The Worst Children’s Books

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

I love classical music, but I don’t love ALL classical music. Some kinds of classical music–the pieces I think of as “circus music”–make me change the channel when it comes on the radio. I don’t love Sousa. I don’t love Strauss and the whole Viennese waltz thing, either. Give me Bach and Purcell and Satie and Glass but no circus music, please.

It’s just not to my taste. I don’t care for it. It doesn’t do anything for me. Does that make it bad music? No. I understand that Sousa and Strauss are great composers, and I don’t assume that because I don’t like their music it is bad. So why is it that adults so often love to put together lists of bad/awful/terrible/choose-your-negative-adjective children’s books? I’m not going to link any of them here, but if you Google it, you will find a bunch.

Usually on the list, you will find Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, and I understand not loving those books. While some people (adults, generally) absolutely love those books and they resonate for them in a good way, others of us find them creepy. Both are about mothers or other female figures being completely self-sacrificing, and that’s just not a theme that is going to appeal to everyone.

So I get those choices. But then the list writers very often continue on to some great children’s books that they poke mean-spirited fun at, and even that wouldn’t bother me except they are usually being so stupid in what they criticize. Why would you criticize Go Dog, Go for not having a plot? Why would you criticize One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish for being too repetitive? Why would you criticize Amelia Bedelia for using figures of speech that preschoolers won’t understand?

I always want to write back and explain a few little facts, like Books don’t need a plot to be funny, and Adults are not the audience for easy readers–children learning to read who need lots of repetition to learn how to read are the audience for easy readers, and Not every book with pictures in the library is for preschoolers. But I never do, because the list writers are always trying to be funny and who wants to come across as the humorless librarian? Not me.

But they get on my nerves, as do the adults who will declare that The Catcher in the Rye or some other classic they had to read in school is a terrible book. Likewise the adults who find that a literary adult book like The Handmaid’s Tale is awful, because they don’t like it annoy me. “I didn’t care for it,” is a very different thing from “It’s a terrible book,” but surprisingly few adults seem to understand that lately. To me, it’s like the circus music on the radio–it is not to my taste, but that doesn’t make it bad music.

I think almost always with the list-makers, it’s that they are reading the wrong books to their kids and they are bored. Easy readers aren’t read-alouds in general, so it’s not surprising. I wish there was a way to persuade them to take the time and make the effort to visit a library or bookstore to choose the books that will amuse them as they are reading, and then everyone concerned will have more fun. Kids won’t be getting the message that reading is boring and stupid.

I am a children’s book reviewer. There are definitely some terrible books out there. The books on these lists are never the terrible ones. They are the circus music of books–maybe not to your taste, but not terrible books.

This entry was posted in Childhood reading, Children's books, Parents, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Worst Children’s Books

  1. Antigone says:

    Brava! You make some important points, especially in regard to adults choosing stories they can enjoy along with their children. Books should not be an ordeal…well, except for advanced calculus.

  2. Michelle Walsh says:

    Some of my favorite children’s books were loved by grownups and kids alike-I think that’s the best of both worlds, when you can enjoy reading something together. Then your younger children get to experience your enthusiasm for reading, which will (hopefully) lead them to wonderful reading experiences on their own.
    A grown up slogging through a book they dislike is no fun for anyone. So, how about a list of books that both kids and growtnups can enjoy? My all-time favorites would include “Piggie Pie” by Margie Palatini, “The Real Story of the Three Little Pigs”, by Jon Scieszka, and “Skippyjon Jones” by Judy Schachner.

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