Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Childrens books

I like to read to Elias every waketime. Our favorite books so far are Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt and Fluffy Chick and Friends by Priddy Books. Those are touch-and-feel books.

We also have a large collection of Dr. Seuss books, all of which were given to Elias. My mom doesn't like Dr. Seuss and refuses to read them to grandchildren. I didn't have many Seuss books growing up, I think I only had Green Eggs and Ham. I did most of my Seuss reading at the dentist's office and such. So I've been trying some of them out on Elias, learning the stories.

My college pastor would often work Dr. Seuss references into his sermons and lessons. Many have an inherent moral, and that is what I'm interested in. What does the author want to teach my child?

One reason I'm kind of sensitive to this area is the fact that some childrens books like The Berenstain Bears contained overtly un-Christian messages. I grew up on the Berenstain Bears, probably had most of their books. Nancy Pearcey, co-author of Total Truth, discovered a Carl Sagan message in The Berenstain Bears' Nature Guide. Pearcey writes:
Not long ago, I picked up a nature book for my little five-year-old about the Bernstein Bears, the highly popular picture-book characters. In this book, the Bear family invites us on a nature walk, and as you read you suddenly come across a two-page spread with a startling slogan sprawled across both pages with capital letters: Nature is "all that IS, or WAS, or EVER WILL BE."

Have we heard that somewhere before? The words echo the well-known line from Carl Sagan's PBS show "Cosmos": "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." Sagan was echoing the classic Christian liturgy ("as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever well be"), and what he was offering was nothing less than a religion of naturalism--where nature takes the place of God as the ultimate and eternal reality. What Sagan did for adults, the Bernstein Bears are doing for young kids.

Kids are sensitive to stories, have vivid imaginations, and don't know how the world works. In their minds there could very well be a "Whoville" and "thneeds." Books and bedtime stories are some influences on their impressionable minds-- at least they were for me. So, some of the Seuss books are kind of strange. They don't contain any overt stuff like above but some of them contain a part or two that I wish was worded differently. I like some more than others.

Green Eggs and Ham is about trying new things--try it, maybe you'll like it. I think it helped me have a mature palate for food growing up, as I'll try and eat just about anything. So, I can see us using that positively.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories has some great stories about the dangers of pride. I could immediately think of Biblical equivalents to each of the stories. There's a fairly ambiguous statement about freedom in one of the stories.

However, The Lorax is a pretty depressing book about the overuse of resources. I could see me using it to teach him about taxing negative externalities. I could see other parents using it to teach their sons that capitalism is only destructive in the end. That seemed to be the overarching theme.

The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hatches the Egg, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins have happy endings but lead to some fairly odd questions: Is it ever okay to open your home to a stranger and let him trash it when your parents aren't home? Do people really hunt elephants and aim "straight at his heart?" Is it really okay to kill a small child by pushing him off the castle tower?

I kind of skip over parts I don't like when reading some books out loud. Like a whole page of a weird sorcerer chant, for example. Maybe I'm way too sensitive and shouldn't worry about it even when Elias is old enough to understand. But, I take my responsibility as spiritual protector of the household seriously. However, I also want to encourage his imagination like Dr. Seuss does... ah, the dilemmas I'll deal with as he grows.
We've yet to get a good children's Bible. I bought a Genesis children's book from a door-to-door salesman last week but the artwork looks a little creepy.

So, I'm going to say that right now BusinessWeek and The Economist are probably my preferred readings so far, after Pat the Bunny and Fluffy Chick. That way he and I both learn.


Jessica said...

I prefer "Horton Hears a Who" to "Hatches an Egg." I like the themes better and it leads to better conversation about helping and judging.

Have you read Suess' "The Butter Battle Book?" I'd be interested in your take on it. It's deep and certainly political.

Patriot LOVES "The Cat in the Hat" so we just talk about "do we open the front door before Mommy tells us to?" "should we always tell the truth?" etc.

He also loves The Bernstein Bears, so I just choose which one's we read. Most of them I've encountered so far teach social morals, but I have run across one or two that I didn't bring home from the library.

Just wait until you start watching children's TV. Some of that is a wreck. Thanks for the post!

Mike Berenstain said...

Please note that the accusation by Nancy Pearcy that a Berenstain Bears book contains an anti-Christian message from Carl Sagan's Cosmos is untrue. The Berenstain Bears book in question was published years before the show Cosmos was created. Pearcy has acknowleged this error. The similarity in language she found was coincidental and had a completely different meaning in the book's context from Sagan's meaning. The idea that Berenstain Bears books contain anti-Christian sentiments is absurd. Zondervan is about to publish a series of Christian Berenstain Bears books, Living Lights, devoted to such themes as prayer, Sunday school, the golden rule and God's love.
Mike Berenstain
Berenstain Bears, Inc.

JTapp said...

Wow, someone from the Berenstain Bear company actually posted on my blog. My guess is that they see this quite a bit. Thanks for the insights and info, and I find it interesting that Pearcey has acknowledged the error.
However, the entire quote from the book:
"Nature is every person, thing, and place here on Earth and out in space. Nature's the sun, the moon, the stars. It's far away planets like Venus and Mars. It's the mountains, the valleys, the shore, the sea. Nature is you! Nature is me! It's all that IS or WAS or EVER WILL BE!"

The capitals are the authors', not my own. Why would they make a statement like that which sounds like a catechism?

Mike Berenstain said...

Here is the broadest definition of "nature" in the Random House unabridged dictionary which was used for reference in this book:

"the universe, with all its phenomena."

This definition was chosen because it is the simplest.

Here is the context of the quote cited:



It's everybody
and everything--
a peacock's tail,
a butterfly's wing.
It's snails and stones
and dinosaur bones.
Volcanoes! Earthquakes...Cousin Liz!
That's just a part of what nature is.
Nature is the world of animals--
from the biggest whale...
to the smallest flea.
It's the world of plants--
from the tiniest weed...
to the tallest tree.
It's the earth itself--
the rocks and soil.
And from under the earth
come coal and oil.
Nature is every person, thing and place
here on Earth and out in space.
Nature's the sun, the moon, the stars.
It's faraway planets like Venus and Mars.
It's the mountains, the valleys, the shore, the sea.
Nature is you! Nature is me!
It's all that is or was or ever will be!
And that's a lot to talk about
on just one nature walkabout."

The text refers to the physical universe--it has no intention to refer to spiritual matters at all.

Mike Berenstain
Berenstain Bears, Inc.

Book said...

My kids love the Berenstain Bears, and I wholeheartedly support the great sense of community spirit that it promotes. I've recently discovered Bayard's Books which seem to have the right mix of education and fun and cater for all ages : StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks, DiscoveryBoxBooks

Mom in the Shoe said...

The Berenstain Bears are forbidden in our home. I grew up on them as well, but after I was married and had my own children, I realized that these books are anti-father and portray the father as an idiot. There is no respect for him at all. It is a very bad example to the children and teaches both Mother and the children to disrespect the head of the house. That is unacceptable in our home. If a Christian Berenstain Bears is published, we will boycott it as well unless the father is rightfully placed as the head and guide of his family.