If you’re the parent of young children, you may have found yourself reading a new book aloud to them while simultaneously thinking, “What the hell are my kids going to learn from this?!” Children’s books both new and old are rife with unintentional morals–some of them confusing, some of them annoying, some of them really intensely creepy. Here are seven of the most inappropriate unintentional morals your kids have been learning from their bedtime stories.
1. The Poky Little Puppy, by Janette Sebring Lowrey.
Moral: If you act like a jerk, it’s going to work out in your favor the majority of the time.
This classic Little Golden book is definitely one that needs to get shoved to the back of the bookshelf around when your kids are at the age where they can start understanding words. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, the titular poky puppy and his four siblings sneak out by digging a hole under a fence three days in a row. On the first two days, the non-poky dogs return home by suppertime, but are sent to bed hungry for sneaking out by their angry dog mother. Then the poky puppy comes home after everyone’s asleep, and eats all of their desserts. On the third day, the siblings fill in their hole to prevent further escapes and are rewarded with supper, but the poky little puppy comes home late again and is finally punished by being sent straight to bed.
Mathematically speaking, the poky puppy got to eat his own dessert and all of his siblings’ desserts for two days, and then missed out on one day’s worth of dessert. That’s ten servings of dessert spread out over three days! If your kids are smart, this book is going to tip them off to playing the odds on some strategic misbehavior.
2. Little Polar Bear Finds A Friend, by Hans de Beer.
Moral: Zoos are evil.
This book features a baby polar bear being trapped and kidnapped, then escaping with the help of a walrus and grizzly bear he befriends, from the horrifying fate of being placed in a zoo. This isn’t to say that all zoos are perfect places, but teaching kids that zoos’ conservation and education programs are terrible because that baby polar bear’s mom and dad are worried about his falls on the Scale of Necessity somewhere around a negative twelve.
This book will also teach your kids to be bad at geography, since it features a walrus with two bear cubs on his back swimming from some major metropolis on the coast to the North Pole in a matter of days. Geography does not work that way.
3. Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney.
Moral: Your parents are better than you at everything, so just stop trying.
This book, another children’s classic, features a baby bunny telling his bunny dad how much he loves him in a variety of sweet, creative ways–each of which his dad immediately trumps or one-ups him on. If your response to your child telling you, “Mommy, I love you as high as I can reach!” is to say, “And I can reach even higher, which means that I love you MORE! HA! IN YOUR FACE!” then this book is probably for you.
4. Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney.
Moral: Go f**k yourself, ecology.
Miss Rumphius is one of my favorite books from my childhood, and I bought it for the kids when I was pregnant because I loved it so much. Then I read it again and realized it’s the story of a woman who, in order to bring beautiful to the world, dumps fistfuls of an invasive flower species all over her town. Sorry about the crash in the bumblebee and native bird population everyone, but hey, isn’t the field behind the church pretty now?
5. The Popcorn Dragon, by Jane Thayer.
Moral: If there’s anything special about you, you must hide it away.
Dexter the young dragon learns how to blow smoke, and starts acting like a big smarmy show-off around the other animals who can’t do such tricks. He makes it up to them by making popcorn for them all with his firey-hot dragon breath, but then when he again snorts smoke in excitement rather than in bragging, he gets super-embarrassed and begs their forgiveness. And the book makes it seem like this is the right thing to do. Surely we can teach our kids that there’s a happy medium between being a jerky braggart, or pretending that there’s nothing unique or special about you so that you can blend in with the crowd?
6. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.
Moral: If you really love someone, you’ll let them destroy you to make themselves happy.
You can this book a story of unconditional love if you want. I’m going to call it a seriously unhealthy and literally destructive relationship. Kids, you can love him without letting him cut you to pieces and then walk. Remember that. Please.
7. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff.
Moral: It’s fun to feed vermin.
Maybe I’m biased by the years I spent working with, and being bitten/urinated on by, mice in a laboratory situation. But my first reaction to seeing a mouse is not, “I’d like to share my cookies with that and maybe draw some pictures together!” It’s, “KILL IT WITH FIRE.” (I don’t share my cookies with anyone, let alone a gross rodent.)
(Feature image: Jevtic / iStock / Getty)