Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Amazing Bone

My son loves books and being read to. After finishing a story he will take the book and "read" the story back to you. This is a good thing. He has lots of books and we are also blessed because my mother who is a teacher has boxes of books that she has given him that are former school books. Every so often he will grab a book she has given him off his shelf and specify that we read it to him for bedtime story. Last weekend he did just that with the book The Amazing Bone by William Steig.

This book looks to be a bit older. It has a stamp inside from my mom's old school but also says that it's a Caldecott Medal Winner which is a prestigious award for children's books. Plus his grandmother gave it to him. It should be no problem right? Ummm it's a problem. Let me give you some excerpts of how children's literature is different today than it was in 1976. A little background.

This book is about a young pig named Pearl who lives in London and decides to walk home on a beautiful spring day. She finds a talking bone in the woods who eventually helps her to escape from being a fox's dinner.

My wife starts reading this book to our 21 month old and gives me a look when she reads this line:

"On Cobble Road she stopped at Maltby's barn and stood gawking as the old gaffers pitched their ringing horseshoes and spat tobacco juice."

OK so they chew tobacco... a little odd for a child's book but whatever. Then a few pages later after Pearl finds the bone we have this:

"Who should rush out from in back of the boulder and spoil everything but three highway robbers with pistols and daggers....they were fierce and spoke in chilling voices."

Robbers and guns? Are you serious?

"You can't heave my purse," she said, surprised at he own boldness. "What's in it?" said another robber, pointing his gun at Pearl's head."

It was at this point that we stopped reading to our son. What kind of kids book has robbers pointing guns at the head of the main character? Who wrote this Quentin Tarantino?

There's more. Just a few more quotes from The Amazing Bone after Pearl meets the fox who wants to eat her:

"The bone commenced to revile the fox. 'You coward!' it sneered. "You worm, you odoriferous wretch. These expletives were annoying. "Shut up or I will eat you."

"I regret having to do this to you," sighed the fox. "It's nothing personal." (a line apparently stolen from the Godfather)

"He's sharpening his knife," the bone whispered.

How did this book become a Caldecott Honor Book? Times were different back in the 70s. Can you imagine the uproar if a child's book today had guns being pointed at the head? HA! I searched a little bit more online and found some instances where this book has been banned. Now I'm not a fan of banning books, I feel it's the parent's responsibility to monitor what the child reads and has access to.

What do you think? Is this book no big deal? Are kid's books today just to P.C.? do you have any other examples of not so appropriate material in books that are supposed to be for kids? I would love to hear what you all think.



3 Men and a Lady said...

Hahaha, that's so funny! Honestly, the title alone makes me hesitant... "The Amazing Bone", LOL. I guess as long as you make an example of the bad things then it's okay. I grew up watching "Looney Tunes" and I have yet to drop an anvil on someone. (Yet)

Karen said...

Well, these days kids are handled with soft, fuzzy gloves. They can't play cops and robbers. They can't make the gun with their fingers and yell "bang". They all get trophies for participation. Teachers can't discipline them for fear of law suit.

Maybe a the talking bone and chewing tobacco is inappropriate, but I do think in general, society has gone too far.

Mandy said...

I can hardly believe that is a Caldecott medal winner. I agree with you on the banning of books, but this book does take things a bit too far! What a scary book for a kid!

3 Men and a Lady said...

This got me thinking... I have 2 old classic fairy tale books that were my great grandmother's. Nearly every single story in them has murder, kidnapping, theft, and some sort of "ruining someone's life" in them. Actually, some of the stories even allude to sexual things.

But I didn't read into them then like I do now. And I turned out okay.

Disaster Chick said...

I do think this is a parent's decision. I'm not sure how out mini-Doc is but it seems to be for an older kid. Not a fan of using the term "wretch" especially around children.

Maybe you should read the books grandma gave and make a decision when this would be read to him or if it should be when he can read.

This might have been an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino - and it looks more interesting than Barney.

Candice said...

I totally agree with Karen.

It's a bit over the top, and I'm sure I would ad lib in the parts I thought were a little too rough, but it is what it is.

I think there is a fine balance between raising kids to be a bunch of pansy asses, or crossing the line into gangsta-hood at a tender young age.

Evil Twin's Wife said...

I would be concerned about that one for his age, but not for an older child. I mean, look at some of the classics: Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, etc. Fairly weird and violent, but they live on. The books I despise for children are the ones that support a socialist agenda. Like the one about the grasshopper that toils in the sun to raise vegetables and the ant is all lazy, does nothing and then expects (feels entitled) to enjoy the fruits of the grasshoppers hard work. We don't read those types of books.

Jay said...

Is that from the Penthouse children's reading collection?

jennifer said...

I think the book went too far when the gun was pointed at the character's head - too much detail. Implied violence has been around for a long time. Witches and wolves often get killed in children's stories.

If you want a fun story with some kid friendly action and a pig try "The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig."


The most objectional content is when they dance the Tarantella. My kids and I loved this book.

The AbsolutGator said...

For 21 months, a little too much I believe. But I'm on board with Karen, kids today have no idea of what the world can really be like. PC is ruining America.

Dana said...

I'm with Karen and Candice on this one.

First of all, the Caldecott Medal is one awarded for artistry, not book content. It is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published that year. So, don't look for the Caldecott Medal to alert you to anything other than great illustrations.

Content? We're all assuming that at 21 months, "Doc Jr" is capable of understanding the content of this story. Sorry folks, but he's not. Reading this book to him - at this age - is little more than spending time with him and bonding through that time. He has no clue what these words mean and, as such, can't possibly be "damaged"

Now give the boy a trophy because he participated in bedtime stories *smirk*

Sis Chris said...

This just made me laugh out loud...the illustration to the left is crazy! Maybe for an older child.

Sis Chris said...

I meant Illustration to the right...sorry.

Doc said...

Sis Chris... that is straight from the book... Award winning artistry apparently.

Jen said...

I don't know, reading a book like this might better prepare the children for what is coming in high school. I get a call once a month from the automated messaging system at my sons school that yet another child has come to school with a gun. We live in a nice neighborhood, not the intercity and not in a gang territory. Better to be prepared than naive.

Of course my parents read Uncle Remus stories to me, Brer Rabbit and all those great racists.

terri said...

I think children's books from years ago could include guns and bad words because we took those things to be make-believe. We didn't believe those sorts of things would happen in real life. The difference now is that guns pointed at people's heads, crime and general bad behavior are all too real. They no longer qualify as things that make a charming children's story where the hero get's to win in the end.

Yvonne said...

omgosh, that was one of my favorite books when i was growing up! i'm not (too) warped.

Anonymous said...

in retrospect, i think the amazing bone and other steig books were quite formative to my own lingustic and cognitive development as a child. i'll admit that i'm somewhat warped as a result. i have various psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia manifest in auditory and visual hallucinations--impertinent whisperings from the ossuary in my mind. despite its detrimental effects on my mind, steig's book is a masterpiece of prose that even we adults can learn from. immersing kids in good language aids their own language development, just as reading to them imaginative and visionary literature can help stimulate their own imaginations. the foliage of mine, of course, having grown a tad much, what with my hallucinations, could use a bit of pruning, but hey, why not give your two year old some interesting nightmares he can meditate on in therapy years later.