High Variance

Bad Behavior in Kids' Books

We do a lot of reading in my house and I don’t pay much attention to age/reading levels. R (who just turned three) likes books geared to her own age as well as lots that are for older kids. Most of the time, this works out well. She misses some nuance (e.g., the rich description of The Wizard of Oz) and sometimes the main point (e.g., the literalness of Amelia Bedelia), but she’s almost always entertained. And I think she gets a lot out of pushing the envelope. The best examples of this are science and nature books. We’ve been reading the Pooh Encyclopedias (Nature and Animals) and Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones for months and she’s learned a ton.

The place where we get in trouble is when we read books for older kids with bad behavior. I don’t mean where the main characters are having fun and they do bad stuff like jumping on the bed (like those damn monkeys and Skippyjon Jones) even though these are also inspiring in the wrong way. I mean those books that try to teach kids to behave by showing them how not to behave. The prototypical example is Berenstein Bears and Too Much Teasing which we read over Thanksgiving. What we learned is that saying “Nah nah na nah nah” and calling your father “Flub-a-dub” are hilarious. The novelty wore off fast (for me, not her). When we read Best Friends for Frances we learned that doing things with No Boys Allowed is fun. When we read How do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? we learned to hog up toys and say “Mine!” and when we read How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? we learned to demand even more stories than usual before bed. R learned that fighting (and making up) with your friends is fun from the otherwise truly wonderful Oh What a Busy Day.

In fact, the only case I can think of where the authors actually pull off this trick is How to Be a Friend which is a remarkably great manual from which most adults would learn a thing or two. R has yet to copy the bad stuff and is on the edge of her seat throughout. It even gets a lot of requests (i.e., “Excuse me, will you read this?”)

The lesson we’ve learned in our house is to recognize and quarantine these books as fast as possible and hope we remember to bring them out again when the girls are ready. Of course, we’ll probably be reading them to R as her younger sister A listens in and then goes and jumps on her bed!