I am a child of immigrant parents. German Jews whose own parents took them away to safety before they had any concept of the danger they were in, just by virtue of their birth. They were brought to America, enrolled in school, taught English, and given high expectations for achievement. After all, they were fortunate, they were spared when so many others were not. They were in the land of opportunity, and by gosh they had better take advantage of those opportunities.
When I was small my mother read me bedtime stories every night. There were lots of normal ones, like like The Little Red Hen and If I Ran the Circus, but there were bizarre German ones too. First there were the Brothers Grimm. It has been observed many times before how aptly named they were, as their fairy tales involved the darkest side of human nature, and often involved evil and death. And then there were Max und Moritz and Struwwelpeter. Oh. My. God.
These were really the stuff of nightmares. A stubborn boy starved himself to death. A tailor cut off the thumbs of a boy who sucked them. A girl who played with matches burned to death. Mom? Did you read these? Were you aware of how disturbing these stories are? This is what you put me to bed with! Didn’t you like me?
These are not the stories I shared with my own son. We read The Very Busy Spider and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He delighted to Jan Brett’s illustrations and Dr. Seuss’s rhymes. The loving families in Patricia Polacco’s books, and the familiarity of Big Red Barn and Good Night Moon sent him off to sleep in a world that was safe and comfortable.
To this day I have many unjustified fears. I think that perhaps my parents’ choice of bedtime literature fostered some of those. I hope that my son lives in a world where he feels safe and secure. A world where a young child can count on stories ending happily ever after, and nobody will cut off your thumbs.
November 22, 2013 at 8:24 am
The problem with the Grimm tales is that they were originally written for adults and wasn’t until the Victorian era that they became ‘adapted’ for children. Still some are gruesome. In the Cinderella I was told about the ugly sisters cut of parts of their own feet to fit into the slippers. Luckily though a passing bird told the Prince that his white horse was stained with blood so he was able to turn around and drop the mutilated sister and get the next. Third time lucky though – he managed to find Cinderella… It is a horrifying story and has left me with a few fears and many bad dreams… Even into adult hood. Now I screen the fairy tales that are read to my nephew and those particular books are ‘lost’ (under my bed) and will stay that way until the kids are old enough for horror stories.
November 22, 2013 at 8:31 am
Good thinking. I have a 1929 version and it is horrifying. Thanks for the read and the informative response.
November 22, 2013 at 8:41 am
No problem – I love reading your blog. 🙂
November 22, 2013 at 8:42 am
I know the book of Heinrich Hoffman. My parents thought it is “funny” and bought it as I was a little girl. The story of thumbsucking Conrad was really cruelty and I cried for the dog what was tortured by evil Friedrich. Can’t believe that Mr. Hoffman really wrote this book for his 3 years old son.
November 22, 2013 at 10:46 am
I know, I was shocked when I read that it was for a three year old, then marketed to ages 3-6. Yikes!
November 22, 2013 at 11:13 am
I too, had the bright idea of teaching my child about the “classics.” We began reading Mother Goose until I was appalled at the these cute tales could incite nightmares. We quickly changed to gentle happy dream stories. These stories often had strong discipline and moral lessons. I guess nightmares were once considered good discipline tools. Thanks for sharing 🙂
November 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm
Yes, I guess we’re part of a “kinder, gentler” generation, but a lot of our kids are out of control too, so maybe there’s a fine line? Thanks for the feedback. 🙂
November 23, 2013 at 4:44 am
I absolutely love your blog & writing style & this post. I believe that something magical is the coolest thing to read to your children, I’m not a fan of the scary stories… Happy Saturday. ~A~
November 23, 2013 at 8:09 am
Thank you for your kind words. I’m a much bigger fan of Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling books, which have their share of the dark side, but aren’t quite as horrifying. Glad you’re enjoying the blog. 🙂