Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

Of children’s books and cognitive dissonance


Sugar here.  I haven’t posted in a while, but, hey, I’m still here, mostly reading along as Bionic writes.  I’ve been feeling a bit sad myself, these days.  I wouldn’t have thought of our library of children’s books as an emotional minefield, but it turns out that, yes, I can just start crying in the middle of say, Where Does the Garbage Go?  Because why?  Don’t ask kid, it’s too depressing.

Some favorites of the Bean that can really get me down while I try to read cheerfully along:

Bob and Otto: screw you, famous, successful friend

Oh the Places You’ll Go: or not. or we’re just all in the waiting place forever.

Giraffes Can’t Dance: but what if the music you love doesn’t pay enough to support you?

Frederick: isn’t this book about starving to death in winter?

Where does the garbage go? oh god, I don’t want to think about landfills.

Then there are the books that don’t push immediate emotional buttons, but I wonder about the wisdom of reading.  Sure, it’s great that the Bean loves books and loves cars and loves trains and wants to combine those loves. But. Danger at the Dieselworks, which keeps coming home from the library, has the worst subtext ever. (Don’t go hang out with those bad kids on the other side of the tracks. They are scary and mean because they are poor and have nasty stuff.  Also, they shouldn’t try to challenge authority either, because authority always means well…ahem) Does the Bean ever ask me questions about this set up? No!  Instead he wants to know why the Giraffe in Giraffe’s Can’t Dance learns to dance so quickly.  (Because he doesn’t.  He never learns to dance.  Now can we talk about systemic racism?)

I am also bothered by the fact that all books based on the Disney Cars franchise just make no actual sense.  They contain many sentences, but no sentence relates to any other.  Can it be good to read something that looks like a book, but acts like performance art?

Then there’s the work of changing the pronouns in Good Night Good Night Construction Site so that every other vehicle is a girl (come on, would it have been so hard to have even one girl in that book?).  I keep imagining a scenario where the Bean is old enough to read, catches me out, and tells Jackalope, who also loves trucks, that all the trucks in the book are really boys.  I hope he proves me wrong on this one.

Finally, there are books that fall into the category of questionable psychology.  For instance, Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day confuses me.  His day is bad.  It doesn’t get better.  Alexander was published in 1972.  I have this sense that in the 70s gritty, slightly depressing realism was thought to be good for a person, kind of like eating fiber but for the brain. But does this hold up? Do we still need to do this?

Perhaps the 80s were worse: In Gregory the Terrible Eater (published 1980) a goat’s parents encourage him to binge eat so that he will feel terrible and stop overeating.  Not only is this MESSED UP, but, as a former binge eater, I can tell you it won’t work.

It is not all horrors, of course. The Bean recently became enchanted with The Z was Zapped (the only difficult question — what is kidnapping, mommy?) so I am anticipating beginning to reread some books I really loved, like The Garden of Abdul Gasazi.  And the Bean made an awesome book for the Jackalope the other day, for when she needs to be cheered up, he said.  It is called Peekaboo Daniel, has two pages, and features a surprise picture of Daniel Tiger (Jackalope’s favorite) when you open it up.

13 thoughts on “Of children’s books and cognitive dissonance

  1. Worst ever children’s book, borrowed because of soothing picture of koi pond on the front: about the Armenian Genocide. NO NO THAT DOESN’T GO IN THE FICTION PICTURE BOOKS NO.

    Bug can now read and always picks things with guns, violence, and legos. Society, man. Also that thing where he has his own personality and….. a gun obsession. (We are pinko commie pacifists.)

    • I just tried to find the Armenian Genocide Koi Pond Booby Trap book on Amazon but could not. Amazon was all – don’t you want to either re-buy The Little Blue Truck, or else get stuff to clean your fish tank?

      At least with the lego-based books it seems that there is a narrative through line. We currently have Captain Brickbeard out of the library, and while the King’s Navy seems to wear red in it (!) it otherwise makes sense. After the first reading, I did have to explain what an enemy is to the Bean (um…people who want to take your stuff?) but it’s the least violent pirate book I’ve seen.

  2. I’m only familiar with a few of these, but with you on Good Night Construction Site. I flat out told my kiddo it was sexist and she got to pick the pronouns on each page. May I recommend the song Big Ol’ Truck by Karen K and the Jitterbugs? My “omg when she learns the truth about this…” is America the Beautiful because in our house we sing about crowning thy good with Sisterhood. It’s in the bedtime rotation and everything. But while we’re speaking of beautiful and books, I think you need some Miss Rumphius in your life.

  3. Those are fantastically awful. Maybe you need to write (or finish) one?

    I agree there’s nothing as depressing as seeing children receive messages that perpetuate the scrappy old status quo like that. Bleah. Only today hearing a man say “those are for girls” to a boy made me so sad. I felt like calling over “oh no I they’re not!” as if we were in a pantomime. 😦

  4. A friend of Mr. Bunny’s won my heart forever by painstakingly replacing firemen, policeman, and boys in a book with firefighter, police officer, and kids–she used the right color paper and font size and everything and pasted little bits of paper in… I have to confess that I filter the books we bring home from the library. While we’re there they can read whatever, but if I’m going to read it multiple times it has to meet certain standards with regard to art and message. I have a sore spot for books glorifying rudeness and “naughtiness”–oh, it’s so charming the way this child has horrible manners! WTF? But sharing beloved books is such an incredible joy. We had these deeply weird books growing up which I finally read to the babies, not sure how they would take them,
    but they loved them as much as I did.

  5. Gerald just needed someone to believe in him. I threw out Alexander, because it is, indeed, terrible. We’ve been getting lots of traction with Frog and Toad (who I like to think of as a couple), The Book with No Pictures (bonk!), and The Circus Ship. I never cease to be amazed by what total crap gets published, though. Even more astounding is that usually the words and pictures are done by different people, which means someone looks at this drivel and decides to set some innocent artist on it, rather than just passing over the shitty writing because the art is so good.

  6. Eggbert is currently re-reading a book of fairy tales that I had thought I “accidentally” lost, but apparently it wasn’t lost enough. Apparently listening to me rail about how awful it is that the princesses in the book are forced to marry strangers, in some cases after being kidnapped by the aforementioned strangers, and that this is not my idea of happily ever after is not sufficient disincentive to her because she loves that book. I wish we had a fireplace that I could “accidentally” drop it into.

  7. Holy cow, I remember that book about the goat from when I was a kid! I haven’t thought of that in years! And I’ve found that a lot of books and movies from when I was a kid are rather … disturbing now that I’m an adult. The original Willy Wonka movie and this version of Peter Pan that we have where the same man plays both Captain Hook and the father – yeah, those aren’t really for kids.
    (and I know this is an older post, but I had to comment 🙂

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