In recent years many theories have been offered to explain the increasing gap in literacy skills between girls and boys. One of the more interesting ones is that, as time has gone on, children’s books have become more and more cautious about being child- friendly. In other words the scary bits are being eliminated and boys are less attracted to reading as a result. I firmly believe that children’s stories need a little darkness, not just to encourage boys to read, but girls also, and to teach our children some important life lessons.
When I was a child I was terrorised by the idea of Little Rabbit Foo Foo being turned into a goonie. I tried to avoid being forced to bathe for a month after reading Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Even the family-friendly chant We’re Going on a Bear Hunt culminates in the family running for their lives after their search turns out to be successful.
The darker elements of these books scared me… but they also enticed me. I begged my parents to read me my favourite twisted tales. As I got older I would read well past my bedtime, unable to put books down, especially at the scary parts.
Books are there to entertain, but also, most of the time, to translate real life lessons to children. Little Rabbit Foo Foo taught me from not to be mean to others because it would come back to you. The Witches taught me not to trust strangers and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt taught me to… er… not hunt bears? You get the point.
By forcing sugar, spice and all things nice down the throats of children, we may not only be diminishing their interest in books, particularly boys, but also neglecting to teach them some pretty important lessons through fantasy that they will inevitably come across in reality. When they do they will not be cushioned by the stories they were told as a child.
Stories don’t just teach us that evil exists but that it can be defeated. Without that lesson, the ‘badness’ we are attempting to protect our children from may become undefeatable.
-Image courtesy of Manchester City Library (https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterlibrary/)