Happy Children’s Book Week, one and all! As this week of kiddie lit kudos draws to a close–and while we all are still mourning that twisted, gentle genius of Maurice Sendak–we shouldn’t forget that oft overlooked genre of Books Guaranteed to Scar Your Kids for Life.
I’m not necessarily talking about children’s books that just evoked a fear response in you: maybe the creepy sketches of scarecrows in an L. Frank Baum‘s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz kept you up at night. Maybe you were thoroughly creeped out about what, precisely, was at the end of those bony Onceler arms in The Lorax. Perhaps you desperately feared that everyone was watching you masturbate, leading you to hide your copy of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t in the freezer.
I’m not even talking about brilliant, nudge-nudge wink-wink scary kids’ books such as Pat the Zombie or Neil Gaiman’s Dangerous Alphabet. Nor am I really talking about gentler tomes trying to spur kids to think about personal safety, even though The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers will turn your hair white.
No, I’m really talking about the unapologetic, in-your-face-what-the-Hell-just-happened-someone-legitimately-earnestly-wrote-this-for-kids books. Here, MamaPop readers, is the Unlucky Seven, as it were. The world’s most terrifying children’s books.
I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much Let’s start slow. You’ve probably heard of this one, thanks to it being a favorite target of the internet. I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much is actually, at its core, a sweet book. By sharing Lisa’s struggle to figure out why Daddy makes a mess of everything, she gets a little help from her friendly neighborhood recovering alcoholic. It’s a gentle attempt to encourage young readers to share their feelings. AND TO RUIN CHRISTMAS FOR CHILDREN EVERYWHERE.
I imagine that if you had an alcoholic parent it would help to see someone in your shoes…but don’t you already have enough problems without reading about how Daddy can’t go sledding with Lisa because he’s drunk? And that he spilled beer on her bedroom floor when “Santa” came to deliver the goods. And if you don’t have an alcoholic parent, you’ll spend every Christmas Eve from now on gripped with the fear that some wastrel is going to sled into your bedroom under cover of night. No thanks.
The Story of a Fat Little Girl For most American women, there’s a fine line between low self-esteem and terror. In 1969 author Suzanne Heller blew the line away. And, readers, someone gave my mother this book. As a gift.
The Story of a Fat Little Girl may have been trying to be tongue in cheek but it was also an adorable little picture book with, maybe, six words per page and zero snark quotient. They show a fat little girl, shaped like a crescent moon wearing a helmet. She can’t play hide and seek, Heller writes, because she’s too easy to find (see crescent moon sticking out from behind a tree). People point and laugh because she’s fat (see weeping crescent moon). But, never fear, dear readers: she jumps rope once or twice and–my personal favorite–does some deep knee bends and voilà! No more little fat girl.
“But Molly,” you ask, “What’s wrong with that?” Nothing, really…unless you count that the book ends with everyone turning their bullying bandwith toward the tallest girl in town because “People can be mean. THE END.” Quote. And that, literally, is all she wrote.
Learn Gun Safety With Eddie Eagle (see also The Stray Bullet) Children’s books about gun safety run the ideological gamut. But no matter how you lean, politically- or morally-speaking, there’s a children’s book out there to fill you with paranoia and dread. Either you will be chased by a giant ARMED eagle or you will be left to defend a bunch of sniveling hippies. Either way: be afraid, kids. Be very afraid.
Inside the Hindenberg: A Giant Cutaway Book It was okay, but the stage musical Oh the Humanity! blew it away.
Joined At Birth: The Lives Of Conjoined Twins Another one you may have heard about, but I submit that it’s not creepy or scary because of the concept. I mean, there are conjoined twins in the world. I’m sure they and their parents crave quality, relatable content (and some portable way to shame neighborhood looky-loos) as much as anyone. What’s scary is that teacher is not saying the Pledge of Allegiance and it’s very, very scary when people hate America.
Pompeii: Buried Alive! The publishers promise that ”the drama of natural disasters provides prime material to entice young independent readers.” Perhaps they should have appended their marketing materials to read, “And what child doesn’t want to imagine slowly drowing in a mountain of ash, while watching any person or creature shorter than you freeze in place, their stifled screams frozen forever and preoccupying your brain for its last conscious moments.”
Now then, children, isn’t it nice to have all your loved ones together under a rain of suffocating pumice? Doesn’t that just put the “Us” in “Mount Vesuvius?”
Brave Mr. Buckingham The quintessential inappropriate, culturally insensitive, jaw-dropping, mortifying, violent children’s tale. Brave Mr. Buckingham was written in 1935 by Dorothy Kunhardt. Perhaps you know Kurnhardt best as the author of children’s favorite Pat the Bunny. As a child, I knew her best as the craziest mothereffer on the planet. Mr. Buckingham is a Native American gentleman who just can’t win. He puts his FOOT NEXT TO A BUZZSAW because it gives him “a nice tickly feeling.” Bam! Bye-bye, foot. He goes to the aquarium to visit the fish, jumps in and BAM! A fish eats the other foot. You know. Like they do.
The pattern continues as Mr. B’s curiosity (or general lack of awareness) gets the better of him: he loses an arm to a gardener, gets sliced in two by a passing truck (while sunbathing, natch), and so on. After each and every accident, he smiles and says, “That didn’t hurt!” And in the end, when Brave Mr. Buckingham is nothing but a severed head–wearing a crudely drawn cartoon headdress because Ms. Kunhardt was not just a sadist but an enemy of cultural competence–still he is feeling just fine, thank you.
But why? Why did Dorothy Kunhardt put poor Mr. Buckingham through all this mayhem? Because Billy’s front tooth is loose and he’s afraid it will hurt to pull it. I’ve read several times that Kunhardt, who wrote dozens and dozens of children’s books before her death in 1979, was big on morality tales. Well, the moral of Brave Mr. Buckingham is crystal clear. Always hire dismembered Native Americans to pull your child’s first loose tooth.
What creepy, terrifying kiddie literary wonders did I miss? And, more importantly: are you scared yet???