I was reading to my 5-year old granddaughter the other evening. It’s one of our bedtime routines when she spends the night at my house. She chooses the book and we read together. That started me remembering my own childhood and the books I enjoyed.
I learned to read pretty early, I was about three when I was reading my own books at bedtime. However, my father would always take time to read a chapter from a more difficult book before I turned out the light and rolled over to dream.
My most vivid memory is lying in my big old bed, rolled up in a fluffy comforter, as my father read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It was a magical time. My father’s deep voice brought the story to life and I followed him and Alice as we chased the elusive White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.
I also had a large book containing a variety of fairy tales; Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, and Little Red Riding Hood to name a few. These were thrilling tales where the heroes and heroines were often thrust into frightening situations only to come through it all in the end, triumphant and unscathed. Children’s stories aren’t like that anymore. Now we shelter our children from the dark and scary. We read them stories that have a moral or teach safety lessons often using cuddly bears, roly-poly puppies, and anthropomorphic piggies.
The situations these characters find themselves in are challenging but not nearly as scary as the stories of my childhood. Even stories like Where the Wild Things Are and the Little Monsters books have critters that are non-threatening. No big bad wolf eating people or piggies, no wicked step-mothers mistreating or trying to get rid of children, no parents leading their children into the woods to be taken hostage by a wicked witch.
I can’t help but wonder what brought about this sea change. Perhaps the author’s of these newer and gentler stories were traumatized by the more violent fairy tales of days gone by. Or have all the early childhood psychologists and teachers done their due diligence and convinced young parents that exposing innocent minds to the horrors of Grimm and Anderson would result in an over abundance of serial killers? Whatever the reason, it seems as though the wonderful stories of my childhood have been abandoned; replaced by sweet tales of talking vegetables who will teach their babies good values.
Somehow society has deemed it preferable to convince tender minds the world is a good place where very bad things don’t happen. And when the little ones run into those very people who do very bad things, they are totally unprepared to cope with it. We might discuss stranger danger but those strangers don’t seem half as terrifying as the old witch who wanted to cook poor Hansel in her oven. Or as menacing as the Big Bad Wolf who pursued Little Red Riding Hood with a hungry eye.
I miss those dark and threatening tales that caused me to take a second look at strangers who offered me candy like the witch who proffered a poisoned apple to the gullible Snow White.
I’m not saying children should be terrified into an awareness of the evil side of the world. But I don’t believe they should be led into a false sense of security either. Maybe there’s a happy medium I haven’t seen. Meanwhile I think I’ll just pull out my old book of fairy tales and see if Rumplestiltskin is still bargaining for first born children.