Margaret Wise Brown is a celebrated children’s author responsible for many books, three of which are on my children’s bookshelf. Goodnite Moon, a book we have in hardcover and as a board book, I never read because, simply, I never liked it. Little Fur Family took some getting used to but became a staple bedtime read. And The Important Book, which both my husband and I instantly took a disliking to is not only annoying in premise (as my husband say’s, “Who the hell are you to tell my kids’ what’s important) but also annoying in technique, using the adjective forms of nouns to describe the nouns. Grass smells grassy. The book bludgeons you with uncreativity.
But still I found all of this tolerable, except for Goodnite Moon, which I might have hid somewhere, its low contrast primary color pages too much for my senses to tolerate. What I find intolerable in an eery, subliminal kind of freakin’-me-out at bedtime kind of way is an article I read recently about Margaret Wise Brown.
Basically, she hated kids and was really into hunting. All the bunnies and bears in her books, well, in real life she liked to blow holes in their warm bodies and watch them bleed to death, pained and writhing. For sport. In the spirit of getting a little r & r.
I have to admit, I really do like Little Fur Family. It is more than a bit ridiculous and the drawings are rather cozy, evoking the feeling of a soup commercial amidst the full blows of a northeast winter. I am a bit hesitant to pull it from our bookshelf, especially since I have an entire hand gesturing sequence for catching the bug in the air, holding it in his hand, looking at it and then ssssp! letting it fly back up into the sky.
But still, despite my mastered hand choreography, I cannot ignore that this woman, and I use the word woman specifically in its “lesser-man misogynist” connotation, gives me the creeps. She is exteremely well known as a children’s writer and must have made a good amount of cash from the occupation. And yet she wholeheartedly without aplogies dislikes her audience. Unabashed capitalism for sure.
I remember years ago before I had children a conversation I had with Samvit Mataji about television and videos. Samvit was speaking against tv and videos making the point that even documentaries, or what people consider educational videos, have an agenda. Sure, the agenda may not be as obvious as the large scale marketing, complete with every kind of tie-in, of Disney’s newest and lewdest double entendre cartoon marketed towards children yet sophisticated and entertaining enough for their parents who have to chaufeur them to the theatre, yet still it is there. The message may be mode of goodnessy, like conserve water and don’t pollute animal’s natural habitat. Or, the seemingly objective educational video may subtley convey messages which conflict with individual’s family values, like women working outside the home, meat eating, competition, etc. The list is really endless and how these messages connect and interact with the values of individuals varies case by case. But the point Samvit was making was that anyone recieving information should actively engage with it, understand it and accept or reject it. Not that we automatically take down our gaurd because it is educational and,therefore falsely think, harmless.
Samvit Mataji’s point is easily taken in regards to tv and videos. So much information is out there for us to accept and reject on this matter based on our values. My husband recently told me about an article he read either from the BBC or NYTimes.com about how the Baby Einstein videos actually make kids dumber. While I am always happy to hear about anti-tv propoganda which will support and bolster my determination to abstain from the one-eyed beast, I couldn’t really get behind this article. It just seemed so slanted and based on such limited research. I just had too much anectodotal evidence, in the actual flesh and blood form of my friends’ kids, that goes against it.
As for books, some stuff clearly makes its way to the reject pile. This is obvious as you page through the Pigeon Stays Up Late book, which has the bird eating a hot dog (yuck! get a human life!!) or Stone Soup where they make a beef stock. Other books with snotty title characters or obnoxious kids (Where the Wild Things Are should be burned immediately) also do not make the cut in our house.
Bhakti, a book about an eight year old girl who appears, by the photo on her shelf, to be a disciple of Harikesa Swami, does make the cut, despite the depressing fact that there is a graphic picture of a butcher in a mao smock with an axe hacking up Buttercup, the smart and pretty cow at Grandpa’s house. Buttercup did not give any more milk, so we all get to see her pencil drawn blood running down towards the floor drain. But there is Krishna, cows, an eight year old preaching to her grandparents that they should only eat good things and they should repsect the cow, who gives us the Europeanly spelled “yoghurt,” as their mother. Yes, there is graphic violence, but Bhakti preaches the absolute truth. The Draupadi comic book is a bit confusing for my 3 year old son who cannot understand why devotees are killing people who are not demons or why men are “not being nice” to Draupadi, but it is a story about Krishna, although I do have to personally insert the Supreme Personality of Godhead into the storyline where the editors have omitted Him.
So there is the obvious stuff which we surely nix and then there is the Krishna stuff, which non-devotees would probably find too violent and wacky to read to little kids. And then there is this other stuff which fits into a kind of limbo. Curious George books, books about trains and how they work and run and what they haul. Books about colors and numbers full of fat babies, cute and/or alarmingly strange looking. Books about ducks and ducklings, steam shovels and ox carts. We are part of that culture of parents drawn towards simple illustrations and retro storylines. We like our books wholesome. The policeman puts on his rubbers and walks the snowy street. After he catches cold, his wife makes a mustard plaster for his chest and sits by his bed in her rocker, knitting him a long scarf. Call me Tipper Gore circa 1986, I don’t care (just don’t send me a PMRC t-shirt).
So, my Margaret Wise Brown books will have to go. She doesn’t fit in with our family. After reading about her non-maternal personality, her literature seems more suited for the shelves of a Hitler Youth nursery than my home. I’m glad I know, despite my attachment to the Little Fur Family.
Pickings are slim, not just for devotee books but wholesome books in general. Now that some space will be opening up on our bookshelf, it will be interesting to see what takes its place. I cannot research every author who makes it onto our shelves, but I can go with my gut. After all, the books aren’t just for the kids but the parents who have to suffer through them, too.