Creepy, irritating children’s books

It’s amazing how well-aligned our opinions are about creepy or just plain irritating children’s books. And here I thought Hayley and I were the only ones who had a problem with Big Nutbrown Hare! Based on your comments, Parenthackers’ least favorite books are:

…plus many more (including all of the Thomas the Tank Engine books). But there’s a ray of hope…the winner of I Love You More: Corina (whose most annoying book is Tomie dePaola’s Tomie’s Little Mother Goose)! Email me your mailing address, Corina, and I’ll get that book in the mail to you ASAP.

Editor’s note: this list is a followup on the comments left here and was meant in good fun. Obviously I didn’t do a great job converying the tongue-in-cheek tone I was going for, because several of you found this post irritating. So, apologies to those who actually thought Parent Hacks was advocating censorship…that’s most definitely not the case. BUT. I still think Big Nutbrown Hare has a few issues he needs to work out. — Ed.


  1. Daddy Dre says

    Fortunately I’m blissfully ignorant of all the titles listed except The Giving Tree and Curious George, both of which are my three year old’s favorites. Maybe it comes down to how you spin the stories but The Giving Tree has been an excellent opportunity for me to teach about aging and relationships and of all the Curious George stories there’s one page with one line about George smoking a pipe. I’ve always just skipped it. My son doesn’t know any different and we have some great phrases to use like “sometimes little monkeys forget” and “a naughty little monkey”. He knows when he’s been a naughty little monkey…

  2. says

    Yes! Love You Forever is hands-down the creepiest book on my kids’ shelf. On some level it’s moving but on another it’s quite dark and disturbing, not to mention the whole Oedipal thing. I love most of Munsch’s books but this is one I dread reading.

  3. says

    Whoa, I think you’re missing the genius behind The Giving Tree. To me, it is a wonderful metaphor of parenting. We give everything we have for our children: our time, our money, at times our sanity. And we keep giving, even when they mess up, even when they show no gratitude, even when they don’t see us for years at a time. I’m not sure why, but it’s worth it and makes us happy. Dare I say the book even contains religious overtones? Well, call it irritating, but it’s still one of my lifelong favorites.

  4. says

    It is an ongoing argument on my parenting message board.

    Is “The Giving Tree” a beautiful story about how we give all we can to our children or how we so badly need to teach our children to appreciate what we do without sucking the life out of us?

    Is “Love You Forever” a lovely story about the relationship of mom and son or a manual on what we don’t want our daughters to grow up to marry?

    I am not familiar with the other ones, but these two are not part of our collection. Creepy is right!

  5. Ana says

    I absolutely agree with Daddy Dre’s comment – it’s all in how you spin the stories. Don’t know much about any of the titles other than The Giving Tree and Curious George, but both have many redeeming qualities. There are several lessons that can be gleaned from The Giving Tree such as unconditional love, aging, and even selfishness and how it affects others. Curious George also has many valuable lessons – too many to name.
    I do believe that when reviewing what may be not so satisfactory with a book, you MUST be responsible and take into consideration the context and age the book was written in. Just because something isn’t acceptable now, doesn’t mean it wasn’t at some point and this doesn’t mean the now-unacceptable things were put in the book to intentionally be irresponsible (referring specifically to the “poaching” and “smoking” referenced above for CG). We have to remember – these are just stories meant to entertain and teach and if you don’t like one little piece of it, use your imagination and change it to make it into something you do like – hey there’s another lesson to teach your kids!

  6. says

    Love You Forever is hands down the creepiest children’s book ever written.

    It’s even creepier when you have a copy you Can’t Get Rid Of, because it was a gift to your husband from your mother in law when he GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL.

  7. says

    Wow. Literal much?

    For the couple of books here that I am most familiar with (Giving Tree, Love You Forever) these things are METAPHORS. Fables, if you’d like, to illustrate some larger, more complicated and difficult to explain things like unconditional love, aging, and the circle of life.

    You do realize that “The Scorpion and the Frog” isn’t a story glorifying inner-species violence, right?

  8. Lucy says

    I dont know if I would criticize Curious George because of poaching and smoking. I think we (as a society) have been far to careful to take reality out of books and not so careful about presenting clean television.

    My children cannot find an original version of Dr. Doolittle or Little Black Sambo, books that present a reality viewpoint, but were not considered “politically correct.” I don’t agree with racism in any way, but I also do not hide from my children that it happens.

    However, these same children can watch highly oversexualized teens and preteens with unrealistic lifestyles and horrible attitudes on the Disney channel, on Nick, almost anywhere. Disney’s movies, even the movies directed to small toddlers, are all about acceptance of everything and no moral values.

    Something wrong with this? What struck me was doing a comparison of exactly the same Disney book (Cinderella) that I had from childhood (maybe a 50s version?) and the Cinderella book published in the 90s. Look at her dress….

  9. Lucy says

    To clarify, the books I mentioned above are just examples of what I considered over-censorship.

    And I have no issues with acceptance, but do take issue with Disney’s targeting the very young with topics that would not naturally come up in their life until much later. Why isn’t this censored if the books are? (That was my point, in case I came across all wrong.)

  10. AmyS says

    Literal much? No, but my preschooler sure is! I have never liked Love you Forever and the Giving Tree, even as a child. I also refused to let my mother read the Velveteen Rabbit to me because of the horror of all the child’s favorite toys being burned — what a cruel thing to do to a child. I didn’t care about the rabbit being made real — I didn’t identify with the rabbit.

    I try to read children’s books with the sensibility of the child I might read it to, not the maturity of the adult who wrote it. My daughter thinks Love you Forever is silly and wonders why the heck the old woman would sneak into the man’s room at night — “that’s just weird” says the 4.5 year old and I don’t have the will to try to explain what the author is trying to convey.

    Now I try to weed through the books she grabs off the library shelves before we check out!

  11. says

    Geez, aren’t we going overboard trying to create the perfect world for our kids that we’re driving them and us crazy? Don’t we have enough guilt and anxiety in our lives without being so completely…OK. I’ll stop there.

    Here’s a book FOR the PARENT reading list:

    Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, by Judith Warner

    Long live cupcakes, The Giving Tree and Curious George.

    Keeping it real,


  12. stinkydad says

    …And that “Wheels on the Bus” story -now that one promotes a true environmental quandry! Sure, it’s public transportation, but it’s obviously an older model that has no pollution controls and totally disregards all safety enhancements made in the last 20 years.

    I guess that also means all those biblical kids stories are out, too, being based on a very violent book that promotes disfunctional group dynamics!

    It seems this “worst books” topic is almost completely polarizing; you either agree completely or disagree completely. The really interesting point is that those that think that the list is wrong all mention the same reason; the books are analogies of real life lessons and not meant to be taken literally. We shield our kids from natural issues such as love and death, but regularly expose and even train them in superficial values that have no chance in preparing them to be happy later in life…better to read them Curious George and then explain why he shouldn’t smoke. Talk about the issues on a level your kid can understand, then six months later, raise the bar a little. Parents, our job is to read the stories and explain the lessons behind the words and prepare our offspring to make the world a better place when it is theirs.

  13. Alan says

    *Guess How Much I Love You*?!?

    It’s definitely in the reading then. I’m sure that if that book were read in the snarky voices I hear coming from all the little disney “princesses” running around then, yes, it would be inappropriate.

    However, when read (every night, for a year) in a loving conversation between a child and a parent, it’s a terrific book. We have two copies.

  14. tara jean says

    Wow. So many days I’m right here with ParentHacks, thinking, “man, these folks are so smart and so witty, and so with it”, but not today.

    Today, I’m worried as an English teacher, if you’re going to be calling my superintendent in eleven years when your kids hit high school. I can hear the cries already, “how dare that woman teach a book where the main character calls a prostitute, drops out of school, and deals with his own mental illness”.

    And here I thought the world had gotten less conservative since “Catcher in the Rye” was published fifty something years ago. . . apparently not.

    If you’re already censoring your kids’ books now, what will you do down the road, when they’re asked to read really challenging works?

  15. jbdad says

    Give me a break!

    I used to read “Love You Forever” to my daughter. One time after reading it to her I made a deathly serious and creepy face and told her that I loved her so much that she would never be allowed to leave home after she grows up. She saw right through the my lame attempt to scare her and it is a running joke around the house that our daughter will never leave home.

  16. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Oh, and momma, I deleted your comment because I don’t allow anyone to insult the readership here. Disagreement is welcome (as most of the other comments on this post illustrate), but namecalling isn’t.

  17. says

    Ha! This is a fun thread. My daughter enjoys me reading the “Guess How Much I Love You” book to her. After the first 20 times, the book has ceased to be creepy and I actually kind of dig it now. (Oh horrors! I’ve been converted.)

  18. hostile17 says

    re: love you forever, i think it’s creepy to me and lots of others for the following reason: the allegorical message that some of you mention is really hard to find because of the very earnest writing and illustration. there’s nothing stylized about the *appearance* of the book or the tone of the words, so it’s hard for me to see that perhaps the author had a symbolic purpose, rather than a realistic one. whereas w/ shel silverstein, the drawings are much more minimalist, the writing more concise. this allows space for allegory, i think. does this make sense?

  19. Amy says

    Wow. This was a polarizing post. But before my son understood, I’d read my own version of Rainbow Fish (a gift), wherein the selfish, not-special thug fish extort everything special about Rainbow Fish until he’s just as dull as them. Agreed: Icky. For a great “I’ll love you no matter what” book, we adore “I Love You Stinky Face.”

  20. says

    In reading the comments on this, and on the last post, I am amazed. And, truthfully, I think that society has gotten way too politically correct and entirely too serious!

    There are several books, The Giving Tree for instance, that I have loved since I was a child. My daughter just picked out the Gingerbread Baby that someone mentioned. I read it to my kids last night and we laughed at it all through. There are some books that annoy me, but compared to what comes out nowadays, boring princess books and such, I like some of the older ones!

    I’ll give one great one that we loved for my older child–it has a good message, the most gorgeous illustrations, and it’s just a fun read although it is longer–The Quiltmaker’s Gift. Someone may write in now that they hate it, but we love it!

  21. says

    I have always had big issues with the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer story. All the reindeer hate his guts UNTIL Santa puts him in charge, then suddenly “all the reindeer loved him”? Wrong on so many levels. Arrrgh, I hate it.

  22. says

    P.S. Interesting…reading all the comments I realized I have been interpreting the Giving Tree a little differently. I have always interpreted the Giving Tree book as a message about humanity’s relationship to the earth…how we take every damn thing until there’s almost nothing left. To me, the the old man at the end is all of humanity–our collective foolishness. I assumed this was Silverstein’s message. I never saw the parental interpretation but I see it now that people have mentioned it.

    Too many years as an English major, ha!

  23. says

    Yes – it is a polarizing topic … but only if you let it become one for you. We all have our own opinions about what books we each like. These opinions are based on a range of factors, from ‘the message’ of the book (or the message we think the book presents), to the style of the illustrations, to the tediousness of the repetition (woof, woof!), or whatever.

    I’d suggest that future posts stick more to topics that will unite the Parent Hack community – rather than divide …

  24. stinkydad says

    Please, don’t condone healthy discourse! This is exactly the kind of discussion many of us appreciate and want. I honestly do not want my sons growing up in a world that avoids critical discussion just for the sake of being “unified”. That is the opposite of what our Founding Fathers put forth, the opposite of what Socrates tought and frankly, the opposite of what I want my kids to learn to appreciate. Media, whether print or electronic, is so chock full of “safe” discussion that much of it has become worthless as a communication medium. I say, “keep the interesting topics coming”. Yes, it was polarizing, but that is why Parenthacks is moderated, to remove the offensive and abusive posts, leaving only the constructive discussion. These two threads regarding children’s books will keep many of us returning to Parenthacks for a long time to come, hoping to find more.

  25. says

    Whatever the media title or type, it is parents’ responsibility to guide and direct our kids with the morals we want them to have. We cannot count on others to do it for us.
    Sometimes the best way to teach a child morals is to point out others in books or movies making the mistake.

  26. says

    The comments to the last post are hilarious — I, too, immediately thought of “Love You Forever” when I read that post. (I’m surprised by the “Goodnight Moon” haters, though — it’s not meant to rhyme, and I always thought the quiet old lady was the bunny’s grandmother.)

    Angela, I always felt the same way about Rudolph. I love Jack Johnson’s version of the song, with an extra verse at the end (he changes the melody slightly, it doesn’t quite fit in the original):

    But Rudolph, he didn’t go for that,
    He said, I see through your silly games.
    How can you look me in the face when only yesterday you called me names?
    All of the other reindeer, man, they sure did feel ashamed,
    ‘Rudolph, you know, we’re sorry,
    We’re truly gonna try to change.’

  27. Susan W. says

    Hmm, I read “Love You Forever” to my son when he was in the womb. It made me think about the love-no-matter-what and you’ll-always-be-my-baby-even-when-you’re-not feelings that comes from being a parent, not literally sneaking into my grown son’s house to hold him. And to have it spelled out, especially from mother to son, is lovely, I think, in a world where girls can be Daddy’s little princesses at 21 with no shame, but boys are supposed to be tough and independent at 7 or 8, if not younger.

    My husband and I read “Guess How Much I Love You?” to each other long before we had kids, and always thought it a charming message of true love and how you can’t express how big that feeling is in words–it just doesn’t compare to anything else. (Backstory in Brief: It had to do with a running joke back when we were dating we had about asking each other if they loved the other–often when a bit annoyed, to break the tension–and, when they said yes, two seconds later, jokingly adding, “How About Now?,” etc. until we were both laughing and forgot what we were annoyed about to begin with. The “Guess How Much I Love You” connection was that my husband bought it for me so that “I didn’t have to ask anymore” and “To the moon and back” became our standard “Do you love me?” answer from then on.)

    Do you also hate “Good Dog Carl,” the picture book, because the mom leaves the dog in charge of the baby when she goes out? I’m surprised, based on some of the comments, you haven’t reported her, and anyone who dares share this scary and dangerous tale with their kids, to Child Services.

    If you don’t like the books, then don’t read them. (Problem solved.) Totally your choice but, still, creepy??? Obviously if you think so, that’s your prerogative, but you might want to keep it to yourself as many who don’t take EVERYTHING literally have very fond, very positive and very special associations with these stories. I think a whole lot of religious symbolism is creepy and weird and downright nutso, but I don’t burst out with that when someone tells me they take their kids to church because, duh, it’s obviously something deeply personal and meaningful TO THEM, and I’m OK with everyone having their own opinions and values.

    And, PS, I always thought that EVERYONE thought of “The Giving Tree” as an environmental allegory akin to Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax.” (Many Green organizations even use the story as their symbol.)

  28. says

    My wife introduced me to “Love You Forever” before our daughter was born. To this day, I can’t get more than two pages into it without crying.

    At first I was taken aback by the post. Then I read the editor’s follow-up.

    At least you made an attempt to make us laugh. That’s worth plenty to me.

  29. says

    I LOVE this! I too think “Love You Forever” is totally creepy. It’s a banned book in my household. We have The Giving Tree too, but I don’t like that either. I understand the spirit, but it makes me horribly sad.

    One book collection I’d never realized I’d hate is the Beatrix Potter books. We were given a hardbound set for our youngest son’s birth, and we went to read them aloud…. and came upon the statement that the bunnies ran away from their father, who was about to beat them with a stick or a strap. YIKES!!!!

    BTW, if you also dislike “Love You Forever,” try finding a little book called “I Love You All The Time.” I’d have to look up the author, but it’s a very sweet little thing without creep factor.

  30. Shelley says

    Anyone who thinks a toddler is purely literal isn’t giving toddlers enough credit. One my daughter’s favorite car games, from about age two, was “What’s Molly Doing Right Now?” Molly being our cat. Some of the things she imagined our kitty doing while we were out of the house were downright hysterical … And never once did she say “sleeping,” “eating,” or “playing with a catnip toy,” which is all she really ever saw Molly do.

    I don’t care what you read to your child (but, as a teacher, I say please do read to them), but I do think that, in general, we don’t give kids enough credit about what they can handle. Kids are tougher, smarter and more resilient than we think. (And I’m thinking of, as someone else already mentioned, the re-written fairy tales here.) Kids exposed to only a very narrow, sanitized viewpoint often grow up to be either 1) painfully naive and awkward or 2) rampant consumers of all that is unhealthy in our society based on the lure of the illicit and forbidden.

  31. says

    OhMahGah. I wrote this post about three years ago. Also in the mix: The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar: Eating Disorders for Bugs!

    (We also said Rainbow Fish was about socialism. Because, dude, not EVERYONE can be pretty. Meh.)

  32. Heather says

    LMAO THANK you. “Guess How Much I Love You” is totally creepy. That picture of the grown man curled up in his mother’s lap is just weird. We like Curious George a lot, but I have to keep my grown-up criticisms to myself. Sometimes there are such unprofessional people in George’s path it makes me batty lol Like when he pretends to be a doctor and people buy it, and then we find out the reason Dr Gesund is so late for his patients is b/c he got caught up playing video games in a closet? Ouch! :)

    Thomas is great for teaching the value of hard work but SUCKS for teaching the value of a day off LOL We call it the “Protestant Work Ethic Show.” Thomas and Bob the Builder promote a positive message usually, but then if a character doesn’t have a job to do for 5 minutes, the characters literally shake with terror. That disturbs me. That and the fact that if an engine doesn’t do everything, he is not “useful.” Hello?

    The Rainbow Fish also – get your own friggin rainbow scale! You shouldn’t have to give away everything that makes you YOU so you can have “friends.” Moochers if you ask me :)

    I totally overanalyze children’s books and tv. We read most of it if my son likes it, but I always tell my husband later “oh my word, let me tell you what I read to our kids today…”

  33. Wendy says

    Oh yeah, bought Love You Forever because of all the ‘great reviews’ online. Read it once and hid it immediately. It made me cry in front of my kids, they didn’t know what to make of it.

    I actually don’t mind Guess How Muc I Love You, and I like “The Giving Tree” because it gives a great lesson on how if you take and take and take, there will be nothing left for you. Also like “The Lorax” by Seuss and “Uno’s Garden” by Graeme Base.

    But….the two worst in my opinion are “In The Night Kitchen” by Sendak (kid getting naked and jumping into some dough where big fat scary chefs try to eat him?) and his last one “Brundibar”. This was a total puzzler. My daughter got it as a gift from my sister in law, my husband couldn’t even get through it once, and neither of the kids cared that he didn’t finish the story. It was hidden and given away! Horrible, horrible story!
    I was dissapointed, because we LOVE Harold and the Purple Crayon, best story for encouraging imagination and working things out for yourself!

  34. Meghan says

    I absolutely totally agree that they are creepy. We got “I love you forever” from my mother-in-law AT MY WEDDING!!!!! When I read it to my children, I drop the rocking part anc change the words to, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for allways, and I can’t wait to see the person you’ll be.” I also skip all pages but the last one after the son moves out. My daughter doesn’t have the patience to sit through “Guess how much I love you”, but I agree that it bugs me that the parent just won’t accept that the kid loves them!

  35. says

    My mom read “Love You Forever” to me, and I loved that book. I loved the illustrations, the song.

    I don’t see how it’s creepy, it’s about the unending love.

    The Giving Tree used to entertain me for hours, I never got tired of Shel Silverstein’s works.

  36. says

    ohmygod i hate all those books. and i’d like to add patricia pollaca’s entire collection to this list. i’m a school librarian and i get a lot of flack for that, but it needs to be said.

    plus, my reason for hating “the giving tree” is that i find it unbelievably sexist.

  37. says

    love you forever = *super* creepy

    i confess to a warm fondness for “guess how much i love you”

    creepiest of all thomas the tank engine books – the freaky what-were-they-smoking one about “lady” and the “gold dust” (fuh-REAKY, as was the movie)

  38. says

    As long as we’re mentioning Thomas the Tank Engine (and boy, do I agree with the post about how annoying it is that everyone has to be USEFUL), can I just mention how creepy I think those trains with faces are? And same deal with Jay Jay the Jet Plane (which, please G-d, may now be off the air)? Eeeek!

  39. Shawn says

    The overrated childrens book of the decade award has to go to Walter the Farting Dog. How can so many people love this book? The Dad insists on turning the dog out on the streets because he has a gas problem. Great message for the kids, “Animals are disposable, and it’s easier to reject the imperfect than to embrace them (especially if they smell funny). But wait… Stinky’s “condition” saves some of Dad’s precious material possesions from being stolen by bad guys, so now he can stay. So if you smell bad you have to go, but if you’re useful we can over look your stench. And talk about creepy, check out the illustrations in this book, I wake in a cold sweat some nights with the Dad’s horrific visage burned into my brain and the fear that my natural emmisions could cost me a place in the family.

  40. eknahs says

    Guess I really missed the boat ’cause we live in SuessLand here! Although we have had “Love you forever” for about a decade or so and all my (now 20 year old daughter) ever said was stay off the ladder Mom you will fall off! So it’s all about perspective!