DO NOT read to your children

Guest post by Michelle Gagnon , author of the new thriller, BONEYARD. Today, she's writing about children's books - a topic near and dear to my heart - and all the wonderful hidden traumas lurking within. Since this happens to touch upon an activity I thoroughly enjoy - ruminating and fretting over all the possible ways I might screw up my kids - it almost feels like I'm here. In fact, as you all are reading this post, somewhere high in the hills of Pennsylvania, I'm experiencing a small wave of anxiety ripple through me for no good reason at all. This is how I know I'm alive. This is how I know you still love me. Take it, Michelle!

DO NOT read to your children

I know, this goes against ever parenting book ever written. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your children every day, preferably in lieu of allowing them to watch television (the sacrilege!)

And I know that coming from a writer, this must seem like strange advice. But have you seriously sat down and read some of these books? I have, and let’s just say that the Horror Network’s programming isn’t half as scary. Let’s start with a few classics:

Are You My Mother?Hello, abandonment issues. Mama bird leaves her egg in the nest (hey, she needed a smoke, who can blame her?) While she’s gone, the egg hatches (so much for her maternal instincts) and the baby bird fumbles along looking for someone to imprint on. Let’s just say that at least for my two year-old, the prospect of mommy being replaced by a power shovel was terrifying. Toss this one on the scrap pile.

Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel (Again with the power shovels.) My husband and I were so excited when we spotted this familiar red cover in the bookstore. “I loved this book growing up!” We said simultaneously, rushing to the cash register to fork over $16 for a paperback. (Side note: that’s another complaint I have, the cost of these books. You can pick up a forty pound tome of War and Peace for less than the price of a Babar book). We raced home, plunked our daughter on the couch, and began to read. A page or two in we realized that this treasured story from our childhood actually involved the wholesale rape of the environment by Mike and said Steam Shovel. Watch, as they plow under verdant fields to build skyscrapers and rail lines and malls, oh my! Horribly depressing.

Ten Little Ladybugs This one is actually more recent, so I figured it must be PC, right? Only if “PC” includes introducing your child to the grim reality of life in the wild at a tender age. The title should have been my first clue. “Just like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians,” I joked with my husband when my daughter unwrapped the book. And you know what? It really, truly is. The ladybugs get picked off one by one by a variety of predators ranging from grasshoppers to frogs. And here’s the publisher’s description: “In Ten Little Ladybugs, one by one, ten tactile bugs disappear. Where did they all go?” Yes, where, indeed? Brace yourself for a discussion of the circle of life with this one.

Five Little Monkeys Sitting In A Tree The similar title should have been my first clue. Yep, this little board book provides another lesson in Darwinian natural selection. Mama Monkey falls asleep after a picnic (what is it with these mothers?) and leaves her offspring unattended. They climb up a tree (they are, after all, monkeys), jump on a branch…one falls off and would you look at that, there’s a crocodile waiting down below. Bye bye, Mr Monkey. And what do the rest do? They keep jumping. What precisely is that supposed to teach my child? Where’s the learning from your mistakes? And as a bonus, there are some delightful renderings of distraught monkey relatives sobbing. Just want you want to see at bedtime.

Mind you, I haven’t even touched upon Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with their wolves in Grandma clothing and witches fattening children up for private consumption; grim indeed. And let’s not forget Mother Goose, with a baby’s cradle tumbling out of the trees, and poor Jack and Jill.

No, all in all I think it’s probably best to sit your kids down in front of reality television and call it a day. Simon Cowell never murdered anyone (at least, not literally. That we know of.)

So , let’s hear it: what’s your favorite (or least favorite) gruesome children’s book, and why? Extra points (and a signed first edition of Boneyard, another cheery tale by yours truly) go to the contestant with the best response. And if you don’t win the book, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at, which will enter you in a drawing to win an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates, or other fabulous prizes (perhaps even a barely-used copy of Ten Little Ladybugs).

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller THE TUNNELS was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, BONEYARD, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she runs errands and wonders what a power shovel is anyway.


Kath said...

You are so right! What is the real agenda of these children's authors, anyway? Let them know early that it's a croc-eat-monkey world out there so they'll be prepared? (Shudder...)

Anyway, my favorite kids' book is Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. It is about a boy who, despite social and parental pressure to be like everyone else, follows his own interests and invents an entire civilization with its own economy, sports, language, and clothing - all based on a new plant he has found. In doing this, he earns the respect and admiration of his former tormentors.

Krista said...

My vote is for "Where the Wild Things" are by Maurice Sendak. Although I do love this book (imagination hard at play!), the gruesomeness of it is that my now 5 year old used to hate when his older brother wanted to read it. "How could Max's mom and dad be so mean that they would send him to bed WITH NO DINNER?!" Surely no child's mischief, no matter how awful, merited having nourishment withheld.
And what child wouldn't be frightened as hell to land their boat on an island full of wild thing monsters roaring their terrible roars, gnashing their teeth and showing their claws?!! And even though Max tamed them...when he left the island, the monsters didn't want him to go and said, "we love you...we'll eat you up!" WTF??!! Used to scare the bejeezus out of my son. To think that something that loved him would eat him up.
I wonder now just what Mr. Sendak was smoking when he wrote THAT classic?
Maybe we're better off sticking to watching Dancing with the Stars.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I'd have to say "The Real Tooth Fairy." It turns out okay in the end, but the first time you read it (before you get to the end)you're all "OMG! Shattered dreams!"

preTzel said...

My favorite book, of all time, is Where The Red Fern Grows. It teaches young children how to raise a love a pet; teaches them to raise their pets so they can hunt down other animals for the child to shoot and kill. I also loved the lessons of standing up to bullies; running away from home and walking miles to get your beloved doggies, and, in the end, how your dog will die and be buried and how the mate will lay on the grave and die as well as you are leaving your childhood home forever.

Ahhh - nothing like lovely childhood books to make you feel good about childhood.

nadzent said...

Yikes! My kids listen to almost all of those books regularly. They are nearly two years old. WE don't haev the Steam Shovel or Lady Bug books - but I do remember the Steam Shovel story from my childhood.

My favorite (and possibly my boys' favorite, they are twins) is Charlie Parker Played Bee Bop by Chris Raschka. AWESOME book. So fun to read. Teaches rhythm and rhyme. And Chris Raschka has other music-based books written similarly. As well as my boys' recent favorite Yo! Yes! about two boys in the city who become friends with barely 30 words between them. Sure to become a classic.

Anonymous said...

All right, I'm thrilled to be getting other suggestions for how to scare the heck out of my kid! This is clearly a group after my own heart. I have to confess, I considered adding where the wild things are to my list of no-nos books, but that one is so near and dear to my heart that in the end, I couldn't bear to include it. I'm checking some of these others out, though, they sound great...

Anonymous said...

My middle child claims he has PTSD from "Where the Wild Things Are". My oldest will spontaneously burst into tears and end up sucking on an inhaler like a Grinnell freshman hitting a bong if I even pull out "Mars Needs Moms" by Berkley Breathed.

-kk in Des Moines

Jon said...

Have you seen this little tart Fancy Nancy? She's got my daughter all up in arms about fanciness. You know what Nancy's fanciness is? Big words. She complicates everything by using big fancy "I"m smarter and fancier than you" words. My 4-year-old called me an incomprehensible bore yesterday. Thanks Nancy!

These books perpetuate the oppression of dumb people. Fancy my ass.

Jon said...

You are easy on the eyes, Michelle Gagnon.

Krista said...

Hey BHJ (I mean Gonzo - you did that on purpose, didn't you?)
I know of Fancy Nancy (through my niece) and if I had a would banned literature in my in the days of the Salem Witch Trials.
She IS a pretentious little tart..all her sparkly tiaras and rhinestone studded shoes and holier than thou attitude. She tries to make her family feel like the beverly hillbillies and it's just insulting.
glad I have boys...

Anonymous said...

"Little Red - a Fizzingly Good Yarn"

The illustrations in this are fabulous...creepy faces in the woodwork of the old inn and a wolf who belches out a worse-for-wear Grandma at the end.


Anonymous said...

All right, I clearly need to get me a copy of Fancy Nancy and Mars Needs Moms. As far as those Grimm's tales go, I'm already scarred. I have a book on the sales block right now called "Candy houses," about a series of murders based on the Hansel/Gretel story. One publisher said, "We love it- but maybe could you take out the part about the kids, or make them teenagers or something?" Ah, publishing...

And black hockey jesus, you made me blush- although I've also spent the past few minutes trying to figure out if that's the name of a band or some strange sports hybrid I've never heard of before. Hmmm.

Krista said...

Michelle, I'll tell Candy Houses makes me yearn...sounds wickedly interesting. I don't think I've ever seen anything based on the macabre Hansel/Gretel story line. You've piqued my interest!

And I'll also tell ya now...don't try to figure out Black Hockey Jesus. We love him here at Halushki and on his own blog too ( he seems like a really cool, funny, intelligent super-dad but his "handle" is neither of what you're contemplating. I don't thing...he's very complex and complimenary guy? Read his blog and some of his wife's comments and you'll see what I mean! Funny stuff! BHJ...correct me if I'm wrong or overstepped my boundaries!

Anonymous said...

Although not gruesome, the winner hands down for Scary has to be Mercer Mayer. Mercer Mayer??? you cry!
OK then, how about "There's an Alligator under my bed" (4 year old daughter won't get out of bed once lifted into it), There's a Nightmare in my Closet (she hears monsters behind the closet door. At 2am.) or There's Something in the Attic (And the monsters are going to steal her teddy bear).

It all makes those dancing, prancing Wild Things seem truly tame!

Anonymous said...

You're so right, Mercer Mayer is one sick puppy. I mean really, what is this about terrifying kids without the morality bit at the end? At least the old fairy tales served as cautionary tales...

Anonymous said...

And I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Candy Houses to sell, it's not a series book (which my publisher isn't thrilled about) but I love the story and characters, it's set on an island off the coast of RI and involves witchcraft and other spooky stuff (even the Salem witch trials, going back to your earlier post Krista!)

Jon said...

Ha ha Krista. Verrrrry funny. Listen. Jenna was having a terrible morning when she read that woman's comment about wanting to be on the tip of my tongue. Crass.

Wouldn't you be easily jealous and super protective if you were married to a guy named Black Hockey Jesus?

Well there you go.

But thanks for the nice words and pimping my site to Michelle Gagnon. What if Michelle Gagnon went to my site, thought it was the awesomest thing she ever saw, told her publisher, and I became like Stephen King or Henry Thoreau or some other American Badass like Kid Rock kinda?

It would be because of you Krista. At my Pulitzer acceptance, I would be all "This wouldn't have been possible w/o Krista." What an awesome little fantasy to have in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this has been...interesting. Just kidding, it's been a blast, thanks to Jozet for hosting me and to the rest of you troublemakers for your comments (I still really want to know the origins of the name black hockey jesus, btw. And just so you know, went to your blog, loved it, but have little to no pull with my publisher, sadly. If I could make anyone the next Stephen King, it would be me, I'm just that selfish. Then you would all quake in fear at me, mwa-ha-ha...)
Drum roll please...and the winner of a brand-spanking new & signed copy of my book is: Krista. The comments were all great, so I'm basing this on the fact that she seems really nice and directed me to another cool blog. Yay, Krista!

Krista said...

Thanks Michelle! I'm honored and thrilled!
I'd like to take a moment to thank my family and my hairstylist and my lord and savior jesus christ and my costume designers and my agent...wait...I thought I was at the Grammys for a minute...wrong acceptance speech.
thanks to YOU for a fabulous host-blog and to Jozet for turning us on to you! You have a new host of readers and fans!
It was good, clean fun!

Laraine Anne Barker said...

Thanks for a good chuckle, Michelle. Whatever happened to the simple goal of entertaining children in fiction? No wonder readers of middle grate fiction are all flocking back to Enid Blyton. She didn't write very well (and took ages to come to the point of her story, which as a child really annoyed me) but at least she had no hidden adult agenda.

Brandy Brow said...

My favorite book as a kid was Tales for the Midnight Hour. I still recall The Furry Collar story; it was my favorite and scared me for weeks. Didn't help that I often read it at nighttime. It's interesting to see its been repackaged and is selling now with a sequel on Amazon. However, I wouldn't buy it for my kids!

Great post. :-)

The Building Brows

Anonymous said...
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kathleen duey said...

Thank you, thank you for the great post and the great comments. I laughed out loud and spit tea on my keyboard.

May I be the guest blogger who gets to talk about the Giving Tree?

Anonymous said...

"There was an Old Lady that swallowed a fly"

My two year old and 5 yr old chant over and over the "Perhaps she'll die" part! Oh, and Hansel and Gretel. It's horrible! How can I explain in a rated G manner that the witch burned alive in the oven, the dad chose his wife instead of protecting his children, and the witch was going to EAT Hansel before Gretel saved him!?

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