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My Favorite Books That Traumatized My Children

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For my 40th birthday, my mother sent me all of my old toys and books so that I could share them with my kids. My old dolls with their yellowed dresses and stained bodies were a hit. My daughter loves to put her baby dolls “to bed” next to the ones that I loved three-and-a-half decades ago. I was sure she would reject them because of their careworn appearance, so her embrace of them in spite of their flaws was a huge surprise.

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The books I thought would be an easy sell. A good story is a good story, right? I remember sitting on the couch reading with my mother every night before bed. I was dying to share my favorite books with my kids.

I started with a sentimental favorite—Babar by Jean de Brunhoff. I showed my kids the front cover where I’d written my name in kindergarten. “You guys will love this,” I assured them. I suppose I’d forgotten some of the details, like the fact that Babar’s mother dies within the first three pages. Poachers shoot her. How could I forget that? My children were horrified and refused to read any further.

“It’s too sad, mommy, stop reading this.”

“Let’s try Curious George, the H.A. Ray classic.” I remember asking my parents to read this book over and over again. Holding it in my hands after all those years felt like a reunion. Who doesn’t love Curious George? I think he’s still “a thing.” My kids were totally into it until we moved past the title page. My daughter was upset when we read that George was sad that the Man With the Yellow Hat took him from his home. “It’s too sad, mommy, stop reading this.”

I have zero memory of being sad reading Curious George. I remembered him accidentally calling 9-1-1 and ending up in jail. That passed for hilarity back in the 1970s. Times have changed, I guess.

I had one more gambit. A book I loved that did not involve any animal cruelty was Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel. I’d always loved the language and the artistry of this book. “This one, I’m positive you will love.” And while they loved it more than Babar and Curious George, they were a little traumatized by the part where each of the young brothers practically drowns in a well while waiting for rescue. Truthfully, I was a little traumatized reading that to my kids.

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With three strikes, I gave up. No way was I going to read them any more treasures from my childhood. Who knows what cruelty to animals or near-death experiences are waiting at the bottom of that box from my youth? From now on, we’re sticking with the baby dolls.

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