Real Pages from Real Children’s Books, Volume One

I didn't set out to take pictures of silly things in my son’s children’s books. It just happened.

My mom spent 25 years teaching kindergarten through third grade and ended up with a lot of books. My son is a lucky beneficiary of those books, but the more books I read, the more impressed I am with the ones that really work, the ones that can still hold up ten or twenty or thirty years later, the ones that don’t contain images of gun violence or talk needlessly about death, the ones that rhyme when they’re trying to rhyme, the ones that don’t take lazy shortcuts just because they think kids won’t notice. My son might not notice—yet. But he will, and I do, and—you know what, just don’t write a book about the alphabet if you can’t think of anything that starts with the letter X.

As my son started paying more attention to books this past fall, around his first birthday, I started paying more attention, too.

Here is Paul.
He is a new baby.
He has no teeth.
He does not need them.
He drinks milk and orange juice.

And, yeah, he probably shouldn't have the blanket and pillow either. But, orange juice?

After a bunch of Facebook likes, I got motivated to start keeping my eye out for more.

Thus… presenting:

Real Pages from Real Children’s Books, Volume One

  1. Life Lessons

First, a lesson in financial planning.

Perhaps that book is sponsored by the National Pumpkin Council.

Next lesson: fireworks are fun.

Oh, and—guns too!

Hard to figure out the message here, really. My son happens to like pickles. So this one is a little traumatic. Of course, if you prefer your messages to be more subtle than a woman literally aiming a gun at some innocent produce, there’s this book, which I fear may inadvertently be teaching children to be racist:

Basically, the story is that little Yellow and little Blue get a little too close, become Green, and then their parents get really upset and ostracize them. A wonderful tale of disapproval and fear.

2. Inappropriate Sexual Content

I present without comment:

3. Cars, and How to Drive Most Carefully

Did this car seat really pass inspection?

Well, I guess it’s safe enough, as long as Granny isn't behind the wheel.

“I know, let’s make light of an elderly woman running a red light and crashing her car into a school bus.” At least she’s wearing a seatbelt?

Maybe she should stick to the roller skates.

4. Incompetence in Nursing Care

Poor Clifford, about to be impaled by an uncapped syringe. Also, why is there a dog in the hospital anyway?

5. Death

Never too early to learn about life’s harsh realities, right?

I think my son is probably too young for a story about a jacket made from a dead calf’s skin. I think I’m probably too young for it too.

6. Bad Science

I’m pretty sure that if the dinosaurs came back, they would not do that. I’m also pretty sure that’s not how clouds work. And that even if dinosaurs were tall, they were not that tall. (Also skeptical about some of the food choices at the picnic, but there are bigger issues to be concerned about here.)

I haven’t taken a science class in a while, but pretty sure one of those amoebas is actually a paramecium.

7. Stereotypes

Isn't it just like the dog to be the only one to leave with a doggy bag?

8. The Rough Business of Children’s Publishing

I guess the original title here was too sophisticated to sell. Gotta dumb down those children’s books for sure. (Actually this is a nice book, my son loves it. I just thought it was funny they renamed it something catchier and completely bait-and-switch compared to what’s inside.)

Coming soon to a bookstore near you: “Mice! Men!”

9. Pictures That Don’t Hold Up Well Over Time

Remember Geocities?

10. Laziness in ABCs

The “Z” entry here seems like a bit of a stretch.

No zucchini on the farm, I guess?

11. Finally, the Excitement of Literature

I’ll end with this one:

If my son starts to ask me why I keep stopping mid-read to take pictures of his books, I guess I’ll find a new activity. Until then, at least looking out for this kind of stuff keeps me extra-motivated to read to him. I hope you enjoyed this journey into the children’s books in my son’s bookcase—and keep an eye out for Volume Two, and hopefully more.

If you enjoyed this piece, I’d love for you to share and recommend.

Even better, if you come across any examples of your own that you’d like me to include in a future installment, please do send them my way!