Idle Parent Manifesto: Bloody Literature for the Young Reader

This is the fourth part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book  The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kid.  Need to get caught up?  You can do so here.

We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals.

If you’re an avid reader as I am, chances are good that you grew up around books.  Your parents read, you were read to, and you were encouraged to read on your own.  We probably all have a cherished book or two from childhood, but do you remember the first book that captivated you because you couldn’t believe it was meant for children?

We had a weathered yellow book of nursery rhymes that my mom read to me.  The book is long gone, but over 30 years later I can still vividly see the illustration that  went along with the rhyme, “Who Killed Cock Robin?”

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

The poem went on to describe the entire burial of cock robin. In case a child were to not fully understand the tragic fall of the bird, the poem was accompanied by a graphic illustration of a very realistic, very dead robin with blood dripping from his wound.  The serial killer sparrow stood by unfazed, while a fish did indeed collect his dripping blood in a china dish.

I also remember a set of cards about animals around the world that must’ve been a “free” gift in the mail with your impending subscription.  Or a garage sale find.  I say this because we only had South America and I’m guessing there were more.  One particular card stands out in memory: the piranha of the Amazon river.  One side of the card delivered your basic piranha facts.  Flip it over for a full-color rendition of a herd of cattle crossing the river only to be torn to bloody shreds by fish fangs.  I stared at that card for hours.

With the wealth of resources we have at our fingertips about parenting today, we are exposed to opinions about what we should read to our children and when.  The never-ending question of parenthood (and what we are continually judged by) also applies to books: Is it appropriate?

Were murdered birds and mutlilated cattle appropriate for a 5-year-old?  Probably not.  But there’s something about a book that is edgy, fantastical, or hilarious that cements a love for words in a child.  It’s like opening the blinds a crack to see what you’re not supposed to see and liking it, and for the rest of your life you know that there are books out there that can do that for you.

I knew that somewhere in those library shelves between “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables” there existed more books like these.  There existed poetry like Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends“, coming-of-age tales like Judy Blume’s “Forever . . .,” tragedy like “Bridge to Terabithia,” fantasy like “The Dark is Rising.”  For many kids, that’s the holy grail that keeps them reading.

The choices in kid’s literature today are both overwhelming and amazing.  There’s a lot of crap out there, and there’s especially a lot of safe crap.  Kids are unflinchingly honest critics and they can see a thinly-veiled moral or teachable moment in bad fiction a mile away.  This won’t instill a love of reading in anyone, much less the generation we’re trying to influence.

The time we have with our children as a captivated audience of words is so short.  Let’s make it as magical, fantastical, and yes, even as bloody as possible.

What are your favorite books you’ve shared with your kids that fit this mold?  Let me know and I’ll share your favorites and mine in a future post!

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