Kids Books Say the Darnedest Things
By Dani, Event Liaison at Bookmans Speedway
All kinds of unusual items arrive on the trade counter at Bookmans and some of them are kids books. During the book selection process for Bookmans Speedway’s weekly Story Time – Music Hour, I come across many a title that gives me pause. Most of these books are well intended and some of them are written for a different social context than we offer at story time. Additionally, vintage titles can be especially entertaining as they either make me laugh or cringe when viewed with my modern lens. Other books are beyond explanation and many begin with a title or cover illustration that makes me wonder what the creators of the books are thinking. These books are not intrinsically bad, I just wouldn’t read them to your children at story time. Today I present kids books that say the darnedest things.
We posted an image of The House that Crack Built written by Clark Taylor and illustrated by Jan Thompson Dicks on our Instagram feed to get a feel for how the public would react to such a controversial subject. The title is enough to stop most in their tracks. The text is aptly supported by Picasso-esque illustrations. The cover depicts a a disturbingly suspended woman and child. Her head distends at an unnatural angle and the child’s head mimics it. Dicks uses a vibrant, highly saturated color scheme for the illustrations. The response to our Instagram post is positive, with most saying that this is a reality for some children. Would parents feel the same way if the sections dealing with prostitution and suicide were read aloud to their children? We do applaud the author for taking on difficult subject matter and it’s possible that we would share this book for a different crew than our regular story timers.
Difficult subject matter is one thing. Kids are almost always better at grappling with dark subject matter than their parents, as anyone who has read Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya with a child knows. (If you are not already familiar with this title, don’t say we didn’t warn you it’s a tough read.) More often than skipping over books with heavy themes for story time, I skip over funny titles where the humor may not be universal.
My favorite is I Love You Too Much to Let You Act Like a Brat, Vol. 1 written by Alma L. Golden, M.D. and illustrated by Sarah Hall. The cover page grabbed my attention. I took it around to coworkers, flashing it briefly to see if they saw what I did. My eye immediately catches two children being hung by their necks. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the children are not hung by their necks but suspended by an anchor and a serpent. Thank goodness, ‘cuz that’s a lot better. It makes me curious about Vol. 2. One of the first lines in I Love You Too Much is, “A brat teases brothers ’til they break down and cry.” True enough. I suppose there isn’t any reason to beat around the bush after threatening to hang them if they misbehave. The text continues, “You are very special to me and I want you to be all that God made you to be!” Does that include the impulse to torment your siblings?
I Stink! by Kate and Jim McMullan could be taken two ways: with laughter or horror. It opens with an illustration of a menacing vehicle with giant teeth demanding, “Who am I??!” and asking, “[Do you] know what I do at night while you’re asleep?” No need to worry about the closet monster with this thing crashing around your neighborhood! The monster truck describes in terrible, stomach churning detail what it “eats”. Yes, it includes dog poop. The book also vividly details the processing of garbage. “Pistons, crusher blades, mash ’em, smash ’em,” all in large print. The truck insists that if all this crashing and bashing, “woke you up–TOO BAD!!” I won’t read this frightening book at story time. Well, maybe at Halloween.
Several other titles deal with biology and do their best to appeal to a child’s sensibilities. Titles like I Found a Dead Bird, Mommy Laid an Egg and The Gas We Pass are innocent enough. Explaining anatomy, reproduction and death is difficult. These books, for the most part, handle these delicate subjects well. Even so, a sick part of me laughs when I see I Found a Dead Bird in bright red letters accompanied by a stiff legged sparrow laying on its back, tiny feet pointing skyward.
The Night Before Christmas, written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Mike Lester, is a wonderfully realistic romp into the trials and terrors of parenting during the holidays. Lester’s drawings convey the trauma and stress of the season, replete with bugging eyes, torn clothing, spiked hair and leaking babies. Our harried family attempts to purchase ragged trees, arrange holey stockings, hang broken Christmas lights and navigate the dreaded mall. Wing manages to entertain the kids and empathize with the adults in her comic look at holiday reality.
Titles like It’s Raining, It’s Pouring written by Kin Eagle and illustrated by Rob Gilbert are obviously unintentionally morbid or weird. In It’s Raining, our main character, a sweet grandpa, has his house flooded, his car blown away, is attacked by killer bees and falls down a deep well. The book is supposed to follow the familiar song, but when looked at squarely, this guy is getting his butt kicked Job-style. I suppose that can be funny–as long as it’s not my grandpa!
We assume that these authors and illustrators have the best intentions. We hope so anyway. What children’s books have you come across that would make for an interesting story time? Do you remember a book that you read as a child that seems much different when you read it to your child? We’d like to collect a good list of these books, so please share your experiences with us.
* Bookmans is your store to explore. If you would like to pick up a title from this list or another children’s book, please give us a call and we will check our shelves for you. Otherwise, we hope you will come and browse.
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