High Variance

Violence in Picture Books #IMWAYR

Violence is rampant in kids’ books. The Hobbit and the Harry Potter books are filled with magical blades and fierce battles. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are dodging bullets and getting bound to chairs in every other chapter. Even Charlotte’s Web starts with a near ax murder. My kids (age 3 and 5) aren’t quite old enough to be reading these books on their own, and we are pretty careful about what we read to them. A while back I wrote about R’s fascination with Greek mythology, but this turned out to be a phase–The closest she gets to violence these days is a food fight with Jigsaw Jones.

Both girls still spend most of their time in the relatively safe world of picture books. I say relatively safe because occasionally we happen across some surprising brutality. Here are a few examples we’ve happened upon recently:

  • Millions of cats (written and illustrated by Wanda Gag in 1928) The illustrations are uniquely beautiful black pen and ink drawings and the story is about a very old man who goes out looking for a cat but has trouble deciding and ends up returning to his wife with millions of potential pets. (This happens to me sometimes when I go grocery shopping hungry, albeit on a smaller scale.) Unfortunately, the story takes a Malthusian turn when the multitude of cats start fighting about who is the prettiest:

They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling. But after a while the noise stopped and the very old man and the very old woman peeped out of the window to see what had happened. They could not see a single cat! I think they must have eaten each other all up said the very old woman, “It’s too bad!”

Too bad indeed! Luckily one kitten who didn’t think he was prettiest survived. In this case One Direction was right when they said “You don’t know you’re beautiful and that’s what makes you beautiful.” Seriously, I loved this book when was a kid and only found the millions of deaths mildly unsettling.

  • Feathers and Fools (written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Nicholas Wilton in 1996) Mem Fox has written some tremendous books, but no matter how you slice it, this book about two flocks of birds who don’t get along is not young-child-appropriate. You might as well just read the latest news stories of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to your kids at bed time:

But the swans, seeing them coming, made ready. Soon cries filled the air and blood darkened the earth. A cloud of feathers rose into the sky and haunted the sun.

Of all the birds, not one remained alive. Silence hung over the gardens. And over the the lake.

Then, in the shadows of the gardens, an egg hatched, and a small bird staggered out into the bloodstained silence.

Among the reefs beside the lake a second egg hatched, and another small bird teetered out into the ruins

  • Mr. Nosey (written and illustrated by Roger Hargreaves in 1971) I’ve written before about how much I love the Mister Men and Little Misses, but this particular book is one that I actively avoid. Mr. Nosey is just one of many annoying but endearing Mister Men in the series who get their comeuppance. What’s different here is that Mr. Nosey is actually physically abused. Even worse is the pleasure the abusers take in hurting their victim:

“BANG” went a hammer right on the end of Mr. Nosey’s nose.

“Oh dear. I AM sorry!” said old Mr. Chips, who was nailing up a loose plank in the fence.

Poor Mr. Nosey had to go home immediately and bandage his poor red sore nose.

Mr. Chips grinned a broad grim.(sic!)

The Plan was working very well indeed.

The real world is violent place. Eventually my girls will have to learn this and figure out how to live in it. We’re going to shelter them until we think they’re ready. I don’t know when that will be, but I know it won’t be for a while.

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host kidlit versions of It’s Monday! What are You Reading? All three sites are great places to find new books for yourself and your kids.