popular children’s books I hate

14 May 2009
Children's Book Week

The winners of the 2009 Children’s Choice Book Awards, announced this week, include The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, by Mo Willems, as the Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year. While I’m charmed by the simplicity of Mo Willems’ drawings, and I think his Elephant and Piggie are the best pair of friends in kid lit since Frog and Toad, I don’t like the pleading pigeon. I understand the role reversal. I understand the delight some children experience in saying, rather than hearing, “no, no, no.” I get it. I just don’t enjoy it.

Another popular children’s book that gets on my nerves is The Tale of Despereaux. I was along for the ride through most of the first few chapters, though I bristled every time DiCamillo addressed me as “Reader” — only Charlotte Brontë gets to call me “Reader” (N.B. This is in no small part why I stopped reading the often lovely Gluten-Free Girl). DiCamillo lost me when she asked if I knew the definition of “perfidy,” and admonished me to look up the word in my dictionary just to be sure. I can’t abide a finger-wagging narrator. I kept reading, since I was sharing the story with my girl, despite the tone and the inelegant perspective shifts, but I didn’t get through the whole tale. I adopted a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” policy at storytime, and my daughter lost interest in the story — something she hasn’t done with any other bedtime book.

And I may be banished from the nerddom for telling, but I don’t enjoy The Phantom Tollbooth, either. It’s entirely too clever and at some point the wordplay becomes simply tiresome. Again, I get it. I just don’t like it.

And you? What well-regarded kid’s books would you like never to read again?

12 Responses to “popular children’s books I hate”

  1. 1 Carrie
    May 14th, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Honestly I find Dr Seuss alarming on this second-go-round. Loved them as a kid, but now they kind of freak me out. I don’t like the Pigeon either. Or that Little Pea. Or any book that attempts to beat you over the head with it’s impish opposite-ness.

  2. 2 Jenni
    May 15th, 2009 at 1:07 am

    That’s bold to admit not liking Dr Seuss! For that I’ll tell you something that might prompt the UW Scandinavian department to demand my diploma back: I don’t like Pippi.

  3. 3 Kristyna MacLaurin
    May 15th, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Amelia Bedelia – blech!

  4. 4 Shannon McClendon
    May 16th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Ooh, I love this topic. Repetitive books bore the pants off me and I think The Little Engine That Could tops my list of books that make me fidget and inwardly groan with every page. The Poky Little Puppy is also torture. I can’t stand Polly Anna or Little Women, both of which suffer from the goody-goodies. And while I know retelling fairy tales to make them politically correct is wildly popular (as popular as it was in the Victorian era), I rarely find one I like. If you want to write tales about strong girls or women, write your own instead of needlessly rehashing & declawing long-cherished classics. A good author can do it, but it’s not usually the good authors who do. That’s not to say I don’t like some clever, playful and well-written satire or reversal of a tale, but can we stop adding fig leaves to tales that make us uncomfortable?

  5. 5 that other librarian friend
    May 17th, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Way to take a stand! I don’t care for Curious George. The first one especially. The trapping of the animal, taking him from his home, the near drowning, going to jail for dialing 9-1-1, escaping from jail, flying too high from holding balloons. Scared the pants off of my son, who insists on reading it.

  6. 6 steve
    May 17th, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Concur about Amelia Bedilia and Pippi. Also, I find The Giving Tree unbelievably offensive. To such a degree that I wonder if it was written with the objective of screwing with readers.

  7. 7 Jenni
    May 20th, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Yes, I felt sick to my stomach on reading the Giving Tree. I don’t feel as strongly about Curious George, though I’ve never read the first one — yikes! Oh, yes, the Poky Little Puppy is unbearable.

  8. 8 Your Librarian Friend
    May 20th, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Cumulative tales. Any and all cumulative tales. Hate ’em. That “No, David” book makes me feel all itchy and nervous. The art in kids’ books is important to me, and that art looks like it was drawn by a psych ward escapee.

    Tale of Desperaux made my 8-year-old cry, but she loved it (did you get to the end? I would personally say that’s a great book for much older kids). She loved Phantom Tollbooth around the same time as the Roald Dahl books, I think about age 5?

    The dear-reader voice is all the rage right now.

  9. 9 Jenni
    May 20th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Cumulative tales? Like The Napping House? Is it the repetition that drives you nuts?

    Oh, Meg liked Despereaux well enough and she may enjoy Phantom Tollbooth in a couple of years (I have a feeling that may be one you have to discover at just the right moment in childhood, when the door to the world of wordplay first swings wide), and she’s welcome to them, but someone else will have to read them to her. Roald Dahl we all enjoy. We recently read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over a few nights as a bedtime book and she lists it among her favorite books.

  10. 10 Your Librarian Friend
    May 21st, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Yes. The repetition. Just like nails on chalboard. I know what’s coming, and I hate having to say it all again and again. Same with any song in that vein.

  11. 11 Shannon
    May 24th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    And what about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? I had never read any of them and bought one thinking I’d read it aloud. It’s a classic, right? I pre-read and then took it right back. Sometimes, as in this case, “classic” is synonymous with hopelessly dated. Other words that come to mind are repetitive, sexist, didactic, and condescending.

  12. 12 Maria
    June 16th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Hey, Jenni! So I’m late to the conversation, but this list & the great posts got me laughing. Feels like sacrilege to admit not liking children’s books!

    That said…for me, it was Jumanji. Call me uptight, but I could not handle all those animals and weather phenomena wrecking the house. “Fun for some but not for all” indeed.

    And I’m with you and Steve about The Giving Tree. Read it as a kid and felt squirmy. Revisited as a grownup and felt downright queasy.