Mommy, Why Do the Kids in this Picture Book Get to Walk Around on their Own?

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This enbynkrznk
comes up a lot — the disconnect between the adventure in children’s books and the reality of kids’ lives today. The mom who wrote this (now edited down) post blogs at listentograce. She, her fighter pilot husband, and their tot Sean live in South Carolina.

Safety vs. Freedom, by Meredith

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Last night I read A Pocketful of Cricketby Rebecca Caudill, to Sean as a bedtime story. For the most part he tends to be more interested in watching my face than in looking at the pictures, because he’s a baby. But anyway:

A Pocketful of Cricket is a very sweet story about a little boy named Jay who finds a cricket on his way home from bringing in the cows. He makes it his friend, and ends up bringing it with him on his first day of school. In Jay’s pocket, Cricket starts fiddling, “Chee, chee,” and when Teacher realizes that Jay is the one with the cricket, she asks him to put it outside.

If he does that, says Jay, he won’t be able to find him again. “You could find another cricket, couldn’t you?” asked Teacher. Jay shook his head. “It wouldn’t be this one,” he said.

Teacher realizes that Cricket is not just any old cricket, he is Jay’s friend, so she asks Jay to bring Cricket up and talk about him for Show-and-Tell.

I remember my mom reading A Pocketful of Cricket to my brother and sister and me, so of course there are special memories attached. But I couldn’t help thinking about several other things after we were through: Jay is six years old. In the story, it’s his job to walk down a lane, wade across a creek, walk through a cornfield, and climb over a rail fence into the cow pasture to bring home the cows every evening. The story also mentions that he can whittle, which means he has a pocket knife. He puts himself to bed at night. On his first day of school, he meets the bus by himself at the mailbox at the end of the road. When he gets to school, the driver tells him where to go. He introduces himself to the teacher.

And he’s six years old. Given the media and CPS frenzy that ensued when a ten year old and his six year old sister walked home from the park, I wondered if anyone who freaks out at the idea has ever read classic children’s books. Remember Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona? Those kids were out walking and riding their bicycles all over town. They were building clubhouses (with real hammers and nails and old boards!!) and earning money by having paper routes. One of my favorite series, by Elizabeth Enright, features the Melendy family. It’s set during World War II, and in the first book thirteen year old Mona, twelve year old Rush, and ten-and-a-half year old Randy individually traipse around New York City. When their six-year-old brother Oliver imitates them and goes by himself to the circus and gets lost, of course everyone panics a bit, but a policeman finds him and brings him home, none the worse for wear. There is no Child Protective Service investigation.

When I was growing up and scribbling stories in my notebooks, the elder members of my family would tease me for being morbid because so often my main characters were orphans. What I’ve realized now is that it wasn’t morbidity, but rather the only way I could think of for allowing the children to be independent enough to go out and have adventures.

I have lots of dreams for Sean’s childhood. One of them is that he will be able to experience a lot more freedom and independence than what is now socially the norm. I want him to be ready to engage with the world, not hang back fearfully. I want him to talk to strangers. I want him to know that yes, there are dragons in the world, but that those dragons can be killed!  I want him to know that his father and I love him so, so much, and that while of course we want him to be safe, that physical safety isn’t the ultimate goal of existence.

I also want to slay that part of me that prizes my own peace-of-mind above my son’s actual well being. Most things worth doing carry elements of challenge or risk. I want to be able to let go. Watch out, world! Sean is coming!  

 

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45 Responses to Mommy, Why Do the Kids in this Picture Book Get to Walk Around on their Own?

  1. bob magee November 13, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    Amen

  2. Gail November 13, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Is the Boxcar Children series on the list of banned books? How about Harriet the Spy? Trixie Belden? I hope that future generations of children will get to enjoy all those wonderful stories and more, and want to have their own adventures like the kids in the stories.

  3. James Pollock November 13, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    Pokemon has been around for decades, and in the TV show, a bunch of kids wander all over the world. None of the adults are concerned about this.

    In “The Lorax”, Dr. Suess suggests going down to the bad part of town to buy something extremely valuable.

    And pick up any of Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels. Podkayne of Mars, Red Planet, The Rolling Stones, The Star Beast. The first draft of Starship Troopers was written as a juvenile novel. Or, best of all, Tunnel in the Sky, which has children sent to a different, unexplored(!) planet. Beware of the stobor. These, along with the Xanth novels and the Pern juveniles, were what I read to my daughter.

  4. MichaelF November 13, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    My kids love the Berenstein Bears and the cubs are always running all over the place with minimal supervision. I have yet to really get questions about that, but then my 5 year old runs across the street to his friends house to see if he can play after school, so I am not really worried.

  5. that mum November 13, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    My youngest is reading the Series of Unfortunate Events books right now, talk about kids in mortal peril. Orphans (of course) who take care of each other while trying not to get murdered by an evil Count who wants their inheritance. Awesome books by the way. The adults are pretty much all idiots in the books.

    All great children’s literature features either orphans or children who have lost at least one parent (usually mum). All the superheroes are like that too, I can’t think of a single one who was not either raised by their aunt and uncle, adoptive parents or the butler (in Batman’s case).

    Not only did JK Rowling kill off Harry Potter’s parents, she killed off a lot of his surrogate ones too.

  6. James Pollock November 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    “superheroes are like that too, I can’t think of a single one who was not either raised by their aunt and uncle, adoptive parents or the butler (in Batman’s case).”

    The Hulk. Thor. Captain America. Iron man. Ms. Marvel. Dr. Strange. Four-fifths of the original X-Men (Marvel Girl, Bobby Drake, Warren Worthington, and Henry McCoy… Scott Summers THOUGHT he was an orphan). All four members of the Fantastic Four. The Black Panther was raised in a royal household; he is the king of Wakanda.

    Wonder Woman has a mother. Green Arrow was raised by his parents in at least the TV version, not as sure about his other incarnations. Supergirl (again, in the TV format), was raised by her mother to age 13, and was sent to be her cousin’s guardian.

  7. Ann in L.A. November 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Combining the cricket theme with way Lenore first became “America’s Worst Mom”, take a look at that old childhood classic “A Cricket in Times Square.” In the book, the kid hops on a train in NYC, takes it to Chinatown, initiates a conversation with an adult in a store, and makes a purchase, all to find a box for his cricket.

    And he does it all on his own.

    p.s. After reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, it makes a great companion piece to “Cricket”.

  8. DrTorch November 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Thanks for helping me locate those books by Enright. I read them as a kid but couldn’t remember the name. I swear the one now titled “The Four Story Mistake” as called “The Four Story Cupola”. How else would a 10 y.o. learn the word cupola?

  9. John November 13, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Quote:

    “I have lots of dreams for Sean’s childhood. One of them is that he will be able to experience a lot more freedom and independence than what is now socially the norm”

    Good for you mom! I certainly wish you a world of luck and the very best in achieving more freedom and independence for Sean!

  10. Art November 13, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    Sorry for the threadjack, but Jesus Christ??? REALLY???

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/boy-9-face-sexual-harassment-charges-love-note-article-1.2432300

  11. Andrea D. November 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    Gail, I have a bunch of new-released Trixie Belden books. I read my mom’s copies when I was a kid, but since they are getting more fragile I thought it would be best to get newer copies. I got them before I had a child, but now that I do I am even more glad I have them. She is only four so it will be a little while but I fully intend to encourage her to read them. And let’s not forget the Wrinkle In Time series. Parents are present, but the kids are the heroes rescuing them, and going on fantastic adventures and figuring things out on their own. Looking forward to those too. And Narnia of course. The list goes on… I don’t want my daughter to grow up too quickly but I am looking forward to things like her reading these books. 🙂

  12. fred schueler November 13, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    “Swallows and Amazons,” for crying out loud

  13. James Pollock November 13, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    ” let’s not forget the Wrinkle In Time series. Parents are present, but the kids are the heroes rescuing them, and going on fantastic adventures and figuring things out on their own”

    If this is to your liking, track down a copy of the story “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. It is considered to be one of the best science-fiction stories written prior to 1965, and it addresses this theme directly.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13318644-mimsy-were-the-borogoves

    Do NOT, under any circumstances, watch the movie “The Last Mimzy”.

  14. BL November 13, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    “She, her fighter pilot husband, and their tot Sean live in South Carolina.”

    OMG! Is South Carolina a “safe space”? I don’t think so!

  15. Andrea D. November 13, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    James, thank you. I will check that out. It sounds great!

  16. lollipoplover November 13, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

    “Jay is six years old. In the story, it’s his job to walk down a lane, wade across a creek, walk through a cornfield, and climb over a rail fence into the cow pasture to bring home the cows every evening. The story also mentions that he can whittle, which means he has a pocket knife. He puts himself to bed at night.”

    The problem where I live is not that my children couldn’t do these things, but we’ve lost so much wild and free spaces and the cornfields to subdivisions and strip malls that that landscape no longer exists. My son would cross a creek and go over fences and use a pocket knife all the time (which he’s had since he was 5 and totally into swiss army tools) but our wild spaces are not what they were due to development. I’m not sure how we can get those back to enjoy the childhood freedom Jay had.

  17. theresa hall November 13, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

    what I find strange is they know helicoptering is bad for kids but if you free range is time for the cops save the day that never needed saving. you get the raw deal. do they want healthy kids or sick ones? because that is the only choice.

  18. BL November 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    Here’s a wonderful old series I read as a kid:

    http://seriesbooks.info/benton.html

    “As far as series go, this one adopts the best part of the classic stance that gave such books their flair: here were youngsters, EMPOWERED. They were capable of discovering situations, exercising their minds and curiosity in order to find answers to puzzling problems. This they did only to please themselves. In certain other series at the same time, notably the Hardy Boys, the private actions of the boy detectives became subsumed into police-like agencies, the boys “cooperating” and in a sense prefiguring the absorption of the lone individual into me affairs and machinery of the state.
    Today it would be almost unthinkable to hear of a series that featured characters solving mysteries without some kind of quasi-official status obligingly granted by the local police department, almost as if the human spirit has given up and resigned itself to the all-encompassing role of officialdom.”

  19. Marz November 13, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    I remember in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that the main character and her brother were going all over town, collecting bits of metal and things themselves, which they then gathered up and drug down to sell to the junk guy themselves, and then went to the candy store and such. All over town to stores and shops and things in NYC. I don’t remember what ages they are at the start but pretty young.

  20. Sarah November 13, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    My son likes the show “Arthur” and he has the books too. Arthur is 8 and his sister is 4 and they go all over town by themselves. They have a communal treehouse in the park where all the kids go and no adults in sight!

  21. Beth November 13, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

    “Is the Boxcar Children series on the list of banned books? How about Harriet the Spy? Trixie Belden?”

    Who is banning these books?

  22. Fiamma November 13, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    Beth, there is, an annual list put out by the ALA (American Library Association). Usually books are just challenged locally but some do get questioned and banned. The Boxcar children series was challenged locally for being anti-family and encouraging criminal activity. No, I am not joking.
    I am a HUGE fan of banned books week.

  23. Fiamma November 13, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Meant to say challenged locally by a parent or parents. Boggles the mind…

  24. James Pollock November 13, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    I briefly lived in a timber mill town in the late 70’s. “The Lorax” was not in the school libraries because the parents got tired of answering questions about chopping down the trees.

  25. Rook November 13, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

    And then there’s the Babysitters’ Club where a bunch of 10-year-olds run a business as caregivers for a bunch of kindergarteners and toddlers where they all sit in one girls room and talk to strangers over the phone to take new jobs, some of which they’ve never met. Real nightmare fuel there for the brave, modern suburban family.

  26. Kate November 13, 2015 at 11:17 pm #

    Gail, my 6 year old son just started reading chapter books and the very first one I got him was The Boxcar Children. Thank goodness the whole series is on Kindle unlimited because he finished it in one day and was on to the next.

  27. Anon Y. Mouse November 14, 2015 at 1:52 am #

    Encylopedia Brown
    Mad Scientists Club
    Danny Dunn
    Happy Hollisters
    Nancy Drew
    Tom Swift

    The list goes on and on… the trope of independent (and often precocious) children
    making their own way in an adult world (and often gently guided, but not led, by other
    caring adults) is found widely in literature precisely because it provides a positive
    example for children to follow in making their own journey from childhood into adulthood.

  28. sexhysteria November 14, 2015 at 2:55 am #

    Speaking of paper routes, are kids still allowed to do that alone, or do parents now accompany kids delivering papers and going door-to-door on Saturdays to collect? Or maybe there are now police patrols watching the kids knocking on every customer’s door?

  29. Victor Sudakov November 14, 2015 at 3:33 am #

    Besides, the boy in the book cover is happily barefoot which is another joy and freedom our modern kids are mostly deprived of.

  30. andy November 14, 2015 at 7:58 am #

    “I wondered if anyone who freaks out at the idea has ever read classic children’s books.”

    I worry about people who use fiction as if it would be accurate account of world or description of what world is supposed to be. The other worrying thing for me is when people are trying to use fiction to learn about history and older times. While fiction tend to be somewhat rooted in real life and values of back then, it is not meant to be manual nor accurate.

    Kids being more independent is just one of many differences between old fiction world and current real world.

    I would doubt sanity of parent who changes his parenting and real world stories based on old childrens book. Adults (and children above certain age) are supposed to know difference between fiction and reality are not the same thing.

  31. Dasy2k1 November 14, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    Don’t forget the many books by Enid Blyton where kids end up in all sorts of adventures. Parents while present seem to be largely absent from their kids lives (they are sent to boarding school in term time and sent off for the holidays the rest of the time)

    We don’t have any officially banned books but these are generally no longer stocked in school libraries ( they are in public libraries but often in the teen fiction section) not due to the lack of supervision but rather due to the political incorrect nature of the times when they were written….

    I saw a new version of one of the famous five books recently that had sadly been abridged not only to remove the referances to the gypsy boy the children find and befriend but it also removed the referances to George getting a hiding of her farther for some indiscretion

  32. andy November 14, 2015 at 8:26 am #

    @Dasy2k1 They are removing gypsies out of stories/history because of political correctness? I thought that erasing ethical groups is supposed to be the racist thing, not other way round.

  33. Jennifer November 14, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    I was just thinking this as well…. two of my toddler’s current favorites (and mine!) are Snowy Day and Corduroy. Both involved children somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-12 traipsing around what I would guess is NYC completely alone.

  34. James Pollock November 14, 2015 at 10:21 am #

    Count the number of adults in the Hundred Acre Wood. OK, so Owl, Kanga, Rabbit, and Eeyore clearly represent adult figures. Who’s the most popular? Tee-eye-double-guh-er. But how many actual adults are supervising Christopher Robin?

  35. BL November 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    “Kids being more independent is just one of many differences between old fiction world and current real world.”

    I can’t imagine an interesting story about kids who never go outdoors and communicate only by texting, and with parents peering over their shoulders all the while.

    I’m not sure I want to try to imagine it.

  36. James Pollock November 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    “I can’t imagine an interesting story about kids who never go outdoors and communicate only by texting, and with parents peering over their shoulders all the while.”

    Stretch your imagination a little. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. City of Ember (OK, (spoiler alert) they go outside at the end) Any number of science-fiction stories where the characters live in a closed habitat because the outside is hostile to people.

  37. andy November 14, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

    Isaac Asimov wrote “The Naked Sun” which is about society of people who never meet each other in person and communicate only through holograms.

    Another book from Isaac Asimov where robots took three laws of safety too seriously and did not allowed people to do anything remotely dangerous. People were fine with it and were happy with arrangement. The main character was a cop who was willing to take moderate amount of risk and thus he was seen as weird or sort of anti-social. He had to investigating murder. Unfortunately, I do not recall the name of the book.

  38. James Pollock November 14, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    “The Naked Sun” is the sequel to “The Caves of Steel”.
    In that one, Earth people don’t go outside. Ever. The entire city’s enclosed, and people send robots out to do the work that needs to be done outside. The movie (but not the novel it’s based on) of Logan’s Run was like that, too.

    The better story, though, is “with folded hands”. People develop robots to do the dangerous things so people don’t have to risk injury and death, and gradually the robots take over everything, because everything’s hazardous to people, in some way or another. By the end, humans aren’t allowed to do much of anything.

  39. James Pollock November 14, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    Oops. Left out a transition. “With Folded Hands” isn’t Asimov. I want to say Jack Williamson?

  40. Peter November 14, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

    What? No Dora the Explorer?

  41. Wendy W November 14, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    “Another book from Isaac Asimov where robots took three laws of safety too seriously and did not allowed people to do anything remotely dangerous. People were fine with it and were happy with arrangement. The main character was a cop who was willing to take moderate amount of risk and thus he was seen as weird or sort of anti-social. He had to investigating murder. Unfortunately, I do not recall the name of the book.”

    I haven’t read the book, so I may be wrong, but this sounds an awful lot like the plot of the movie “I, Robot” starring Will Smith. Very good movie.

  42. The Other Mandy November 14, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    The nice thing about those banned book lists is that I know exactly what to buy my friends’ kids for Christmas.

  43. Dasy2k1 November 15, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    @Andy
    The character had been changed as the language used to refer to them would be considered racist by modern terms.

  44. pentamom November 15, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    The Will Smith movie was actually based on the Asimov story which was, in fact, called “I, Robot.” 🙂

  45. James Pollock November 15, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    “The Will Smith movie was actually based on the Asimov story which was, in fact, called “I, Robot.” :”

    Asimov doesn’t have a story called “I, Robot”… it was the name of the first COLLECTION of Asimov’s robot stories, and … the movie isn’t like any of them.