, does it?

  19. Seuss definitely is my favorite, to completely not address the topic. (I didn’t read many kids books outside of Seuss and Berstein Bears and Shel Silverstein.) That actually probably means that I should keep my mouth shut. But I am young and obstinate!

    The Sneetches is an amazing story. Butter Battle Book is brilliant and I didn’t get its MAD connotations until much later in life. Yertle the Turtle…”possibly the best book based on turtle stacking.”

    I feel like rereading most of those old tales. Hop on Pop was the first book I ever read. People who write books for children who can’t yet read are very underrated folk. It’s teaching complex math to people who don’t know what numbers mean.

  20. # SugarFree | July 21, 2009, 5:25pm | #
    ## I didn’t learn about it til my daughter was
    ## born (four years ago today!)

    # Contemplate the horror of this unfortunate
    # fact: Your daughter and I have the same
    # birthday!

    # Along with Cat Stevens and Ernest Hemingway.
    # So much for astrology.

    Happy birthday Yusuf! And the four-year old! (And the rest, here on Gilligan’s Isle!)

  21. as a former seller of children’s books i consider myself a pseudoexpert on such things. The Giving Tree sucks ass and makes the kids cry – never read it at storytime.
    Rainbow Fish sells because mom’s think it’s pretty. kids don’t really like it – except toddlers who enjoy shiny things.
    My personal fav is Where the Wild Things Are.

  22. I personally like Goodnight Moon, both when I was a kid and now that I’m reading it to my daughter. If read right I think it can be downright hypnotic, which is great for putting the little one to bed. Also puts them in the correct frame of mind for sleeping

    Most of the newer children’s books are nothing but socialist crap.

    I’m personally a fan of the old Curious George books. I laughed when my PC wired brain saw Prof. Wiseman smoking a pipe in every seen. I then shat when I read the lines “After a long day George likes to relax with a pipe” complete with illustration. Man they don’t make them like they use to. (Coming from someone born in 1983)

  23. Green Eggs and Ham was my favorite book to read to myself then and to children now.

    Silverstein’s poetry for kids is fantastic.
    I recommend Sister for Sale for anyone who deals with sibling rivalry.

    The Lorax is the one Seuss book that sucks.

  24. Shitty kids books? I’m gonna have to go with an old classic: It’s Fun To Be Nice. I honestly don’t remember the book from my childhood. Based on how my sister and I turned out, the ‘rents would have been better off setting the purchase price on fire.

  25. I hate “Stone Soup”

    The moral, as far as I can tell, is that people are just too stupid and selfish to share in the way that more sensitive people know they obviously MUST, and it takes a wise, charismatic leader to come along and trick them into giving all their food to the COMMUNITY. And then everyone eats happily ever after.

    Sound familiar?

    Why can’t I just eat my soup ingredient?

  26. I much prefer “Through the Looking Glass” to “Alice in Wonderland,” but it’s not really a children’s book either. Although the poem parodies must have been a lot of fun to kids who had been raised on the original poems.

  27. Best: Curious George, the unexpurgated Grimm’s Fairy Tales (hey, German kids grew up with that stuff, and *they* turned out all right!), Wizard of Oz and some of the sequels (if you’re selective), The Hobbit (good preparation for LOTR, which isn’t technically a children’s book), Narnia stories (though to be blunt, they sometimes read like a cheap Anglican rip-off of Tolkien), Little House on the Prairie series (all volumes), just about everything by Roald Dahl, probably the Alice books, Encyclopedia Brown, adventures of Danny Dunn – Boy Scientist (or some such name), the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators

    Bad books, to be assigned to children only as punishment for arson, murder, etc: Ethan Frome, Lord of the Flies, most of the stuff in children’s literary anthologies, I Am the Cheese, etc.

  28. Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.

  29. I hated the stupid, freaking Littlest Engine That Could. Yeah, I guess perseverance is a good thing for kids to learn, but that book just sucked monkey balls. Even as a small child, the goddamn sincerity of his little mantra gave me the yucks.

    Also, Happy Birthday, Sug! I hope you’re celebrating with great food, drink, and company.

  30. Years ago, after reading Rainbow Fish a couple times to my daughter, I was just completely disgusted and threw it out of the house. And, yes, mothers just think it’s pretty.

    What I hated about it is that it says that you MUST share until everyone is equally poor. At the end, all the fish have just one shiny scale.

    And it is just creepy how his friends all attack him at once to get their scale. Yuck.

  31. I never read the Silverstein stuff, though my sister loved him. I instinctively knew to stay the hell away from it. What I liked were child versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Now that’s entertaining shit when you’re 7 years old.

  32. Jack in the bean stalk is pretty bad when you think about it. Jack steals from the giant with the wealth, and when the giant chases after Jack, Jack kills him by chopping his vine down.

  33. Oh, and (just to confirm my cold-hearted-bitchitude) Love You Forever was pretty barfy too. Some weepy neighbor gave it to us and afterwards, I begged my mum to go back to Greek mythology (good call, Epi).

  34. The first few Curious George books are great. Maybe I should do another post tomorrow on all the good kids’ books out there. There’s quite a few.

  35. I always read the rainbow fish as a “Harrison Bergeron” without the lesson that it was wrong in the end. I hate that book.

  36. Teachers may read The Poky Little Puppy to teach kids the virtue of following the rules, but I can’t possibly be the only boy who noticed that the poky puppy came out ahead. (He missed out on one helping of strawberry shortcake, but he got five helpings of both rice pudding and chocolate custard. You do the math.)

    Actually, I think the real point of that book was to teach the kids to despise and distrust panderers by showing how outrageously they profit at your expense when you follow their lead. The disproportionate reward-and-punishment ratio is, unfortunately, very realistic: panderers do indeed tend to profit much more handsomely when they succeed than they are ever likely to suffer when they fail. Yay! A book that teaches kids to hate. (Go suck on it, you politically correct panderers!)

    On the other hand, if you’ve got a nice reward for doing what you’re supposed to, are you even going to care whether you’re getting enough revenge on a panderer? Who’d be mad at Madoff if he’d never gotten that whole Ponzi scheme of his off the ground in the first place?

  37. The Butter Battle Book is garbage. The entire message is that this crazy Cold War arms race is all about completely trivial differences. Seuss somehow leaves out the part where the Butter-Side-Down side throws people in gulags for eating their toast wrong.

  38. Having a seven-year-old, I can say that if you’re looking for libertarian themes in your childrens books, move on to some other medium. Most children’s books revolve around delayed gratification, selfless giving, accepting everyone for who they are (one guesses that includes the christian conservative living next door), endless sharing, following the rules and a belief that everything in the world can be solved by talking it out.

    The problem I have as a parent and a libertarian is that I can’t really complain about these themes for children. When and how you introduce the complex realities of moral and ethical life is a bit of a mystery– I hope I’m doing my best to address these apparent contradictions.

    I’m the first to admit there are lots of small contradictory lessons I give my own daughter (throw another quarter in the therapy jar!). Concretely, I tell her “Behave, follow the rules, do as you’re told”. Then in the abstract I’ve been teaching her that life isn’t all about the rules, some rules are not to be followed, elders are not to automatically be respected, and don’t trust authority.

    Believe or not, I think most normal kids are in fact smart enough to begin to sort out the two situations and get the more subtle meaning.

  39. Someone also gave us The Rainbow Fish when our daughter was about 4. “Highly Recommended!” BLECCH. I was appalled by the way it tried to disguise its pettiness as “positivity.” Not only is its intended communist message horrific, but so are its many seemingly unintended messages, such as:

    You can and SHOULD buy friends;

    Shun anyone who is different;

    Envy and resentment are neither vices or sins but are the fault of the envied and resented;

    If everyone can’t be beautiful then NO ONE should be beautiful;

    etc. etc.

  40. You can and SHOULD buy friends;

    I’d buy friends… I just can’t afford it.

  41. Bertha Minerva, I must not have read the same version of Stone Soup that you read. The one I read was about 3 traveling con men who convinced a town that their rock was the secret ingredient to great soup, tricking the town into donating food into the soup. I always liked that one.

    I loved Max in the Midnight Kitchen, no idea what the story means, I just liked the fact the kid was hanging out naked and then had a dough suit and flew a dough plane.

    I also liked some book where the guy was a janitor, then went to some magical place but he started to turn into a bird, so he flew back, the moral of that one was mo money mo problems, or appreciate what you have I guess.

  42. Leigh | July 21, 2009, 7:18pm | #
    Jack in the bean stalk is pretty bad when you think about it. Jack steals from the giant with the wealth, and when the giant chases after Jack, Jack kills him by chopping his vine down.

    That’s a story where you’ve probably gotten the incomplete version. In Perrault’s original version, there’s a long and rambling beginning where the family maid explains to Jack that the giant used to work for his father, and betrayed him to his death in order to seize all the family treasures for himself; thus, Jack is simply taking back what’s rightfully his family’s property in the first place and avenging his father.

    (That opening tended to get lost in later versions of the story simply because it’s a regular wall of text, sort of like this explanation here. As the Joker told Harley Quinn in Mad Love, if you have to explain the joke, there is no joke. The same principle works for stories.)

    Incidentally, if you’re looking for a good children’s story that takes the side of all of us evil and greedy capitalists over all those self-righteous socialist do-gooders that infest modern stories for children, Drakestail is the story of a creditor duck successfully foreclosing on a deadbeat king’s kingdom, much to the delight of the king’s subjects. It’s kind of an early prototype for Disney’s Duck Tales.

  43. “What I hated about it is that it says that you MUST share until everyone is equally poor. At the end, all the fish have just one shiny scale.”

    Actually, I think it even worse, the implication is that the other fish don’t give the rainbow fish one their dull scales in return. So the rainbow fish actually ends up with less than those envious jerkasses who made him scale himself. I figure the true ending is that the rainbow fish, weakened to death by his self-mutilation drifts down to octopus’ lair, who promptly eats him.

  44. The book you liked when you were four and the book you are reading to your four -year-old are very different.

    I liked the books with obnoxious repetitive but fun to say lines.

    One big frog goes GA-DUNK!

    And two ducks say WAK WAK.

    And three birds say TWEET TWEET TWEET.

    http://www.bullersooz.com/ncb.html

    I LOVED that stupid book.

    Some classic children’s books aren’t fun, but creepy and sucky. Who decides that a children’s book becomes a classic?

  45. Someone gave us Rainbow Fish as a gift and I couldn’t agree more. It’s terrible.

    So far the children’s book that most appealed to my libertarian sensibilities was “Boom Town” by Sonia Levitin. Check it out.

    Reason should do a piece on good books for kids so I can take it to the library.

  46. I remember If You Give a Mouse a Cookie as a good one from my youth and ideologically acceptable.

  47. Calling selfishness into question is the road to serfdom or something.

  48. William,

    Encouraging sharing and reducing selfishness in children is a good idea, in my opinion. But that is not what Rainbow Fish is about, so I reject your little snide statement.

    Have you read Rainbow Fish? I really would like seeing someone trying to defend it in good faith.

  49. The Rainbow Fish (the character, not the book) was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple (or some aquatic equivalent). It was only right that he give up his scales to the other fish, to “even the playing field.”

  50. they sometimes read like a cheap Anglican rip-off of Tolkien

    You know, other than coming first. 🙂

    Okay, The Hobbit was before Narnia, but Narnia was before LOTR.

    I think both Lewis and Tolkien would be insulted by that comment. Possibly Tolkien more considering their friendship.

  51. Have you read Rainbow Fish? I really would like seeing someone trying to defend it in good faith.

    William’s one of our local trolls. He doesn’t post anything in good faith.

  52. robc,

    I said it ‘read like.’ I’m talking about how the reading experience impacted me.

    And the fact is that Lewis and Tolkien were not only friends, they swapped manuscripts. There was certainly some cross-fertilization going on. According to Christopher Tolkien, they were originally planning a set of space-travel books (for Lewis) and time-travel books (for Tolkien). They were familiar with each others’ stories long before the public got in on it.

    I said the Narnia stories were good, (they were on my good list), but not good as Tolkien’s stuff.

    There were some differences from the Tolkien stuff – mainly having to do with the blatancy of the symbolism, which despite their blatancy I missed as a kid, having been raised atheist.

    I happen to like Lewis’s sci-fi trilogy, but that’s not technically kiddie literature so I didn’t list that nor the other grown-up books Lewis wrote.

  53. My book Whitey Coonbaiter and the Sturdy Length of Rope sold surprisingly poorly.

  54. Does anyone remember ‘Barbar the Elephant’ (I just looked at the pictures, I still can’t read French)?

    When I was a kid I remember Richard Scarry book as not being bad books.

  55. The Babar books have dubious politics, too. But they’re fun stories, and that trumps everything else. The Rainbow Fish, on the other hand, is just trite.

    (More exactly: the first batch of Babar books are fun stories. When the original author died and his son took over the series, it got a lot less interesting.)

  56. I have a similar problem with “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”. Nobody liked him until they saw how useful he was? What kind of a moral is that?

    These don’t count as “overrated” (as I doubt they’re rated very highly in the first place), but the 1970s had the absolute dregs of children’s books. These all bring back horrible memories of carob, earth-tones, and hairy hippie feet:

    T.A. for Tots – “Transactional Analysis”, a long-forgotten trendy pop psych movement, adapted for children–I believe this was the original source for that “Warm Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies” crap.

    Free to Be You and Me – “Gender is completely arbitrary!” Doesn’t really hold up.

    Show Me!: A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents – Even more frightening than it sounds.

  57. On the pap of “richest crocodile” and “beautiful fish”: it’s not that it’s promoting a certain political order; rather, and more insidiously, it’s promoting a particular social order that views inequality and any envy resulting from it as sins.

  58. I had a great version of The Hobyahs when I was a kid, but apparently more recent adaptations have watered the story down quite a bit. The version I had (the version that was scary and cool) sells for $85 on Amazon.

  59. My seven year old is starting to read semi-big kid books on her own, so I think the “children’s books” days are behind us, and I’m pleased as hell about it because I didn’t like many of them. Now that she’s a little older, we’re reading Silverstein’s poetry books and she thinks they’re hilarious – she kind of gets that they’re subversive, and she thinks it’s funny that I think they’re funny.

    Her grandmother bought a bunch of Frances books at a garage sale – Frances is a badger (I think) – the books were written in the fifties. Frances gets spanked when she’s bad, and when Mother and Father tell her to shut up and go to bed, she does it. The comments at Amazon.com regarding Mother and Father’s disciplinary habits are priceless.

    BTW – I saw the trailer for Spike Jonez’s Where the Wild Things Are and it looked absolutely incredible – enchanting, mesmerizing, heartstopping. Fantastic musical score. I can’t wait to see it.

  60. Seuss is full of politics, but I still like it.

  61. There are a lot of really good childrens books out there. My kids were fortunate in that Mrs TWC collected childrens books like most people collect those cutesy little spoons from the Grand Canyon and Pike’s Peak. So my kids had an entire collection of hard cover Newberry Award Winners and other really good stuff. Many of those books survived surprisingly well. Survived the kids grubby hands I mean.

  62. Nothing tops the stories about Sea Kittens..

    I’m not sure if they are the worst or the best children’s stories ever.

  63. My contribution to the kid literary guild were things like:

    Daddy Drinks Because You Cry

    Paddington Gets Tanked

    The Little Engine That Couldn’t Because He’s a Worthless Bum Like Your Father

    Elmo Experiments

  64. Miss Spider’s Tea Party – horrible. Spiders really DO eat bugs. Dang. Imagine if our kids ever saw Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

    Thank god my seven year old is reading Harry Potter and Dahl and Tolkien and The Way Things Work. One more preschooler and we’re done with the crap books. I have enjoyed the Dr. Seuss though.

  65. Didn’t Don and/or Audrey Wood once work at Reason?

  66. I love the Beatrix Potter series. You want nature? That’s where to go. Everything is being eaten, killed or put into a Rabbit pie by Mrs. McGregor.

  67. matth: There’s lots of terrific books out there that are suitable for preschoolers – stuff by Daniel Pinkwater, Crockett Johnson, Maurice Sendak, Gene Zion, Ian Falconer, David Wiesner, Dr. Seuss, Arnold Lobel, and others. There may be a lot of crap as well, but that’s just Sturgeon’s Law in action.

    TWC: Someday, at some speaking gig, I should ask to be introduced as “the author of the controversial children’s books Poop Soup and No Pants for Billy.”

  68. Here’s a sincere good-faith question for Jesse Walker: What on earth is a non-local troll?

  69. The only reason you think the richest crocodile is bad is because your copy didn’t come with the final pages where having earned their trust, the crocodile eats the rest of the animals and then goes and collects all the wealth he gave away.

    As for stone soup, I always considered that Grifting for Dummies.

  70. What on earth is a non-local troll?

    Answer: a troll who operates under a different bridge.

  71. I’ve looked for years and never been able to find “The Holes In Your Nose Are Not Pockets” – I think it was a Japanese book. Taught small children to keep their fingers out of non-oral orifices.

    My Diva loves the HP movies, but she’s afraid to read the books by herself. Same for the Spiderwick Chronicles series. She’s easily spooked. So for now it’s Ramona and stuff like that.

  72. All this dissing of children’s books from people who can read Ayn Rand without throwing up. Amazing.

  73. There’s a lot of praise of children’s books, too.

    One of the commenters on that site seemed a little guilty about liking “Lassie Come Home” and “Lad, a Dog,” which I don’t feel the least bit guilty about. Although if you read them to your kid, you may wind up getting a collie. And if you read your daughter “National Velvet,” you know what she wants.

    I may have to borrow a child so I can have an excuse to read Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak.

  74. All this dissing of children’s books from people who can read Ayn Rand without throwing up.

    This is the libertarian room. The big-O “Objectivist” room is over there.

  75. Dang, and once again I find myself in the minority.

    Favorite
    The Little Red Hen Am I the only one who reads this book to his children on a weekly basis. The story and moral is a good one for all kids. And yes, I do admit it is one of the most influential stories from my childhood.

    Worse
    Where Did I Come From
    Still at the age I am now, receiving this book at 6 for Christmas seems messed up. Would have MUCH rather my parents waited until I was 13 and given me a subscription to Hustler, would have been less tramatizing.

  76. I want to comment on kid’s books that I found to be very rewarding for them and me, but of course this thread is about OVERRATED kid’s books. To be honest, I can’t recall a kid’s book that was recommended to me (by either personal endorsement or mass-market review), which disappointed me. Maybe it’s just a faulty memory. There were some books I or my progeny didn’t LIKE, but they didn’t come highly recommended, either. I didn’t think much of the Richard Scarry books, but my son responded well to them, when read by Mom or Dad.

    Has anyone heard of “The Baby Blue Cat Who Said No?” Hands down winner, EVERY TIME.

    And I must say that, while I am not a particular fan of Saint-Exup?ry’s writing style or politics, I am completely in tune with the sentiment, “you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

  77. Kids don’t read anymore, why bother.

  78. Worst children’s stories of all time?

    Anything from the bible!

    Seriously, flat out brain washing. Pound that nonsense into their heads before they’re old enough to reason and then they have too much emotional investment in most cases to ever reason through it.

    Example, the story of Job. What a horrible story. God ruins a good mans life and kills his family over what is essentially a bar room bet with Satan. This is a just and loving and good god? Please!

  79. I demand legislation requiring strictly regulated quotas of non-local trolls be introduced to the herd…

  80. I remember If You Give a Mouse a Cookie as a good one from my youth and ideologically acceptable.

    The mouse is kind of a manipulative jerk, though.

    KLIK

  81. ktc2,

    You are so eloquent that I almost hate to point out that the Bible isn’t actually children’s literature. Still, I suppose religion-bashing could be considered always relevant to any Reason thread.

    Here are some things kids could learn from the Bible: Government leaders – even the most respected (like King David) – often act selfishly and wickedly. It’s wrong for the government to take someone’s private property for the personal enrichment of government officials, even if just compensation is paid. Thou shalt not steal. Don’t fall into debt. Don’t schtup some other guy’s wife, even if she’s coming on to you. Don’t be stuck up. Be nice, even if you don’t think the other guy deserves it. Say your prayers.

  82. KLIK, that’s the point. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a parable about the futility of a welfare/dependency society.

    ps: I’m kidding

    pps: I think.

    Jesse, I don’t think “You can buy friends” is necessarily a bad message. If I had a dollar for every jerk I’ve met who thinks “I’m just keeping it real” is an excuse for jerk-dom, I would have several dollars. (If we include reality tv, several hundred.)

    Ultimately, the message I would like my daughter to learn is that you “buy” friends with your time and attention, with asking them questions about themselves instead of talking about yourself 24/7, with spending some time with them even when you have access to someone more interesting, etc. There are a lot of people who haven’t learned this lesson, and should.

  83. Even though “The Giving Tree” sucks ass we gotta give him credit where credit is due. The opening line from a “A Boy Named Sue”

    My daddy left home when I was three
    And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
    Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.

    Pure genius! You might have to appreciate country music to love that but it’s awesome.

  84. Fortunately, there was a pile of hay beneath him.

    Unfortunately, there was a pitchfork in it.

    Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork.

    Unfortunately, he also missed the hay pile.

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who remembers that book!

  85. Mad Max at 6:42 pm made me LOL. Really!

    The best Shel Silverstein, and the one I never see mentioned, is Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back.

    The Phantom Tollbooth is another great one.

    Guess How Much I Love You is sappy, but fun to read with a toddler.

  86. p.s. – Now that I have read the other posts, please take the second half of my 9:30 post as an answer to the challenge of defending The Rainbow Fish in good faith.

  87. Er… I didn’t mean to imply that The Phantom Tollbooth is from Silverstein.

  88. I love the cognitive dissonance here. People want books with a libertarian undertone, but mock people who parent in a way that respects the child’s individuality and don’t spank or are otherwise anti-authoritarianism. I mean I know that libertarians hate children for the most part, but it is always still odd to me. I certainly hope I’m parenting in a way that helps my kids keep a little of that necessary anti-authority streak so that they can manage to get through public schools without coming out a lefty. Pretty sure corporal punishment wouldn’t help that though.

  89. “I know that libertarians hate children” – I think that’s Drink! -worthy, don’t you? I suppose we’ll change our minds when we have children of our own.

    Personally, I’m a little disturbed by some Dr. Seuss, like The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. The storytelling and the art were great (I remember loving the ever-more-elaborate hats) but the passive acceptance of “the king will kill you for something you honestly cannot help” is a little creepy.

    I’m also going to wave the flag for The Mouse and His Child. It’s a bit strange and philosophical, but at its heart, it’s an adventure story about finding your own purpose and place in life, accepting others’ oddities, and learning when to break the rules.

  90. I didn’t mean it as a disparagement, I self-identify as libertarian too. It’s just that libertarians on the whole are very anti-breeder and pro-corporal punishment. Probably reflexively due to all the for the children laws, I guess.

  91. ktc2: I’d think that a big-L Libertarian would find the book of Job extremely useful. The whole message of the book is “there’s no way to understand God, and God doesn’t work on human scale, so don’t bother worshipping or praying. Even if God actually listens, He still isn’t going to do anything. However, if you work hard, you can make life good for yourself.”

  92. How to reveal the ugly truth behind Rainbow Fish to a group of children, in one easy object lesson.

    1) Read the book to the kids. Be sure to show the pictures.

    2) Ask them if we should try to act like Rainbow Fish (Yes Yes say the kids, sharing is good).

    3) Say, “Well lets do just that.” This book is pretty and sparkly just like Rainbow Fish. Let’s share it.

    4) Begin tearing the book apart and handing torn pages to the children.

    5) Be sure to shout “The real lesson is that Envy is the root of evil…and communism!” as you are chased from the store by angry soccer moms.

    6) A pre-arranged escape plan is recommended.

    The object lesson is real. In order to share, something wonderful had to be destroyed. If you allowed back again, be sure to read aloud the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.

  93. ev wrote “I feel like rereading most of those old tales. Hop on Pop was the first book I ever read. People who write books for children who can’t yet read are very underrated folk. It’s teaching complex math to people who don’t know what numbers mean.”

    It’s probably easier to teach complex math, i.e. math involving complex numbers (numbers having the imaginary number i as a factor) to people who don’t know what numbers mean than people who do.

  94. Rainbow Fish is a book?
    I have the computer game and that is pretty bad.
    It’s very slow and the credits go on and on and on and on.

  95. For me, the most distressing aspect of Rainbow Fish was this underlying message: “Give your body away to make someone else happy.” and “Nice fish don’t say ‘no.’ “

  96. I hate “I Will Always Love You” – not so much for the sappy message, but the Mom’s behavior is just strangely stalkerish.

    On the other hand, the “Frances” books mentioned above are great. My three-year-old loves Frances’ songs, and I like the subtlety and how Frances’ parents understand and cope with her, spanking aside.

  97. “What I liked were child versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Now that’s entertaining shit when you’re 7 years old.”

    Why wait till 7? I’ve been reading Celtic (sample line: “He killed 36 with one hand and 36 with the other and he didn’t think it too many), Norse and Greek mythology to my kid since he was 4. Now Mrs. Sock Puppet is blaming me ‘cos the kid runs around the house whacking everyone with a toy sword.

    Grimm’s tales are good, as are Aesop’s. Seuss is great: wish I’d read “The Place’s You’ll Go!” 15 years ago.

    I hate Thomas the Tank Engine stories and their “be a subservient worker drone” message with a vengence, though.

  98. “Teachers may read The Poky Little Puppy to teach kids the virtue of following the rules, but I can’t possibly be the only boy who noticed that the poky puppy came out ahead. (He missed out on one helping of strawberry shortcake, but he got five helpings of both rice pudding and chocolate custard. You do the math.)”

    I have done the math [sic] – and the puppy is definitely worse off, because unlike strawberry shortcake both rice pudding and chocolate custard are so disgusting that anyone would have to be desperate or depraved to eat them.

  99. Do you *really* think the puppy was better off getting five servings of rice pudding and chocolate custard? Those aren’t exactly healthy foods, with all the saturated fat and cholesterol in them. One really enjoyable serving of strawberry shortcake would have been better for the puppy’s health anyway. At least he’d get the benefits of vitamins from the strawberries. (Yes, chocolate and rice can be good for you in small amounts, but it’s not the case when they’re in pudding or custard form).

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