The (Updated, Safer!) Cat in the Hat

Hi Readers — A recent note from the frontlines of overprotection:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I spent a few years as an assistant teacher working with kindergarteners and the amount of mollycoddling the school did was ridiculous. We couldn’t read “The Cat and the Hat” without interrupting the story to mention how no real mother would leave their kids alone at home. I thought it was really bizarre. Isn’t the six foot tall bi-pedal talking cat enough of a clue that it’s a made up story?

One of my favorite moments was when one of the teachers was reading a picture book biography of Dr. Martin Luthur King Jr. and skipped the page where it mentioned that he was killed. I was dying to say something and was so pleased that the one bi-racial little boy in the class yelled out “He got shot!” and the teacher had to address it.

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95 Responses to The (Updated, Safer!) Cat in the Hat

  1. magnuminsp February 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    For whatever reason, it seems that some parents have a difficulty separating reality from fantasy.
    I am also, constantly baffled by this inability to tell your children the truth.
    Seems like yet another example of underestimating a childs intelligence.
    They are going to find out the truth on their own anyway, might as well let them know up front!

  2. Dean February 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    Last year in PreK my daughter’s class had lots of animals in it (her teacher works with animals on the side, so various critters came through) and one that had been there in the classroom died. One parent did not want the kids to know the animal died and essentially forbade the teacher to tell the kids. Personally, I think animal death is a very good way to practice for the eventual fact of a loved one’s death, so that made no sense to me.

    Bi-pedal talking cat … hee hee. Not to mention the blue-haired red-suited Things. But right, I am sure kids were otherwise under the impression it was nonfiction.

  3. Kelli February 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Ah yes, treating children like they are fragile AND stupid, that won’t have any bad long term affects will it?

  4. Leah February 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    In my experience kids are actually very matter of fact about death, and it doesn’t make sense to pretend that it doesn’t happen. Of course, we may be taking it a bit too far in my family, where we point out hearses and coffins, and explain that one day we’re all going to die. My 4yo son has established his order of preference for the family deaths: first daddy, then mummy, then him. Hopefully not just yet.

    Of course this is the boy that during the critical part of Bambi where he’s wandering alone in the snow after the hunters shoot his mother, said “Haha, his mummy’s died and she’s going to be a skellington.”

    Matter of fact.

    I will update in 20 years to let you know if the boy turns out to be a serial killer.

  5. B.S.H. February 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Talking about books, I was wondering if you would ever do a post about Harry Potter? Those books are super free range. I mean, a kid breaks his arm in his first flying lesson and nobody bats an eye. Love it! And the game of Quidditch is so dangerous, people DIE from it (though not very often). Can you imagine if that game was real?

  6. dmd February 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Guess I know why so many parents ban their kids from reading Harry Potter! We have loved sharing the series with our son.

  7. Jynet February 2, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    When my grandma died my daughter was 5. They were very close, and in fact my grandma had babysat with my daughter the night before she passed away.

    I am still (11 years later) grateful that the summer before that my daughter had come across a dead vole in our yard, and we had a long talk about death. I can’t imagine the trauma of having to explain that her favourite person had died with her having no idea of “death” was!

  8. jen February 2, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    You mean the cat in the hat is not real? Gosh, what next big foot?

  9. Katherine February 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    I am reading a book titled, Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Boxes, and in it the author touches on how it is good for kids to know REAL emotions. And, learning about death and dealing with those emotions is a part of the natural life and process.

  10. Robin from Israel February 2, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    This astounds me. As someone who grew up in the US I often find that things here in Israel are the opposite end of the spectrum – like the time I was shocked when my then-5 year old came home talking about the Holocaust and asking why Hitler tried to kill all the Jews and did he kill any of our family mom (yes, I had to tell him, he did). Where did he get this? From his kindergarten teacher, it’s part of the curriculum! Now I don’t believe in oversheltering or mollycoddling my kids and I wouldn’t dream of hiding the horrors of the Holocaust from them – when they’re ready to handle it – but something has to be said for doling out information in a measured and age-appropriate manner. A measured, middle of the road, reasonable approach. Not let’s wrap them in permanent bubble wrap, but not shock and awe , the preschool version, either. Whatever happened to common sense and reasonable judgment anyway?

    On a saner note, I was relieved to see that this same child’s now 4th-grade class is not doing the Yad Vashem field trip – that’s only for the 5th and 6th graders. It was decided that it’s too rough on the fourth graders.

    ———————————–
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  11. Mike February 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    Dr. Suess books have a pattern and rythm all their own. Interrupting them with an inane “but a real Mom would not leave” is the stupidest form of inanity.

    Time to ignore the nabobs and just read the book.

  12. Marie February 2, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    In the new Cat in the Hat cartoons, the mother is home and the kids always ask for permission to go out with him.

  13. Hege February 3, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Editing out death and bad parents from our lives, now wouldn’t that be something?
    But since this isn’t possible, hiding it to children to protect them seems short-sighted to say the least.

    I remember as a 5-year-old crying my eyes out after reading the Andersen tale “The little girl with the matchsticks”. And yes, it was gruesome, and yes, it ends badly, but how much poetry and empathy and love of literature that makes you think grew out of that.

    Along the same lines, reading Hansel and Gretel, where 2 kids are abandoned by their forest in the forest to die, touches one of our deepest primoridial fears, a fear that is present in us whether we edit the bad parts of stories or not. I always thought that these stories help us exorcize some of the fear hidden deep within us.

  14. EricS February 3, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    This just proves that some children are much more resilient mentally and emotionally than some parents. They not only understand, but are able to move on much more quickly. They do not dwell. It’s the dwelling that causes most HPs to be and keep on being paranoid. My sister’s dog passed away last summer, my nephew saw him lying there, and before anyone can say or do anything, he said “mama, Zeus is dead.” He was sad, but he didn’t cry. For a couple of days he missed him, we all did. Kept talking of him in the past tense. “Zeus did that, that was Zeus’, Zeus is gone”. By the following week, he had already moved on. While the rest of us was still adjusting to the silence when we walked into my sisters house (Zeus used to greet us all the time at the door).

    Kids learn, and they learn quick. It’s what they learn is the most important part. They can learn how to see the positives in a negative situation, or they can learn to be always negative in any situation.

  15. Ivynettle February 3, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    If anyone’s interested, I wrote a post a while back on Free Ranging and reading: http://ivynettle.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/free-range-bookworm/ (although I had older kids in mind when I wrote that, but I guess what I said about not ‘protecting’ kids from books is true for younger children, too. Yay for the little boy who spoke up!)

  16. Krolik February 3, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Marie, I was just about to mention it too. That show is revolting! I’m sure Dr. Seuss is turning in his grave.

  17. Frau_Mahlzahn February 3, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    @BHS: ***Love it! And the game of Quidditch is so dangerous, people DIE from it (though not very often). Can you imagine if that game was real?

    You don’t have to take it up in the air, just think about skiing, that gets people killed and badly injured all the time…

    So long,
    Corinna

  18. Frau_Mahlzahn February 3, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    P.S.: Just left my kids home alone to go grocery shopping… There were no striped-headed things anywhere in sight, but I _did_ see a cat somewhere along the way.

    So long,
    Corinna

  19. Alexicographer February 3, 2011 at 12:33 am #

    @Dean LOL. We were recently on a road trip where we saw a dead deer strapped to the back of a pickup truck — not the first dead deer we’ve seen or discussed with our preschooler, but the first one that was clearly intentionally killed as opposed to be roadkill. That led to a discussion of whether “mama” (me) would kill a deer and my having to admit that my reluctance to shoot an animal and my willingness to eat meat aren’t exactly in sync.

    I wondered if the parent who didn’t want to discuss animal death is part of a fully vegetarian household, and if not, how they broach that topic. It was my son, not me, who (at 2) brought up the fact that there exist both chickens that we feed (live chickens) and chickens that we eat (dead chickens).

  20. Jen Connelly February 3, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    Hiding the world from your kids isn’t going to keep their “innocence” longer it’s just going to leave confused older kids in it’s wake who have no idea how to deal with the real world when they are tweens/teens (if they are ever allowed to deal with the real world before they are 20).

    I remember a couple years ago I was walking my kids to school (back when my 3rd had just started kindergarten) and I realized it was September 11 and mentioned to them that they’d probably have a little prayer service that day for 9/11 (it was a Catholic school). They remembered what day it was but didn’t really understand why it was important. They were in kindergarten, 1st and 3rd grades and I told them that their teachers probably wouldn’t talk about and then explained (in not so much detail) about what happened to refresh their memories (because they have watched documentaries on the day with me before but you know how those things tend to drift out of their minds after time). My oldest was just a toddler at the time and my second was born a few weeks later so I like to tell them what was going on in my life so they can understand how it effected not just the world but me, personally.
    Of course, the school didn’t talk about why they were having a service, just that something bad happened on that day (the older kids know, since most of them remember) but they don’t want to destroy the innocence of the little kids. I made sure my kids knew but that they should go around talking about it because it might upset their classmates that are guarded like little fragile China dolls (of, course, I didn’t say it so colorfully).

    Luckily, the events around Martin Luther King’s life and death haven’t been scrubbed from the history books at their school. They learned all about it (at least my 3rd and 5th graders, my 2nd grader didn’t really say much on the subject). My son (now 9) is very interested in history so he was carrying on and on about it. He even asked for history books when we do our annual tax return trip to the book store to load up on new reading material.

  21. SKL February 3, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    I’ve always been straightforward with my kids about death. I figure they will eventually have to deal with someone they really care about dying, and wouldn’t it be a huge shock if they didn’t have some clue that nothing in the animal kingdom (including humans) lives forever? At 3 they were regularly asking relatively intelligent questions about dying. They did get rather upset one day when it occurred to them that their mom was sure to die someday. I had to promise to work hard to remain healthy and try my best to live to be 115 years old (that was the compromise we came to). They even remind me about making healthy choices for myself, LOL. But seriously, how can our children trust us if we aren’t honest about those facts of life that we can’t change?

    The other day I mentioned something about some animal “protetion” people killing most of the animals in their care. My 4yo (who misses nothing) demanded to know whether I was being serious or not. An aunty was in the room, trying to deny it. But I stuck to the truth. My kid feels deeply, but she can handle reality, and I believe in respecting her intelligence.

    My kids and I were sick over the past couple of weeks, so we watched some movies together. They included West Side Story and Mother Teresa. My kids are too old for watered-down namby-pamby stuff. I can’t imagine censoring Dr. Seuss when they are old enough for KG! Yikes.

  22. Jenn February 3, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    I am very glad that my parents never sheltered us children from the reality of death. Right from the time we were young (2-3, possibly right from birth) if there was someone the family knew that died, we all attended the funeral. My best friend growing up lost her father her last year of Jr. High. It was the first funeral she had ever attended. While being aware of the reality of death doesn’t lessen the pain of losing someone, it sure helps it to be a less traumatic and confusing experience.

  23. Marie February 3, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    For those grumbling about the Cat in the Hat show, the kids may always ask the ever-present but rarely visible mom for permission, but she lets them go. That’s not too bad an example. Can’t say the rest of the storyline is anything great, but at least they aren’t dragging mom on all their adventures.

  24. Ben February 3, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    I will admit to self-editing the reference in the original Curious George book to smoking a good pipe after dinner, but I’m pretty sure smoking is stupid range rather than free range.

  25. Nanci February 3, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    Slightly off topic but several years ago I worked at a daycare. One day one of the teachers was reading an older book to the kids and the main characters name was Dick. One 5 year old yelled out, she just said a bad word. I tried to explain that it was the kids name, and the boy was shocked that someone would name their kid a bad word!

  26. mvb February 3, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    we passed a group of wild turkeys on the way to daycare this morning, so stopped to look. My son piped up with “we can eat turkeys, right?”. that’s my boy!

    on a sadder note, he also informed me that you’re not allowed to hug or kiss your friends at daycare (he’s 3 for chrissake)… need to check w/ the teacher on THAT one.

  27. RobynHeud February 3, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    I was reading by the time I was four and not just the “I Can Read” books, but anything I could get my hands on. There was a bookcase in the basement that was stocked with all manner of books and I would read everything from the original fairy-tales and nursery rhymes to child development books. I’m not saying that I understood everything I read, but I knew the difference between fact and fiction, and I think most kids do as well.

    One mom I talked to didn’t want to let her 9 yo daughter read past the 3rd book in the Harry Potter series, since someone died in the 4th book. I told her that she couldn’t base it on the content of the book, but on the maturity level of her daughter. If she’s the type to internalize everything she reads as the gospel truth, then yeah, maybe wait a few years. But if the daughter understands the difference between a good book and reality, there’s no harm in it. Besides, it’s hard to stop a kid from reading a book she wants to read, especially when it’s stocked in the school library.

    Also, I like to think that when a child reads or hears The Cat in the Hat read to them (uncensored/edited) they’re not sitting there freaking out inside because mom’s not anywhere to be found. I also feel that this isn’t so much a case as protecting the children, but trying to keep from giving them ideas, such as, yes, there are many things you can do without grown-ups around. That’s probably part of the reason (among many) The Great Brain series was pulled from school curriculums.

  28. pentamom February 3, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    But Ben, why is it necessary to edit out the fact that even nice people do in fact do (and in the past, have done more) things that you wouldn’t want them to do? People do stuff. Knowing they do it, isn’t the problem. Making sure that by the time your kids have access to things like pipes, they know it’s not the smartest thing to do, is much more important than preventing them from knowing that otherwise likable people do such things.

  29. pentamom February 3, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    I mean, I’m sure you DO teach them that it’s not good for them, so I don’t think it’s necessary to edit it out from every passing reference in storybooks.

  30. EricS February 3, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    On an side note, regarding teaching children, and how much they pick up and how quickly.

    http://ca.news.yahoo.com/video/us-22424932/3-year-old-saves-mom-by-dialing-911-24034875.html

    If they can learn something as positive as this so quickly, what more the negative things paranoid parents teach them. After all fear is one of most driving forces that control us.

  31. becky February 3, 2011 at 3:01 am #

    If they’re trying to protect children from learning about death, then maybe they shouldn’t teach about Jesus? Or Abraham or Cain and Abel or so many of the stories in the Bible.

    My three year olds love my “four little ponies of the apocalypse” shirt and we go through them. My daughter has it down, “That one is War, she likes to fight. That one is hungry. That one is the Antichrist and is mean, and that one is dead.” Which one is your favorite? “The dead one! She has a SKULLLLLLLLLLL.”

    My dad is a hunter and has a few deer heads up on the wall and the kids are in love. They want to play with the heads and antlers. We walk in the room and they scream in joy, “DEAD DEERS! Can you get it for me?” Then they play with the glass eyes.

  32. SKL February 3, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    Nanci – I always wondered how the “Dick and Jane” books would go over in modern times. I don’t think my kids know “Dick” sounds like a bad word – but then nobody in my house ever uses that particular word.

    On a similar note, my 4yo has been dancing around singing “I’m so pretty, and witty, and GAY!” (Inspired by a song in West Side Story.) Not sure how that’s going to go over in preschool either . . . .

  33. sue February 3, 2011 at 3:08 am #

    This reminds me of how the nursery rhyme of the old woman who lived in a shoe has been changed to fit our PC times. The original last line was, “And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.” The new, sanitized version is, “And she kissed them all sweetly and sent them to bed.”

    In “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,” the kids are alone again, but they know the difference between right and wrong. They tell the cat that he shouldn’t be engaging in his mischief because of the mess that their mother will find when she returns. The mother in the book obviously feels that the kids are mature enough to stay by themselves and not destroy the house. Can you imagine if the kids in that book had a helicopter mom? Yikes!

    Going a bit off topic…A few years ago a friend of mine gave me Diane Ravich’s “The Language Police.” In that book there are several chapters about which words and situations are allowed in US school textbooks. There is pressure from both the Left and Right about what can go into the books. For example, the Right doesn’t want any stories about single parent families, homosexual characters, atheists, or divorced parents with blended families. The Left wants equal representation of gender and race in all stories. Gender and racial stereotypes are also not allowed. When I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, my school books had stories with Mother baking cookies or cleaning the house while Dad went to work. The daughters helped Mother in the kitchen, while the sons helped Father fix the car. Now Mom must carry a briefcase and Dad should wield the vacuum cleaner. Also, African-Americans can’t be shown doing sports or as entertainers, and Asians can’t be shown sitting at a computer or in a science lab. People with any sort of handicap must be shown overcoming it.

    Ravich also tells about how old classics have become sanitized. If you want to find an original version of a classic story, you need to find one that was published before 1970. In a recent printing of “Huckleberry Finn,” the word “nigger” has been replaced with “slave.” I read an older version of Huck Finn to my son with the word “nigger” in it, explained what it meant, and then explained why it’s considered offensive now.

  34. SKL February 3, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    Yeah, sue, I read those same books as a kid. Imagine my shock when I grew up and went to work in a very male-oriented field, became a single trans-racial parent by adoption, and whatever else those books should have prevented me from doing. Kids are NOT STUPID (unless we keep them in a stupid box!).

  35. SKL February 3, 2011 at 3:14 am #

    Oh, my kids’ first movie “in the theater” was Marley and Me, around their 2nd birthdays. I was actually surprised that my youngest really understood what was going on, and teared up a little when they were putting Marley to sleep. I mentioned this on some online community, and I was told it was child abuse to let my child watch something so sad! Oh, my.

  36. Stevie Taylor February 3, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    Remember that the way we speak of death (or don’t speak of it) doesn’t just teach (or fail to teach) children what death is. It also teaches them how to react to death. If we, as adults, teach them that death is too scary to even be mentioned or discussed then we are doing them a great disservice. By removing any concept of danger or death or even sketchy circumstances from real life or fiction, we not only leave them thinking it doesn’t happen, but that it cannot be prevailed or overcome. (Obviously I don’t mean overcoming death by coming back to life, but managing to live through a sad or scary experience and succeed).

    Joseph Campbell does great work with analyzing storytelling throughout many cultures—and there are many scary stories out there including the old-school violent and frightening Grimm fairy tales. One of the reasons he finds children aren’t traumatized or scarred by such tales is that they strongly identify with the main character who, eventually, comes out on top. So the hero’s success is well worth the fear and uncertainty of the story.

    Since real life can be an even better example of triumph over adversity—MLK,Jr inspired us to end segregation, families of 911 victims acted a symbols of courage and determination to a nation, Aunt Carrie wept over the death of her pet but later learned to laugh when sharing a favorite memory or looking at a photograph of that pet, Grandma died but left us an incredible recipe for blackberry pie that we still make together every summer, etc, etc.

    Death, dying, fear, and uncertainty are an intimate part of the human experience. We don’t need to shelter children from all aspects of it all of the time.

  37. Cheryl W February 3, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    At my house, “The Cat in the Hat” is what we discuss about why friends can’t be at the house “when mom is not there”. (Or asleep.) Because we have seen how when friends come over, that they want to do things that are not allowed, and how my kids have to be firm and enforce the rules or the friends will not be over again.

    As to death…we have ducks and geese. To my kids, they are pets. (The mostly outside variety of pet.) But, they do get old, and they do get sick and sometimes they die. My sons are pretty calm about it, a few tears, and, we will miss them. My daughter is very dramatic, and I am sure the whole neighborhood knows when one dies. But, it is all a learning experience, and I will let them all morn in their own way.

    Dad is a hunter, and we have a rule in our family, that we do not kill an animal unless we are going to eat it. At one point all the kids were doing things like squishing bugs (that could have been food for the ducks) or pulling off legs (just to see what happens. ) I told them if they killed a bug, they had to eat it. All the bug killing stopped. (We do have a different rule for bugs that are not where they belong – outside – or flies that sit on poop.)

  38. Sara February 3, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    I still have my own copy of Danny and the Dinosaur circa 1970, so I recently compared it to the current version, page by page. I was curious if anything had changed, since Danny and his friends are actually allowed to play outdoors alone (horrors!)

    The only change was that in the scene where Danny, riding on the dinosaur, gets tangled up in electrical wires (in the original), those wires had been changed to a clothesline. Because God forbid a real, modern child should go out for a ride ON HIS DINOSAUR and think it’s safe to touch the electrical wires.

    Must compare Fire Cat some day. Maybe it’s now called “Slightly Warmer Than Comfortable But Still Perfectly Harmless” Cat.

  39. SKL February 3, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    “If you have to kill a bug, you have to eat it” – I love this!! I too don’t like killing even bugs for no good reason. My kids know where meat comes from and that is why we don’t ever waste it (unless it is truly inedible). But when it comes to bugs, I am in the minority. Even their ex-nanny refused to stop teaching the kids to stomp ants, etc. Gratuitous killing and cruelty, making a joke of death – that type of thing doesn’t sit well with me, and my kids will learn that.

  40. Tara February 3, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    Personally I DO appreciate that the new Cat in the Hat (Knows a lot about that) has the kids ask Mom’s permission before leaving. I don’t mind a little adventure, but I’d like to know that my kids are leaving the property!

  41. Sky February 3, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    I loved the sanatized nursery ryhmes my child brought home from public school last year.

    Two favorites:

    The Old Woman who lived in the shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do? Well, “She kissed them all sweetly” and sent them to bed.

    And Little Jack Horner, sitting in the corner, eating his Christmas pie? NO! Not a CHRISTMAS pie! That could offend the non-Christians! Because of course religious minorities are all offended by the mere mention of the fact that some people celebrate Christmas. So that had to be changed to “cherry” pie. Which produced an interesting effect. Little Jack Horner stuck in a thumb and pulled out a PLUMB from his CHERRY pie…

  42. maggie February 3, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    Leah – Don’t worry! It’s just not your kids. Our dog passed away this summer and after we buried him (right after, as in 30 seconds after) my younger daughter was scoping out a spot to bury our as of yet undead cat, because she can’t get her kitten until the older cat passes away. My children made a gravestone for the dog and regularly have get togethers with the neighbor kids on his grave, being sure to include the “ghost” dog. Death is a part of life. Everything living dies. Kids need to learn this in a thoughful , sensitive way. It sounds as if your son has the right idea. The world will always need future morticians!!:)

  43. maggie February 3, 2011 at 5:22 am #

    Oh Ben, Ben, Ben…..Do you hide the picture of Mr. Dog smoking his pipe, too?

  44. Jennifer February 3, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    I showed my kids (7 and 8) an animated version of “The Little Match Girl” the other day, and the ending had been changed so that the girl wasn’t really dead! I kept saying “She’s supposed to die! She’s supposed to die!”

    Yes, people die. Protecting children from the fact seems both misguided and ineffective.

  45. Jennifer February 3, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    Ack, my 8 with a close parenthesis got made into a smiley.

  46. culdesachero February 3, 2011 at 5:45 am #

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
    All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
    QUICKLY put Humpty together again.

    I know someone who tells this version to their kids. (Don’t even talk to them about cradles in tree tops.) Well, I said, it keeps the rhyme and rhythm but totally misses the point of the story. You mean to tell me that you know how to put a broken egg back together?

  47. nonnie February 3, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    Tara – if you want them to let you know they’re leaving, don’t rely on the book to set that example. Teach them yourself.

  48. se7en February 3, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    That is just classic!!! I bet they never ever read fairy tales… can you imagine!!!

  49. Dawn February 3, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    Ack! Sanitizing books drives me NUTS! I read anything I could at a very young age. If I didn’t understand it I either ignored it or asked (depended, usually, on if the information was critical to the story or not). A few years ago, looking for some reading on the trip home, I bought the Mary Poppins books while at a Big Amusement Park in Florida. I was horrified and upset to find they had been written to be more PC, and left them there…in the circular file.

    My kids, too, were allowed to read whatever, whenever. I never censored their reading. If it brought up awkward questions, then so be it.

    WARNING: sexual words follow.

    (It’s still a family treasure that my eldest, at age 6, having read “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives” asked at the dinner table,(inlaws, adult cousins, aunts and uncles all around) asked innocently, “Mommy, what’s cunnilingus?”

    While the other adults choked on their foods, I calmly told her I would let her know after dinner; that it wasn’t dinner table conversation. Having grown up in a house where some stuff wasn’t discussed at the table (due to tender tummies that tended to rebel against frank medical/surgical discussions), she was fine with that answer, knowing I would (and did) keep my promise. Her reaction to the information? “That’s gross!”

    The book DID explain what it was but she didn’t understand the book at that age and needed mommy’s interpretation.

  50. North of 49 February 3, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    @dawn My 6 year old recently bounced up to daddy dearest and said “daddy, what’s a bajina?” He told her as quick as possible what it was but that wasn’t good enough so off to mommy and I got the same question. *sigh* the joys of body parts.

    Trust me, folks, what I plan on doing when each of my kids turns 13/gets their period (whatever comes first) is going to thoroughly either embarrass or freak the kid out, or (hopefully) they’ll love it. Most parents would freak, but when I did it for one mother when asked, I was “the coolest auntie in the world.” Sometimes the parents just don’t have the ability to say what the kid needs to hear about their bodies and needs another adult.

  51. oncefallendotcom February 3, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    The original Looney Tunes had gunplay, cross-dressing, smoking, alcohol, and toons getting blown up/ smashed with boulders/ run over by buses. It didn’t mess up our parents that much did it? They grew up on that stuff.

    Today, we’re trying to shield them from death yet the kiddies will go hope and pop in Call of Duty Black Ops or Resident Evil 5 and see people blown to bits.

    This is the time when we need one of those rolling eyes emoticons.

  52. JP Merzetti February 3, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    gee, when I was 11, I started reading James Baldwin (my mom left them lying around) and when I was 12, I uncovered my dad’s copy of the Perfumed Garden from one of the bookshelves…
    Huck Finn and Uncle Remus preceded them both…
    The attitude was entirely that wisdom and illumination arrives eventually, with a little patience, and the road along the way consists of ever-shallower potholes (filled in by knowledge gained beforehand.)
    Should the works of Lewis Carroll be banned because of alleged indiscretions on the part of hapless Mr. Dodgeson? Only Alice ever knew for sure…
    But in the meantime, the world still gained a thing of lasting beauty.
    “whilst attempting to protect the lamb from a bee sting, the wolf came by and devoured her.”

  53. JP Merzetti February 3, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    oh my – Dawn, you have my respect and admiration entirely.
    Brilliantly and deftly handled. I would hope to be half as adept.
    I almost choked on my dessert reading your description (it’s lunchtime here) ………kids can sure keep us on our toes – but the fascination always resides with the innocence of their questions.
    The choking……was from laughter.

    I remember – at the age of 4 or 5 asking my father what thunder was. I got five minutes of electromagnetic mumbo jumbo. It sounded……..interesting.
    At some later time, I asked my grandfather the same question. His answer?
    That’s the angels, bowling.

    I liked grandpa’s answer a whole lot better.

    cheers,
    jp

  54. Teacher February 3, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    From my perspective as a teacher who gets a scant 30 minutes per week during which I’m expected to teach your children how to sing, dance, play instruments, and to understand and appreciate the arts, I go to great lengths to avoid using books/songs/poetry or chants that have any potential at all for causing offense.
    This is not because I want to “protect” the children – it’s because I simply don’t have enough face-time with the kids to justify spending an additional five minutes having a discussion that puts the potentially offensive words or pictures in context. Those minutes should be used for more valuable activities. Not to mention, the last thing I need is for a child to misunderstand a song and then sing an out-of-context, potentially offensive line when they get home to their family. Seven days later, the child has forgotten the whole thing – but I will have lost that family’s support for our program, and most likely will never know it.

    Not worth the risk, if you ask me.

  55. bmj2k February 3, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    No wonder I can’t order green eggs and ham at my local diner. I wish my teacher had told me more about the real world.

    When the time comes when children need to be protected from Dr. Seuss then someone needs a serious wakeup call.

    Seuss made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind, stating that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off.” He gave the kids a lot more credit than their school does.

  56. Steve February 3, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    I admit that I got such a laugh at this post. Not that Dr. King was shot, but a kindergartner was smarter than this specific teacher and mentioned the reality of history. Looks like even kindergartners can smarter than we give them credit for! A part of me now does have hope for our kids and future haha!

  57. Tara February 3, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Nonnie, I do teach them to tell me when they’re taking off. I’m just glad it’s reinforced in one of their favorite shows.

  58. Larry Harrison February 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    What is interesting to me, and maybe I’m showing my ignorance: how is Dora the Explorer, a modern cartoon, so popular, if the powers-that-be are so big on children staying at home playing video games because “the outdoors is too dangerous?”

    LRH

  59. Metanoia February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    @sky – I think in my country Jack Horner has eaten “pudding and pie” for around 30+ years. That is what I learnt as a kid.

  60. Me February 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    “mollycoddling” may be my favorite word now. And any time my child expects me to do something for them I’m going to reply “ohhhh I am NOT mollycoddling you” and then giggle.

    I do want to know where Ruby and Max’s parents are but that’s just because I find them obnoxious and I want the parents to come home and turn off the camera. What do you mean those aren’t real home videos? DON’T LIE TO MEEEEE.

    (sorry, I’m in Chicago, I have Blizzard Brain.)

  61. oncefallendotcom February 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I think we NEED to expose kids to the reality of death. Watching a guy get dismembered on “Saw” or shot in Halo 3 is not the same as understanding the true finality of death.

    There is little empathy as it is now, and part of it has come from virtual reality, the internet, and other things that separate us from reality. We are so busy sparing kids from pain they lack understanding of the concept of pain. Think about this– do you know what we call adults who are deficient in the understanding of pain and death? We call them “psychopaths.”

  62. SKL February 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Last night my 4yo was looking at some old photos of my friend, the divorcee. She happened upon wedding photos. “This is your husband? Why aren’t you going to meet him any more?” Auntie figured out a way to blow it off. And frankly I was glad, because I did not want to have a conversation about divorce with my 4yo after her bedtime.

    But, the day will come when she will come out and ask, “what is divorce” and 100 follow-up questions. Just like she asked about suicide when she was 3. Gotta love preschoolers!

    There are some things I keep for when they are older. Like certain details about their birth families. Some things I simply don’t have straightforward answers for. But most likely, even these things will be discussed before they go to KG.

  63. Virginia February 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    My kids have a children’s bible which says “and Jesus went away”. Kind of destroys one of the central tenets of Christianity.

  64. bequi February 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    My husband and I were just talking about the rewriting of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn. I feel like you really lose something in the story when they take out the “N-word.” It ruins the context of the book. The language Mark Twain used was historically accurate for that location.

    I just want to know when they’ll start editing old movies and TV shows. I mean, shouldn’t they do something about Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?!

  65. Jane February 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    @SKL, when I worked in day care teaching 2-year-olds, my coworker wouldn’t even say the word “gay”, she would spell it out like you would spell out C-A-N-D-Y so the kids wouldn’t know what we were talking about. Because, you know, even hearing the word would taint their little 2-year-old minds.

    And it’s probably best not to let kids read Harry Potter. Then they’ll all come away thinking that ALL children with prophecies hanging over their heads will have their parents killed by an evil wizard. Much too scary. Best stick to wholesome things like Bratz dolls.

  66. KLY February 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Jane, LOL @ the Bratz Dolls. Yeah, I never could wrap my head around just why *those* were acceptable, while so much of the stuff from my own childhood was now considered too dangerous/offensive. Apparently, we should protect our children from the horrors of the real world and let them, instead, drift safe and snug in a fantasy world of trashy fashion, bad make-up and extreme materialism. Except, you know, that part where they then think that is the real world and act it out as they get older.

    I never hesitated at the idea of sending my daughter to public school, and never believed homeschooling was the best thing for her (she is a particularly social learner, plus I believe in the life lessons other than just academics that being in school can provide)… but I had a few Moments when she was a little younger, when I came across some of the attitudes about just what literature and such our children needed to be shielded from. The restrictions on what books the teachers could have in the classroom bothered me in a few cases, and spending time volunteering in the library, I discovered just what hoops had to be gone through to get a book approved for in there. I brought up a few I loved as a kid, and the (wonderful) librarian just shook her head and said “Nope. Not allowed.” to pretty much all of them. It made me sad, since I had discovered most of them in *my* elementary school library.

    There were also some teachers who, beyond even the school board policies, would not allow their students to check out books *they* thought above their age level or not age appropriate. Even if the child had their parents’ permission. And one teacher, who I otherwise liked very much, would actually do things like *spoil* the Tragic Moment in “Little Women” whenever one of her students checked it out, because she thought it better than to let the children be surprised by it and get too upset. My daughter was not in that grade level (and now she is at a different school), but I did warn the teacher just *how* upset I would be if my child found out even indirectly through her, before she had a chance to discover it for herself.

    My daughter likes the books that make her sad. I understand this, as one of my favorite reading moments was when I discovered “The Little Match Girl” around kindergarten. I am also against the “sanitized” versions of any fairy tale (technically, the Grimm collections were already sanitized by time they reached the published version we know, by the brother’s Grimm, themselves) or nursery rhyme. I collect books of these things, and will often comb through clearance shelves at the used books stores picking up older, illustrated versions. This is how I built my daughter’s collection. It is also why she grew up with a complete collection of the original Mother Goose rhymes, plus a lot of non-disney’d fairy tales. She refers to the original Little Mermaid as not only the “real” version, but as the “good” one, as well. (She was told that she couldn’t share that version with her friends in class, though, by a teacher. I do not fault the teacher, however, as I know exactly what she would have been facing if the kids had gone home and told their parents what they read in school.)

    But I worry that my used/old book buying ways can’t keep up with all the things I want to hold on to for her, as I read all the time about yet more of the old children’s books and classics that are getting “updated” make-overs. They can’t even leave something as simple as Nancy Drew alone. I think about the stories that were in some of my reading books back in school, and I realize that none of them could be used anywhere near a classroom, and I see all these other books becoming sanitized and made acceptably PC. I want my child to have access to the original versions of things, as they were written in their original context.

    “No, sweetie… it isn’t really that the world has changed all that much. It’s just that you’re not allowed to know about it, anymore.”

    Uhg.

  67. Julia February 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    I just have to say that when I was little The Cat In The Hat freaked me the h@ll out. But then I also once dreamed of a murderous snowman and waking up to see only the large twitching ears of the easter bunny at my second floor window when I was a kid.

  68. SKL February 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    Virginia, I looked and looked for a kids’ Bible or storybook that had the actual story of Easter in it. Even the ones that were ABOUT Easter just talked about how wonderful God and church are. My kids (then 3) had watched Jesus Christ, Superstar, which gets into a lot of the “gory details” but leaves out the resurrection, so I wanted them to hear the complete account from somewhere besides Mom’s mouth. Finally I found the story in a book geared to kids much older than mine.

  69. SKL February 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    Oh, and my dad chided me for letting my kids watch JCSS at age 3. They are none the worse for wear, though. They loved the soundtrack and listened to it until they had it memorized. It inspired many really good questions. No regrets here.

  70. SKL February 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Cont’d – But in the interst of full disclosure, my youngest would leave the room for the “beating” scene. Which to me means she is not being “desensitized” by knowing of an actual bad event – partly because I didn’t play it down. It was indeed horrible; hopefully nobody enjoys the thought of torture.

  71. nona February 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Kids can handle so much more than we think they can. A lot of them really like spooky, scary stuff– I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline to kids as young as five, and they loved it, button eyes and all. Of course, that did lead to one little girl asking me, in front of her mom, “Does the other mother want to eat Coraline?” and her mother giving me a ‘what on earth are you reading my child’ look.

  72. Uly February 3, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    My kids have a children’s bible which says “and Jesus went away”. Kind of destroys one of the central tenets of Christianity.

    Went away? WENT AWAY?

    My mind, it is boggled.

  73. RareRoastBeef February 4, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    I once accompanied my niece to a local playground – yes, a single man in his 30s, escorting a six-year-old girl to a place where children gather – where she promptly climbed to the top of a play structure and yelled something that sounded very much like “Heil Hitler”, accompanied with the appropriate salute. It seems she had seen a few scenes from a movie with some Second World War German soldiers in it – it may have been The Sound Of Music, actually. It provided a pretty good opportunity for a brief history lesson and an explanation of why we do not say some things out loud, in public.

  74. SKL February 4, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    RareRoastBeef, LOL! My kids are huge fans of SOM also. My youngest was obsessed with Nazis for a while. And recently, when I showed her some photos of a trip I took to Germany before her birth, her comment was, “but there are Nazis in Germany!” Yes, sometimes they say something that surprises others. But frankly, I’d rather it be that than some of the stuff I’ve heard others say – e.g., “look how fat that lady’s butt is, I bet she has a huge baginer.” (Maybe they were right when they said “children should be seen and not heard!)

  75. Sally February 4, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    The Cat in the Hat show really cracks me up because they so intentionally ask the mom. Also, between Curious George show, they say “George is a monkey and he can do things you can’t do…” So silly, any kids with any sense would know these are not real. No one would keep leaving George in charge of things with his horrible track record

  76. pentamom February 4, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    Whoever published that children’s Bible storybook and is making money on it is basically stealing.

  77. Sera February 4, 2011 at 1:16 am #

    On the note of hiding death from children, here is a phenomenon from sunny Australia that creeps me the fuck out.

    You guys have all heard of Steve Irwin, yes? The crocodile guy? He was killed by a stingray in ’06.

    For at least a year or two now, his preteen daughter, Bindi, has been doing a kids’ wildlife TV show.

    During the show, clips of Steve doing various things with animals are shown – and Bindi narrates.

    “My dad is…”
    “My dad is going to…”
    “The [animal] is frightened of my dad…”

    All present tense. This TV show was made after his death.

    Ergh.

    I think it is very important that children are taught about death and mortality as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the concept. Why? Children, little boys in particular, are prone to killing animals for fun. They need, then, to understand the solid finality of death and why they should avoid inflicting it on other creatures unless necessary.

  78. Morgan February 4, 2011 at 3:39 am #

    My twin nephews (whose father is an avid deer hunter) were 6-ish when their great-grandmother died. Upon hearing the news, one of them asked “So, whose gonna skin Nannie?” His logic being that since she was ‘done’ with her body and her soul was going to heaven, it must be someone’s job to set her free.

    Were they sad? Sure. But kids understand death in their own way … and to them, it’s usually NOT scary. It just … is.

  79. maggie February 4, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    Morgan, I’m sorry, but I had to laugh! What a child’s way of looking at things!

  80. Morgan February 4, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    Maggie – Are you kidding?! I’m glad you laughed … it’s FUNNY. 😉

  81. Celeste February 4, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    My preschooler has dealt with death twice now: The first was a dead deer on the side of the road last summer. She was more fascinated than saddened by it. The second was a touch more traumatic. Our cat got caught in the garage door and was killed. My daughter was with us when we found her. That was last August and my daughter still asks about it frequently. She’s still coming to terms with the fact that we’ll never see our kitty again.

    I was horrified by the sudden death of our beloved pet and truly wish my daughter hadn’t seen her when we found her, but since I can’t change those things, I’m grateful she’s had the experiences while she was young and while she had family around to help her through it. I know now that she’s tougher than she looks.

  82. Becca O February 4, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Off topic, the scariest children’s book I have ever read was given to my kids by there grandma. “Love you forever” has a very sweet theme were no matter what the kid does mom still loves him, rocks him and sings to him. The scary part is that she apparently feels the need to drive across town and break into his house and do this when he is an adult. CREEPY!!!!

  83. free range teen February 4, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    Let’s not forget “The Little Engine that Could.” Any ‘real’ mother would have been around to see him struggling up the hill, and then would have proceeded to get behing him and push him up the hill, because as we all know children should never encounter challenges or frustration.

  84. Dawn February 4, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    @KLY: keep an eye on ebay for original versions of books you loved as a kid, or paperbackswap.com (which is more than paperbacks).

    I have most of my old books, and a collection of “My Book House” from the 1930’s which has the VERY unPC version of Little Black Sambo in it. My kids could read them at will, and did. But then, my kids learned early the difference between fact and fiction. They have their own favorite types of reading, and have often introduced me to books by newer authors that I would not have discovered on my own.

    Parents: let your kids roam through a book store or library and read whatever they choose. You and they will be better for it!

  85. Uly February 4, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Off topic, the scariest children’s book I have ever read was given to my kids by there grandma. “Love you forever” has a very sweet theme were no matter what the kid does mom still loves him, rocks him and sings to him. The scary part is that she apparently feels the need to drive across town and break into his house and do this when he is an adult. CREEPY!!!!

    What’s really funny is that the people who like LYF tend not to like the author’s other books.

    Of course, if you read his books, they all have that same over-the-top humor where ridiculous things happen and get more and more absurd. Like, in one a girl’s parents rush off to the hospital to have their baby, but they go to the zoo and bring home an alligator instead. And then a seal, and then a gorilla, and it’s up to the little girl to save the day.

    It works in his funny books, but in LYF (apparently written after his wife’s miscarriage, so… yeah) it’s creepy as heck. Except to the ones who think it’s “sweet” – they seem to think his other books are “scary”.

  86. SuzyQ February 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    Sad, sad, sad. Apparently children aren’t allowed silliness for silliness’ sake anymore. When my kids were little, we made a joke of stuff like this…we’d read a page, laugh, and say, “could a cat REALLY do that?”

    Funny story, when I was teaching preschool (3-year-olds), I had a very worried parent contact me. She wanted to talk to me about a little boy in our class, David, who was very poorly behaved. She was worried about the long-term effect this beastie child would have on her little darlin’. Naturally, I invited her in–and very confusedly told her we didn’t have a student named David in our class. I asked Mom to give me a little more info on David so I could put the pieces together. Finally, I went to the book rack and pulled out “No, David!” (by David Shannon). I explained to Mom that, when we read this story, we always talk about appropriate behaviors. *me, with a smile on my face, rolling my eyes* “Do we EVER run down the street with no clothes on?” *10 3-year-olds, giggling gleefully* “Noooooooo!!!” They KNEW David was pretend, and that even nice little kids sometimes do things their mommies or daddies don’t like, but that their mommies or daddies love them anyway.

    Kids aren’t stupid–just ignorant until taught. (“Ignorant” does not mean rude. It means lacking education.) If kids aren’t exposed fiction and fantasy, they are lacking something needed in childhood (creative play is somewhat reliant on this). Their sense of humor could very well be lacking later in life if we want them to have some understanding of sarcasm, paradox, etc. If they don’t learn to see the absurdity in “The Cat in the Hat,” how are they going to learn to see absurdity in their daily lives? (As in sanitizing TCITH so that we know good mommies never leave their kids…DUH! And how judgmental.)

  87. Taradlion February 4, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    A CAT around the kids, oh please?
    Animals can spread DISEASE!

    What’s worse, oh no, the CAT could die,
    And THAT would make the children cry.

    That cat could not, should not stay a while,
    ‘cuz he could be a pedophile!

  88. SKL February 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    How will our kids develop a sense of humor if they are never allowed to hear/read stuff that isn’t completely plausible and PC? Personally I think the development of a sense of humor is my #1 job as a parent. It has saved me from ruin many times!

  89. perica1981 February 5, 2011 at 5:43 am #

    The thing that’s struck me as I’ve been reading The Cat in the Hat to my two-year-old is that, when it was written, it was probably entirely realistic that the school-age kids would be left alone while the mom did errands or something.

    And when The Cat in The Hat was written, kids would be bored out of their minds on rainy days because they’d have to STAY INSIDE and that would SUCK.

    The Curious George thing – George is a monkey, so he can do things kids can’t! – always strikes me as hilarious, and I always respond, “George is a CARTOON and therefore DOES things kids SHOULDN’T!” Should we really be teaching kids that monkeys are more competent than human kids? :-)

  90. Dee February 5, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    @perica1981 Yeah, I’ve mentioned here before that my son is a big fan of the Erza Keats books about Peter (Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie) which have a very young boy basically wandering around an urban city on his own, while his mom is at home but not hovering over him. And back when the books were written, that was a normal kid.

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