Thursday, 9 September 2010

Are some picture books too "creepy" in their message?

How carefully do you think about the underlying message in some of the picture books you read to young children? An article by Lisa Belkin in the New York Times Magazine yesterday caught my eye (via Achuka Blog) - Children’s books you (might) hate. It started with a discussion of The giving tree, by Shel Silverstein, about a boy and a tree who are friends, but the boy takes everything form the tree. To quote Belkin: "For the next 60 pages that little boy takes and takes and takes from the tree — selling her apples when he needs money, chopping off her branches when he needs shelter, cutting down her trunk when he needs a boat to sail far away. In the end, the boy is an old man, and he comes back to the tree and sits on her. Which, we are told, makes her happy." She asks if this is a good message, that you can keep taking without giving back. This leads on to further examples such as Marcus Pfister's Rainbow fish, about a beautiful fish who gives away all his scales, which could be read as a warning not to be unique or different. The article provoked lively discussion with lots of suggestions in the comments of books people disliked for similar reasons.

We have both the books mentioned above in the Library, multiple copies in the case of Rainbow fish which is always popular. When I checked this morning, The giving tree was out and also has an active loan history. So are Belkin and the others she quotes over-analysing? Or, if they are right but children like the books anyway, should we just let them get on with enjoying them? What do you think?

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