Poor morals in children’s books

So, I’ve noticed in a fair number of books that I’ve read with Doctor Destructo that the morals that are taught (as in the moral of the story) are pretty poor. As an example, I shall present “Curious George Rides a Bike”.

First, George is called a monkey, but he doesn’t have a tail. That means he’s an ape. Ah, the misrepresentation of facts.

Now, George gets a bike on the anniversary of when the man with the yellow hat took him from Africa. George can do tricks (yea!), but gets bored and disobeys by leaving the immediate vicinity of the house. Then the newspaper boy pawns off his work of delivering papers to George. (that was very not smart of him). George doesn’t follow directions and doesn’t delivery all the papers, and then folds all the papers in to boats. While watching his boats, he hits a rock with his bike, and messes up the front wheel (some regret occurs here). Then George sees a tractor pulling trailers (the animal show you find out). The most-certainly-not-creepy director gets George to come along to be in the animal show. Bob fixes Georges bike and they head off. The next major event is George disobeying direct orders to not feed the ostrich (he was curious!), and then again disobeying when he leaves his bench to save the baby bear. But because George saves the day, all is forgiven (the lost newspapers, all the disobedience) and he gets to be in the animal show. (I’d just type out the text of the book, but I fear that would violate copy right.)

Now, please don’t tell me that its just a children’s story, so I shouldn’t be so hard on it. That’s Doctor D really isn’t learning anything, its just a story. I don’t buy it. We learn a great deal from the ‘stories’ we hear and see. But that is not my topic here, per say.

First, I’m bugged that irresponsibility is excused in the name of curiosity. It is possible to be both curious and responsible, and George never suffers for his lack of responsibility. But others suffer the consequences of George’s irresponsibility regularly. The man with the yellow hat must spend time looking for George and the folks on the other side of the street never get their newspapers. And that’s just this book.

Next, it bugs me that George’s disobedience is all forgiven and forgotten because he saved the baby bear. Forgiveness IS NOT earned, it can only be given freely. Or at least true forgiveness is like this; God’s forgiveness is like this. We cannot earn His forgiveness, nor His favor. In the same way, Doctor D cannot truly earn my forgiveness when he disobeys. There is a debt, a payment for that disobedience (just as we have a debt to God, “for the wages of sin is death”), and if the pay back is earned, well then that is more like justice.  But when I forgive that debt, it is done with mercy and grace, which are freely given and never earned.

I think these are big issues and big deals that I want Doctor D to understand. And, so, I often edit the story a bit. I will use the words ‘justice’, ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’. When consequences seem reasonable, they are handed out (for example, I will have George pay the folks who didn’t get their newspapers for the newspapers he made into boats or, from a different book, Bambi gets grounded after staying out too long). I will change words so that its not because George rescued the baby bear he gets to be in the animal show, but the director will thank George for rescuing the bear, forgive George for disobeying, and to be gracious and let George be in the show.

Now, I figure the day will come when Doctor D actually recognizes the words on the page and will ask “Mommy, why did you change the words?” I look forward to that conversation. And until then, I will unabashedly change the words or completely remove the book from the reading options if its bad enough. We had one book that was a counting book that had little monkey’s disobeying and being trouble makers all through it; it had other problems as well. That book was removed from the collection. And I’m finding that many of the books I grew up with are like this, and books published now are often the worst. I guess I’ll either need to edit or stick with older books.

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3 comments

  1. Even though you said not to tell you that it’s just a children’s story, that’s exactly what I’ll say. If you read similar stories growing up, did it impact your view on the consequences of your actions? I think it is good that you “rewrite” the story for Doctor D’s benefit. Our influence on our children is much greater than anything else!

    We read a fire truck book recently that had very poor examples of what to do in a fire (the family was so busy removing their belongings from the house that one of the children was left upstairs – fortunately, one of the firemen was able to save the day!). A lot of other reviewers on Goodreads condemned the books because of this. Although I agreed with their comments, I wasn’t too concerned since I’m not planning to use the book as a teaching tool for fire safety (we’ll address that when our kiddos are older and able to understand the risks of a fire). It’s not the same thing as teaching morals, but just thought I’d share the story with you!

  2. We had a book that was given to us when Julian was born that Jon and I just thought was AWFUL! Julian loved the pictures but we eventually just got rid of it. It was supposed to be a story about sharing (I think) but just came across as the fish buying his ‘friends’ off. I had honestly never thought about Curious George never facing any real repercussions before (but now I have, lol!) but I had thought about how awful the Cat in the Hat is (he keeps telling the kids to not worry about what their Mom will think and that it really isn’t wrong!)…usually if a book’s message wasn’t well explained or left something to be desired in my estimation I just make sure we talk about what happened in the book after we read it. The Cat in the Hat has lead to great teaching opportunity to talk about what IS the right thing to do if Julian ever finds himself in the company of others who tell him to, “Go ahead, do it, your Mom won’t mind.” (On further thought, maybe that is what the lesson is supposed to be in the first place!)


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