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.