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.