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Thoughts on Children’s Stories

One of the things that being a parent has taught me is that children’s bedtime stories have some weird stuff in them.

Take Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, Goodnight Moon. The first half or so of the story is spent detailing the items that live in “the great green room” where a rabbit child is going to sleep. A telephone, a red balloon, a comb, a brush, a bowl full of mush, etc.

The second half is spent iterating through those items in a slightly different order, saying goodnight to them. There are some new things to say goodnight to, not mentioned in the first part, such as the closing, “Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.”

Tucked in the middle, though, is this:

Goodnight Nobody

“Goodnight nobody?” What the hell is that? May as well be saying to your child, “Good night, terrifying invisible creature in the corner, waiting for your parents to leave the room.”

Brown’s biggest crime may be in Big Red Barn, where she writes the following:

With some little puppy dogs,
all round and warm.
And they all lived together
in the big red barn.

Rhyming “warm” with “barn” is just all kinds of wrong.

It’s not like modern children’s stories get much better. Clemency Pearce’s The Silent Owl is – as you would expect – about on owl that refuses to speak. Successively, a fox, badger, bat, pair of mice, squirrel, rat and stag all try to get the owl to make a sound. In the end, the stag suggests the owl is mute (“or he doesn’t give a hoot”) before the owl breaks out numerous musical instruments to communicate, causing the furry woodland creatures to declare, “What a clever bird!”

The owl may, indeed, be mute. He clearly knows how to communicate, though. Instead, he rolls his eyes at the mice and ignores the “toothy tuts” of the squirrel. In fact, his reaction to stag asking for a sign that he’s okay is as follows:

They stared at Owl; he stared right back.
Who would be the first to crack?

It’s only after the stag “cracks” that the owl even attempts to communicate. He may be mute but he’s also a jerk, refusing to respond even to the person simply asking if he was okay.  Clever bird or just an asshole?

Jerk-ass protagonists, nightmare-inducing images… I may as well let the kid watch 24 with me.

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