Friday, April 16, 2021

Why Do You Hate Your Kids So Much?

 By Abir

Do you ever read children’s books (not including reading them to your children)? Do you think children’s books have changed from when you were a child?



Right, today we are talking about the worst things in the world, the gateway to a messed up life.


When I was three, and illiterate, I was fearless and careless. A happy little free spirit. Three years later, and having acquired the dubious benefits of literacy, I was a brow-beaten, conformist, neurotic; chain-smoking my way through packs of candy cigarettes. (At one point, I was a 30 a day man.)


What possible calamity could have turned that wonderful, beautiful boy into a grizzIed, nervous, cynical six year old? The answer, I hate to say, is Children’s Literature. 


I grew up in the seventies, when the genre was still ruled by unscrupulous king-pins. Shadowy figures like Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, who controlled pretty much all of the UK’s supply of children’s literature with a vice-like grip, burning warehouses of their competitors’ books and bribing corrupt librarians up and down the country to stock only their own merchandise. Rumour has it that when faced with the possible release of work by other authors, Enid Blyton once threatened to break the wings off the original penguin at Penguin Publishing and to kidnap its child, the Puffin. 


These were terrifying individuals who knew no moral boundaries, as is evidenced by their work. Let’s take Beatrix ‘The Bull’ Potter. Her most famous creation is Peter Rabbit, whose first story opens with the horrific slaughter of Peter’s father by a sadistic farmer called Mr McGregor, which sets Peter on a path of criminality from petty theft (stealing from McGregor’s vegetable garden) to violent revenge. And that’s before the blatant anti-Scottish racism - McGregor is portrayed as dour-faced, penny-pinching, violent and oafish – a category which less than half of Scots actually fall into.


But let’s move on. Let's talk about Roald Dahl. Some believe that he hated the letter ‘n’ so much that he had it surgically removed from the middle of his own Christian name. A close inspection of his works, such as Charlie Ad the Chocolate Factory and James Ad the Giat Peach, suggest that this story might be more than just apocryphal. 

And let’s look at the first of those books: Charlie’s dad is dead, just like Peter Rabbit’s in Beatrix Potter’s works (coincidence? I think not). Charlie lives in a hovel with his mum and four grandparents who share what can only be described as a geriatric, octogenarian love-nest. To escape this trauma, Charlie develops a chocolate habit which leads him into the clutches of a strange man called, and I’m not making this up, Willy Wonka, who owns a ‘chocolate factory’. For the North Americans amongst you, ‘Willy’ is British slang for ‘penis’. The whole thing seems to be modelled on Michael Jackson and his Neverland ranch. I guess Jackson was too scared to sue, such was the power of Dahl and the criminal children’s literature fraternity.

And then we have Enid ‘Razor’ Blyton, with her stories of five privileged white kids, going on adventures with their dog, Timmy. Where’s the diversity, Blyton? Where are the working class kids? Where are the ethnic minorities? We never see that side of things, do we Blyton? Your England is all tea and crumpets with lashings of jam and cream and ginger beer. You don’t mention the police brutality, the terrible working conditions, the prejudice that the working classes face. You’re a reactionary, Blyton, and in your novels, the trains always run on time.


But it gets worse. From simply seeking to corrupt our youth with stories of masochistic rabbits, messed up kids with a chocolate habit, and the denigration of the letter ‘n’, things turned really dark with the political writings of Roger Hargreaves.


For those of you who haven’t come across him. Hargreaves wrote a series of titles called the Mr. Men books. (Here’s the website: - but I'm warning you, it might trigger you.)

The books were a staple of 1970s kids’ literature with the brightly coloured Mr. Men getting into all sorts of scrapes, and I must admit that at the age of five, I loved these books. It was only when I was six, and more politically aware of how ‘the Man’ tries to brainwash you, that I realised the true horror of these novels.


Let’s take the case of Mr Messy. Now ostensibly this is the story of an untidy character who lives in a broken home, whose life is turned around my two men who one day turn up at his house. They make him see the error of his ways, and by the end of the book, Mr Messy isn’t messy any more. He’s really neat.


Lovely story, eh? Except it’s not. It’s the story of a free-spirit, a non-conformist, living his life the way he wants to, not bothering anyone else, and suddenly, these two men in suits turn up, calling themselves Tidy and Neat (made up names for sure – what are they hiding?) and they brainwash him into conforming to their social mores. By the end of the story, Mr Messy is basically a soulless automaton, a sheep, just like everyone else.


Then there’s Mr Upity – a crusty, curmudgeonly sort, who’s a bit rude to people, but to be fair, the people he’s rude to are idiots. But what happens? A bunch of leprechauns cast a spell on Mr Upity so that every time he’s rude, something happens to cause him tremendous pain, until, lo and behold, by the end of the book, he’s physically incapable of being rude to anyone. This is basically the plot of a Clockwork Orange, but whereas Burgess’ classic is a warning against state sponsored Fascism, Hargreaves’ Mr. Upity is a celebration of it. And we let kids read these books.


And don’t think you Americans are any better. Dr Seuss. What is that? It’s basically just bad poetry. But because American culture is only 26 years old, Seuss has become part of the American literary canon. And then there’s Goodnight Moon. I mean, what? Seriously? It’s not even a story! And yet the damn thing has sold billions. We even have two copies of it in our house (my younger son attempted to eat the first copy).


So, have things improved? Can we say that children's literature has evaded the pernicious clutches of evil monsters? There’s certainly more representation these days. Books that show the world as it is. My personal favourites include The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf. Onjali's books are witty, inclusive and a great read. 

But we still have problems. One of the biggest sellers of kid’s books in the UK these days is David Walliams. I’ve never read his books, but there are people who’ve called out the ‘horrific racism’ and ‘sneering, fat-shaming nonsense’ of some of his work. ( ) . And he’s sold 37 million copies.


So there we have it. If you love your kids; if you don’t want them becoming unhinged revenge monsters, Fascists, or automaton conformists; if you want them to learn to think for themselves, I’d urge you to keep them away from children’s books. You’d be much better getting them started on the modern classics, like the works of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Abir Mukherjee.


I’ll leave you with the words of poet, Philip Larkin, who, along with his mistress, also seems to have been a bit of a ghastly racist ( ) , but the poem’s still good.



This Be The Verse


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   

    They may not mean to, but they do.   

They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn

    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   

Who half the time were soppy-stern

    And half at one another’s throats.


Man hands on misery to man.

    It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Let's break the cycle, my friends. Let's not fuck up our kids any more. Let's wean them off the crack that is children's literature.

(It shouldn't have to be said, but just in case, this piece is tongue in cheek and does not completely or accurately represent my actual views on children's literature, and I am fairly sure that Enid Blyton never did actually threaten to break Penguin's wings.)


Brenda Chapman said...

Hilarious! You crack me up, Abir. I may never look at kids' books the same again.

Susan C Shea said...

The moral of this story is NO NOT READ! Your parents will be happy if, instead, you play Mortal Kombat on your iPad and watch Game of Thrones on TV, little darlings. ;-)

Abir said...

Cheers Brenda!

Abir said...

Don't get me started on video games, Susan!

Donna said...

Was a happy day in our house when my son started to read David Walliams books on his own 😂

Donna said...

Was a happy day in our house when my son started to read David Walliams books on his own 😂