Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Storytime Goes Bad

Times have changed. Or perhaps I'm the one who has changed over time.

At the suggestion of our pediatrician in an effort to extend his vocabulary, Nate and I trotted off to the library to rent a few children's books for storytime. I scoured the shelves for traditional, tried and true classics. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - check. Goodnight Moon - check. As I was browsing the alluring, illustrative covers for a suitable selection, I came upon a collective book of lullabies and nursery rhymes. This is perfect, I thought as I mused about reading and singing to him while breathing in his fresh, clean post-bathtime baby scent. I nonchalantly checked out the variety of titles tucked under my arm and retired home to get a head start on our new activity.

After a brief playtime, I decided to spice things up with a bit of literature. I retrieved the lullaby book from the pile. Innocent enough, right?

WRONG. Warning: all things are not what they appear.

My adult perspective was horrified at the contents of these so-called "classics". I could not believe the twisted, violent, somewhat macabre material that had eluded me in my childhood. Take for example:

Goosey Gander

Goosey, goosey, gander
Where do you wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber
There I met an old man
Who would not say his prayers
I took him by the left leg
And threw him down the stairs Christian is this? Throwing someone down the stairs for refusing to pray? That's a great tale to share with our children on how to tolerate and respect others' beliefs, even if they are different from our own.

Still not convinced? How about these nuggets of consternation:

The Old Woman in a Shoe

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread,
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Wonderful. Yet another welfare slob popping out kids she can't afford. As if that isn't offensive enough, this terrible excuse for a mother takes out her frustrations on her poor victims by way of abuse and starvation. If this story teaches anything, it's why the field of psychiatry still proves to be lucrative.

The Three Little Kittens

Three little kittens
They lost their mittens,
And they began to cry,
Oh, Mother dear, we sadly fear
Our mittens we have lost.
What! Lost your mittens,
You naughty kittens!
Then you shall have no pie.
Mee-ow, mee-ow, mee-ow,
No, you shall have no pie.

Ok, yes, they lost their belongings. But hello?! It was an ACCIDENT! Would you rather your children use methods of deception or subterfuge out of fear for the consequences? What is this teaching them? That there are no rewards for being honest? How unfortunate.

Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.

WTF? Number one, isn't this a wee bit illegal? To hold someone against their will? And secondly, why would you want to teach you child to stay in a relationship where the feelings obviously aren't reciprocated? Again, shameful.

Little Polly Flinders

Little Polly Flinders
Sat among the cinders,
Warming her pretty little toes.
Her mother came and caught her,
And smacked her little daughter
For spoiling her nice new clothes.

Has this mother of the year nominee ever heard of childproofing? Where the hell were you when your kid was sitting a spit away from a fire? Parenting at it's finest, people.

Now I fully recognize the irony of Grimms' fairy tales. These stories are downright alarming. I'm shocked that all of us don't have homicidal tendencies after being exposed at the most vulnerable, absorbent points in our lives. You know, being sponges and such.

I threw aside the book in favor of Goodnight Moon. And I have no regrets on the matter.


Fertilized said...

And to think - Classics.

Road Blocks and Roller Coasters said...

Oddly, I think I have that book. Luckily, Lemy is only interested in reading during playtime and thus, I've not used it. :)

Will said...

I have this book, too! And I wholeheartedly agree with you. And have you read some of the older books like "Spotty" about a spotted bunny that did not fit in with his "whitey" friends. Yeah. . .

Heather said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I remember all these. Here's a song we used to sing when I was in preschool. I couldn't bring myself to teach it to Phoebe:

I'm a Texan, I'm a Texan, I'm a Texan star
And I come from the West where the cowboys are
I can ride and I can rope and I can show you how it's done
So come on to Texas with your six shooting gun.
Bang Bang

Yeah. Not so much much what I want my kids to learn!

Mel said...

Yea, they are so vividly creepy. I was singing "Rockabyebaby" to L the other day and realized how bizarre the lyrics are, too. It's about a BABY falling out of a TREE. How is that peaceful?!

Polka Dot said...

Your post had me literally laughing out loud.

Maybe it's that I don't have a baby yet, but ... they're the rhymes we all grew up on, hearing time and time again and (most of us, anyway lol) came out to be perfectly fine people.

But I've had similar thoughts - how in the world do you sing to a baby about a baby falling out of the tree? But then I think it's more about the soft lilt of the mom's voice and sing-song nature of the phrasing than what's actually being said.

Natalie said...

They certainly are appalling, aren't they!