Since it's become acceptable for intelligent grown-ups to read and engage in young adult fiction, it was only a matter of time before we could start getting into children's books, as well. Both Slate's Troy Patterson and Jezebel's founding editor Anna Holmes have recently revisited books from their childhoods, although — surprisingly — neither approached them from a sentimental angle. Instead, they've chosen to discuss the kids books that they've always hated, so let's join them.
In the New York Times column "Bookends," Holmes writes a critique of Shel Silverstein's classic The Giving Tree:
...Maybe we're just projecting, but to those who would say that Silverstein's book is a moving, sentimental depiction of the unyielding love of a parent for a child, I'd say, Learn better parenting skills. To those who defend it as a warts-and-all parable lamenting man's inhumanity to man — or, perhaps, man's inhumanity to woman — I'd say that I'm not so sure Silverstein, who dedicated the book to a former girlfriend, "Nicky," was writing an indictment of what men assume they can get way with. The boy uses the tree as a plaything, lives off her like a parasite, and then, when she's a shell of her former self and no longer serves any real purpose, he sits on her — which makes her happy? ("That book is the epitome of male privilege," a friend groused.)
Patterson takes issue with Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (now a motion picture):
Alexander is SUCH A PILL. He's graceless and ungracious and self-pitying to an entitled extreme. You know, when Mr. Raccoon has a very bad day—in "The Unlucky Day" of Richard Scarry's Bedtime Stories—when Mr. Raccoon's bathroom faucet breaks and his car motor explodes and Warty Warthog sticks him with the check at lunch and he goes back home to find that his house has flooded, despite Mr. Fixit's having been there all day, alone with Mrs. Raccoon—when these misfortunes befall Mr. Raccoon, he remains stoic and takes it all in stride. Meanwhile, Alexander, being a terrible, horrible brat, narrates a tedious catalog of petty gripes.
There are way more children's books that I love out there than children's books that I hate, but exploring as far back as my memories will go, I've discovered that I never really liked — and I'm sorry for this — Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen.
(Where the Wild Things Are is still my jam, though.)
And now it's your turn. What children's books have you always hated?