Best Toddler Parenting Books Uk in 2023
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Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, Revised and Updated Edition
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4 Beloved Childrens Books with Terrifying Lessons
Some of the most popular children's books teach alarmingly bad morals. This tongue-in-cheek review looks at some of the most morally corrupt books on kids' shelves.
Don't get me wrong-- I'll laugh through "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and cry through "The Giving Tree" along with any other mother, but these books all carry an unintentionally negative undertone. Underneath it all, I'm not so sure that I want my daughter to learn anything besides words and rhymes from these stories.
Here are four of the most beloved, but morally corrupt, children's books I've seen.
Pinkalicious is a spoiled, bratty prima donna who has an entire house completely filled with expensive-looking pink decor. She eats nothing but gooey pink sweets, like cupcakes, lollipops and gumdrops. Pediatric diabetes notwithstanding, her unhealthy diet comes to her attention when she starts turning pink-- presumably because of a never-before-recorded overdose of Red #40.
Her parents take her to the doctor, who says she should eat more green vegetables. She responds by whining to her parents, sticking her tongue out at her mother, throwing tantrums, and continuing to eat huge quantities of sickly-sweet junk food. In the end, she eventually turns red, which is very un-cool, then angrily "gags" and "chokes" down a few servings of vegetables. She returns to her normal, bratty self, with yellow jaundiced-looking skin instead of pink skin.
Isn't that CUTE?
The title character is rewarded for being a little snot. According to Pinkalicious, there's really no problem at all with eating huge amounts of junk food, and your parents are just being big meanies if they tell you otherwise. Pink skin, which sounds really cool when you're four, is the ultimate and only health consequence of eating too much junk food. Should you awaken one morning with pink skin, the only thing you have to do is to gag down a bite of broccoli, which, by the way, is absolutely disgusting, and you're a freak if you think otherwise.
As for your parents, don't listen to them. If you boss them around and yell at them every time they tell you to do something, they'll eventually give in. If they really love you, they'll be more than happy to buy you a room full of tacky pink stuff, and that pink rainbow pony you've been asking for. If they don't love you, they might suggest that you eat kale instead of cupcakes with your dinner.
2. The Giving Tree
We all know the Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, as a touching tale of unconditional love. A boy grows up with a tree, and learns to accept everything that she offers (and doesn't offer). He takes her apples, and she is happy to give them. He takes her branches, and she's happy to give them. He takes her trunk, and she's happy to give it. He leaves her stump in the forest, sails away, and returns after many years.
Sadly, she admits that she has nothing left to give him. He responds: that's fine. I'll just sit on you. And she's happy to allow it.
This is, clearly, not just a story about a tree. She is a metaphor symbolic of a loving, nurturing person-- likely, his own mother. So let's rewrite this story without the metaphor. A boy grows up accepting everything his mother has to offer. He takes all of her money, and she's happy to give it. He takes her house and puts her in a nursing home. She's happy to allow it. He leaves her for 20 years, kills her, and takes her inheritance. She was fine with that. He comes back in the end to sit on her tombstone.
Not such a heartwarming story anymore, is it? The boy in The Giving Tree kills someone who cares about him unconditionally, and offers no sign of gratitude whatsoever. From one perspective, the book teaches kids to be like the boy-- a bad lesson. From another perspective, it teaches them to be like the tree-- an equally bad lesson which encourages them to tolerate abuse.
From another perspective, it's just a book and we over-thinking moms need a coffee break.
3. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
Jemima Puddle-Duck is upset because the farmer keeps giving her eggs to a chicken. She wants to take responsibility for her family and hatch the eggs herself. Desperate to flee the thieving farmer, she entrusts her eggs to a fox, who seems like a kind and compassionate individual. Predictably, he tries to kill her, but she is rescued by three dogs.
This could end with the dogs saving her, and Jemima going on to hatch those eggs. Instead, two of the dogs excitedly eat her eggs. In the end, "She laid some more in June, and was permitted to keep them herself; but only four of them hatched. Jemima said that it was because of her nerves, but she had always been a bad sitter."
That's Victorian-era justice for you.
The morbid message of Jemima Puddle-Duck is that you shouldn't try to take responsibility for your family or your actions; instead, leave it to Big Brother to decide what's best for you. While the "don't trust a stranger" moral has its own value, it is morbid and cruel to teach kids that any person who does them a favor is actually trying to harm them. The world isn't that twisted yet, and, presumably, it wasn't that cruel during Beatrix Potter's era, either.
The story teaches kids to simply get in line and let everyone else handle their responsibilities. There is no reward or redemption for Jemima's attempt at autonomy, only a cosmic "I told you so" when she loses a clutch and a half of eggs. I'll read this one to my duck-crazy preschooler, but only because I can alter the ending when I read aloud: "Jemima's second clutch of eggs hatched, and she found the joy and satisfaction she was seeking."
4. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is just like The Giving Tree, but in reverse and on steroids. A boy gives a mouse a cookie. The mouse then demands a glass of milk, a straw, a mirror, a pair of nail clippers, and well over a dozen other items, only to get right back to square one and request yet another freaking cookie.
In the end, the boy's act of kindness leads to a trashed house, a cleared-out pantry and a mess of other problems-- yet the still-demanding rodent insists on more. The mouse offers nothing in return; there is no mention of a "thank you" or any other offer of gratitude.
To be fair, If you Give a Mouse a Cookie is supposed to be a humorous illustration of circular logic, not a fanciful way of teaching kids morality. I do read the book to my daughter and we both enjoy it. But, really, this lesson is no better than the one offered in The Giving Tree. A little schmuck rodent takes full advantage of a loving child, and neither the child nor the rodent ends up any better off because of it.
The moral of the story? Don't give anything to anyone, or they will suck you dry. Forget all that "sharing" and "caring" that your parents are teaching you-- it's really better to let hungry animals do without. Alternatively, you can try being like the mouse and/or the boy in The Giving Tree, and simply expect everything of your caregivers while offering nothing in return.
You don't have to totally ditch children's books with less-than-ideal moral messages, but it's a good idea to use these as openings for conversation. Talk to your child about the messages behind the books. Was the boy fair to the tree? How could Jemima have handled the situation differently? How do you think Pinkalicious's parents feel about her behavior? With you as your child's moral compass, you can turn these ultimately negative messages into opportunities for positive discussion.