Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Traumatizing (or confusing) Children's Books

Peter Hartlaub brought up a topic today at the San Francisco Chronicle parenting blog The Poop: Books that traumatized you as a child. Peter writes that while nothing really traumatized him, he just didn't get Where the Wild Things Are.

The comment thread to the post is absolutely fascinating and populated by the usual suspects--Love You Forever, The Velveteen Rabbit, Where the Red Fern Grows.

This thread reminded me of a book I think about often--Dare Wright's The Lonely Doll. On the one hand, I absolutely adored Dare Wright's photos in the book and I thought Edith--the lonely doll who lives alone in a Manhattan apartment until Mr. Bear and Little Bear arrive to take care of her--was beautiful. I grew up in sunny Southern California, so I found Wright's black-and-white photos of a cavernous New York apartment terribly Old World and Romantic.

On the other hand...there are elements to the story that disturbed me as a child. Edith dressing up in a slip, instead of her dress, to try on lipstick with Little Bear struck me as, well, odd. And, then when Mr. Bear spanks Edith for her misbehavior when, really, he had just moved in and taken over the apartment...I felt humiliated for her. (Part of this is due to the camera angle Wright uses: Edith's bottom faces outward with Mr. Bear's hand raised above ready to strike.)

And, yet, despite my reservations I adored this book.

A couple of years ago Jean Nathan wrote The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright, a book I'm putting on my to-read list right now. You can read about it here in the New York Times archives.

This rambling post leads to a question (or two) for you all: Which children's books traumatized you as a child or which children's books confused you as a child?