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Children’s Books With Horrible Messages

When my girl was first born, buying a glider where I envisioned reading to her for years to come was one of my priority purchases. And nearly two and a half years later, reading to her continues to be one of my absolute favorite activities.

We have a lot of cherished books, but one that we both jointly gravitate toward is "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch. I love this book so much, in fact, that I have the main lines emblazoned across my daughter's nursery room wall—a constant reminder that I will love her forever.

Of course, I couldn't have chosen a more controversial book if I had tried. In fact, fellow mom.me contributor, Sheila Quirke, recently touched on that controversy in a piece that is too good to miss. For what it's worth, I share her opinion whole-heartedly. No one is suggesting you should be crawling through your grown child's window in the middle of the night 20+ years from now. That's not the message of the book. It's more about the eternal love we have for our kids, and how even when they are frustrating the hell out of us, that love never fades.

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Though it is, perhaps, stronger when they are peacefully sleeping!

Either way, the controversy surrounding this book always makes me laugh. Because really, are there any children's books that should be taken all that literally? What would it look like if we tore them all apart, much like the critics often dismantle "Love You Forever"?

"The Giving Tree," Shel Silverstein

Yes, this is a beloved classic. But has anyone ever actually read this book? That kid is a little asshole, and he grows into a painfully selfish adult that no one would ever actually want to spend any time with. And why is he always so unhappy? Nothing is ever good enough, and he always comes back to the tree all gloom and doom. Meanwhile that tree is standing there, willing to literally give everything it has just to be touched by this boy.

This is a classic case of co-dependency. The boy needs anti-depressants, and maybe evaluation for sociopathic tendencies, while the tree needs talk therapy and the confidence to walk away.

"The Napping House," Audrey and Don Wood

The moral of the story? If you don't want to take a nap, attempt to kill your grandmother.

My daughter adores this book. She will laugh and laugh through every page, and asks to read it again and again. But really, this is a book about extreme co-sleeping and a house that is riddled with pests.

Think about it. Grandma is sleeping in a twin bed when a child, who looks to be about 7 or 8 years old, climbs on top of her—which somehow, miraculously, doesn't wake her up. They are then joined by a dog on top of the child, and a cat on top of the dog. What are these creatures doing, and why are they all in the bed trying to suffocate grandma? The kid even has a pillow over grandma's head!

But that's not the worst part. Then, a mouse joins them. And a flea. And suddenly, the bed comes crashing down, probably because it has been eaten through by termites. Yet everyone is somehow totally OK and goes outside to play. The moral of the story? If you don't want to take a nap, attempt to kill your grandmother in her sleep and then jump on the bed until it breaks.

"The Rainbow Fish," Marcus Pfister

So, this is a book that is supposed to be about sharing and eschewing vanity, right? But do you know what it is a really about? A fish who is so eager to make friends, that he is willing to literally strip pieces of his own flesh away, giving the remnants to others in order to convince them to like him.

Um … desperate much?

"The Cat in the Hat," Dr. Seuss

Who doesn't love "The Cat in the Hat"? It's a fun book about ridiculous goings-on that gets kids cracking up. But at its core, it's also a book about unlocked doors and home invasion. Also, it may be a lesson in cleaning up after that house party, covering your tracks when mom and dad go out of town and leave you alone for the first time 10 to 15 years from now.

Children's books are all a little effed up if you think about them too hard.

"Mama, Do You Love Me?" Barbara M. Joosse, and "I Love You Stinky Face," Lisa McCourt

I'm sharing both these books at once because they have exceptionally similar themes. In fact, I could even argue that one was probably inspired by the other—though that's not the point. The point is, we love both of these books, but they are both about seriously testing boundaries.

If you haven't read them, they each follow a similar theme of a child presenting increasingly extreme scenarios. ("What if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw, and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?" ~ "Mama Do You Love Me?") After each of these fabricated scenarios, the child then looks at the mother expectantly and she repeatedly explains how her love would still endure.

I used to play this game when I was a kid, too, and other variations of it. ("What if there was a fire and you could only save me or my brother—who would you choose?") But really, how far could this theme go? "What if I stole from your purse," "What if I beat the kid next door up," "What if I committed a mass murder?"

Sure, that's extreme. And realistically, we would all love our kids no matter what. But shouldn't there also be a conversation somewhere in there about consequences? Just so that the kid doesn't go out into life actually testing how far that love will go?

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You see, children's books are all a little effed up if you think about them too hard. So stop overanalyzing them, and just sit back and enjoy the read. I promise, your kid isn't thinking about those stories nearly as literally as you are!

Image via Leah Campbell

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