Grim Death awaits you, O my children

Any parents out there? I bet you know the children’s book, Goodnight Moon. I read it a few million times myself, with each kid as they came up through those preschool years, and I can still remember each page and how the little ones had to repeat each goodnight. Lance Mannion finds the strangest summary of the book, though—it’s a dark nihilist tract that portrays the inevitability of death.

Whoa. Heavy, man.

The other obsessive touchstone of my children’s early years was Pat the Bunny, where each page had a different texture glued on — a piece of sandpaper, a feather, some soft fluff — and the kids were supposed to touch it as we read it. I anxiously await the review that reveals this was actually naturalistic/materialist propaganda designed to inculcate the all-ness of the physical world into impressionable young minds.

I don’t remember much about my early reading habits, although I think Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel was in there, along with lots of Dr Seuss (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish…oh no, he did warp my brain!) I know that once I got away from picture books, some of the earliest reading my father passed on to me were the Mars books by Burroughs, which perhaps explains my current fascination with many-limbed creatures and naked hotties who lay eggs.

Retroactive reinterpretation of kids’ books is fun!


  1. Melissa G says

    I have a great retroactive theory that Marcus Pfister’s “Rainbow Fish” promotes communism, groupthink, and suggests that friends won’t like you if you’re too individualistic or too pretty, and that you can buy friendship. :lol:

    (Am I the only one creeped out by the fish ripping off his own scales to give them to his so-called “friends” just so they’ll play with him?)

  2. says

    My eldest child’s favorite book was “Cars and Trucks and Things that Go” by Richard Scarrey. I grew to hate this book, which was falling apart from being read every night. I finally recorded myself reading it one night, so I would never ever have to read it again, just play the tape. Terrible mother that I was.

    “Ma and Pa and Pickles and Penny Pig are going to the beach!”


  3. Cris says

    I’m amazed that Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is not only considered a children’s book, but is generally considered sweet and sentimental. To me, it’s a heart-rending depiction of an abusive relationship. The boy takes and takes, the tree gives and gives, and never stops giving even after she is reduced to a dead stump. I blame the patriarchy!

  4. Melissa G says

    “The Giving Tree” really disturbed me. I thought it was unspeakably sad (and this at the age of three)! But I grew up avoiding abusive relationships, so maybe I learned something from it…

  5. says

    I come from a large family, which is not to say there were very many of us. Our nighttime prayer ran:

    Now I lay me down to sleep
    Hoping the leftovers keep.
    If I should wake before I die,
    I’d like a piece of pumpkin pie.

  6. gordonsowner says

    “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” (I forget by who) is a favorite because of the clear pictures and the sing-song way in which you can read it.

    i’ve gotten some books to avoid. Love You Forever is just a heart-breaking book that is overly sentimental that I now refuse to read to my kids because it makes me cry and I hate it for that. Also, I’ve gotten some books trying to teach empathy from Thrivent Lutheran by some woman Ph. D. in education that are just totally worthless. The story compells neither adults or kids and is just way too pedantic. I should note that I have a prejudicial disrespect for Education Ph.D.s after teaching 8th grade for a few years and seeing the people my wife had to deal with getting her master’s in education.

  7. Lasagne says

    As far as I can remember, my first books were Struwwelpeter and Max und Moritz.

    I think they gave me nightmares, especially the Struwwelpeter. I don’t know how anybody could ever consider them appropriate for children under 6.

  8. louis says

    Donna: Hi Mum! Ok maybe not, but my earliest reading memories are of Richard Scarrey (early/mid 70s). I don’t think my mum ever recorded herself reading it, but our copy was indeed falling apart for the same reasons.

    Of course Scarrey was instrumental in my realising I was an atheist, but more importantly my multi decade psychotropic drug habits. Talking dogs and cats man, that shit was good. Dr Seuss has to ‘fess up to that too. Peyote and the Cat in the Hat. Freeeeeeeeeeeeooooowwwwww!*


    *Of course this is humour. Don’t do drugs kids, it’s not big or clever. I never took peyote and read Dr Seuss books. Peyote was with Asterix books in Latin, Dr Seuss books are ‘shroom books, obviously. Never EVER mix those two up. It’s worse than a self induced nutmeg and ketamine overdose. DON’T DO NUTMEG!

  9. says

    Oh, no, you had to remind me of Richard “He scarred me” Scarry — all those little pictures, all those tiny little details, going on and on endlessly…

  10. Steve_C says

    My boy loves the bunny planet books and he’s into Chicken Soup with Rice by Sendak.
    He likes a really nice pencil illustrated book called the moon plane and any books about dogs and cats.

  11. Chris Thorpe says

    My almost 6 year old LOVES the Magic School Bus books. Rather long for a bedtime book, and contains 1000% your RDA for bad puns, but fun to read and discuss.

    Other favorites include The King who Rained” which is all visual depictions of puns, and the old classic from my youth-“Pickles the Firecat”, which I guess, in the spirit of this post, could be interpreted as a soul-crushing tale of lost innocence in which a free-sprited stray cat is co-opted by the Man and becomes a tool of soul-crushing conformity.

  12. Observer says

    I loved all the details of Richard Scarry books – I’d stare at them for hours.

    I don’t know what Maurice Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen did to me – cause me to like naked little boys? :-/ That book has been on a number of banned lists.

    Where The Wild Things Are was another favorite (and yes I escaped the house undetected in the morning at 2 years old to commune with animals at the neighbors pond – twice).

  13. Icequeen says

    My girl is all about “the very hungry caterpillar”, cardboard edition. Obviously a precursor to gluttony, not to mention obsession with penetration (she must put her index finger through each of the “eating holes”)

    The story of the little mole is also a good one, but my evil Dutch version just has the word “poop” in the title.

  14. Steve_C says

    My son likes all the Eric Carle Books. The “Very Busy Spider” is a good one.
    I think it’s because I make excellent animal noises. Harry McClary from Donaldson’s Dairy is a fun book too.

  15. MTran says

    Gee, I’m starting to feel like an alien from another dimension. Other than Aesop’s Fables, we never got much in the way of kiddies’ tales and I never saw a Doctor Seus book until my teens, when I took the neighbor kids to the local library. But I fondly recall my father’s deep, resonant, voice as he read to us each night from his Brief Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy.

    We had plenty of illustrated books though, the most memorable ones being my mother’s textbook on skin diseases and a diagnostics reference guide. I was fascinated by the illustrations of different types of urine, feces, pus and vomit and was constantly checking my younger brothers & pets for signs of parasitism or pathology.

    I don’t think the experience was too damaging, though.

  16. Icequeen says

    My daughter also loves this book. I chuckle at the OH MY GAWRH reviews.

    Actually, that’s my secret shame, I check out reviews for books I know will be controversial and either read the 5 star reviews (Coulter for instance) or the 1 star (Dawkins)

  17. says

    This discussion reminds me of a dark summary of The Wizard of Oz that I first saw years ago. From IMDB:

    Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

    (Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal.)

  18. says

    My son’s favorite book at 2 years (he’s 12 now) was “More Spaghetti I Say!”

    Play with me Minnie,
    play with me please,
    we can stand on our heads,
    we can hang by our knees…

    and yes, I remember all the rest of the pages, too.



  19. craig says

    Mike Mulligan’s and his Steam Shovel! THANK YOU!

    Every few years I get images in my head from this book that I loved and I drive myself crazy trying to find out what it was… looking all over the net. Now I know! :)

  20. j.t.delaney says

    Definitely, my favorite children’s book was Mercer Mayer’s “One Monster After Another” — the artwork in this was amazing, and turned me onto surrealism long before I knew what it was. Dr. Seuss was also in heavy circulation, of course. Gerald McDermott and Maurice Sendak also has some really cool illustrations. Ah, memories…

    So, now that I have a son of my own (15 months), and I’ve already been rebuilding a collection of the aforementioned “good stuff”. I’m on the look-out for some good picture books. While I don’t want to indoctrinate him as a secular humanist too early, I would like to find more science/pluralism-friendly books for him to enjoy. Are there any good recommendations out there for kids under 3?

  21. J-Dog says

    j.t.delaney – Since my best friend growing up was Cormac Delaney, I am willing to help you out…Go to your local libray – They should have a ton of books that should qualify as science-friendly, and kid-friendly. Have fun.

  22. Matt T. says

    I’m with ya. I remember when I was very young, maybe three or so, one of my aunts gave Momma a stack of Richard Scarry books, but they were soon shuffled off to a younger cousin. We had one of those big but tight-knit hillbilly familes, and there were half-a-dozen cousins running around and sharing childhood memoribilia. I think those same Scarry books are still in circulation with my cousin Jamie’s boys.

    The bulk of my childhood reading was then-current comic books, my old man’s “National Geographic” and an incomplete collection of Encyclopedia Americana my mother had left over from college. It was missing “P”, but I didn’t think there was much interesting that started with “P” so it was okay. Nowadays, I spend all my copious free time reading about philosophy and physics, so go figure.

    Another aunt, the Church Aunt, gave all the kids little books from her Sunday School, but those things always creeped me out. It wasn’t just because they were so damn preachy – my aunt is Freewill Baptist, which is like Southern Baptist but more polite – but because none of the families in the stories had anything whatsoever to do with what I saw from mine on a day-to-day basis. No one was too hung over to go to church, for example.

  23. says

    I am the hugest fan of Ferdinand, the story of the bull that just wanted to smell the flowers.

    And a second vote for never ever ever ever reading Love You Forever. Talk about a book that is about the inevitability of death.

  24. MTran says

    Matt T.,

    National Geo! But of course. That was one of my primary fantasy inducers as a kid. Still is, sometimes. Distant places, exotic creatures in exotic landscapes: these things really charged my imagination.

  25. Ompus says

    Say what you want, but Mistress Mouse is fly. She can fix almost anything and still have time to win the auto-race.

  26. Carlie says

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like The Giving Tree. Most Silverstein I’m happy to read my kids, but man, that one is awful. Stupid boy and his selfishness, stupid doormat tree. My kids are out of picture book stage, but I introduced them to Roald Dahl as soon as they had the attention span. The Twits is loads of fun. In the “Goodnight Moon” realm, we liked “Guess how much I love you” much better.

    When I was little I loved Richard Scarry books. I’m not sure why.

  27. Carlie says

    Oh, just remembered – one of the best children’s books I’ve come across is Elizabite, by H.A. Rey (the Curious George author). I still can’t decide if I like the message; Elizabite can’t stop biting people, so she gets transferred to the zoo. However, how many kids’ books are about carnivorous plants and botanists?

  28. Ompus says

    The Lion King: genetic determinism and post hoc justification of disparity.

    In the Lion King, Simba is born and pronounced heir to King Mufasa’s throne. The dominance of lion over gazelle is justified as the “circle of life.” All this is well and good… for who can argue that some animals are predators, while others prey. But there is a problem- the Lion King ISN’T a story about the brutality of nature, animals, and their behaviour. After-all, how many animals dance to Elton John?

    What the Lion King teaches is that some of us are born to lead, some to follow, some to eat, some to be eaten. Your lot in life is cast and set in genetically determined stone. Gazells are deservedly eaten because they were born to be eaten. The poor are deservedly poor because they can do no better. The rich are rich because they are the lions of American civilization.

    Don’t get me started on Warthogs.

  29. Maggie Rosethorn says

    My kids loved Goodnight Moon, but a bigger favorite was The Runaway Bunny (same author). Never had a lot of Scarry, but we did have all the books from Beatrix Potter, which the kids preferred (except for Peter Rabbit, which they hated!)

  30. Nick C says

    Green Eggs & Ham!

    But the ones that made the biggest impression at a slightly later date were by Roy Chapman Andrews. Great stuff for kids.

  31. stogoe says

    I would read Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ over and over again, but I never got into any of his other works.

  32. Moses says

    I think Lance needs therapy. It’s just a children’s story and depicts the silly little “good night” rituals children have.

  33. j says

    I love Dahl’s Matilda; it’s a wonderful story of brains over brawn. Eric Carle’s The Mountain Who Loved a Bird (I think that’s the title) is my favorite picture book.

  34. Ken C. says

    While I mainly remember the fine works of Robert McCloskey and Virginia Lee Burton, somehow parts of this stick:

    In an old house in Paris,
    that was covered with vines,
    lived twelve little girls,
    in two straight lines.

    In two straight lines,
    they broke their bread
    they brushed their teeth
    and went to bed.

    …the smallest one was Madeleine….

    She was not afraid of mice
    She loved winter, cold, and ice.
    To the lion in the zoo
    She would always say, poo-poo.

    …and the many sequels.

    And Babar. And Bartholemew Cubbins. And Mulberry Street.

  35. Azkyroth says

    Joey’s favorites change quite frequently, possibly because she has an almost unbelievable number of books. Goodnight Moon does seem to be an enduring semi-favorite, though, and it’s the one she most frequently brings specifically to me.

    I had been meaning to make some children’s books of my own…mostly parodies, like “Joey’s Butt Can Moo–Can You?” and “The Pregnant, Pregnant Caterpillar (holes through the nine planets, “And she was still hungry” …perhaps, being essentially a one-liner, it would make for a better t-shirt),” but also some original stuff.

    For my own part, my parents and some extended family were talking about me and Joey at comparable ages yesterday, and one item that came up was that for a while, around 16 months, my favorite bedtime book was the John Deere catalog (I, apparently, am not making this up). “Septimus Bean” and a few specific Doctor Seuss books were also big hits with me (anything involving complicated machinery was likely to capture my attention). One book I’m holding onto for Joey, from when I was about 5x her present age, is “The Dragonslayers” by Bruce Coville–I think it went a long way towards inspiring my enduring fascination with tomboyish characters, and that the princess character would be a very good role model for her. Any others people can think of involving notably strong and/or wise female characters?

  36. Ken C. says

    “Asimov was one of my childhood favorites.

    Explains a lot about me, really…”

    Looking back, maybe there was something not entirely positive about my summer project, at age nine, of “The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science”.

  37. brightmoon says

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like The Giving Tree.

    trust me youre not the only one ..creepy book about destructive dysfunctional relationship ……it’s funny but i love the 4 tops old song “7 rooms of gloom ” about another creepy destructive dysfunctional relationship;)

  38. brightmoon says

    my favorite is winnie the pooh ….i still pull it down and read it occasionally ….i love that long sentence that takes up about a page

  39. Dee says

    I had quite a few books around for my kids, but the ones that ended up as the favorites were by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith: “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales”, “Squids Will be Squids”, their version of the Three Little Pigs, and my personal favorite, “Math Curse”. Great books with wonderful illustrations.

  40. Grumphy Physicist says

    Yes, well Goodnight Moon is the playground for the ever-popular “spot the mouse” game. To the extent that many toddler books are aimed specifically at encouraging sleep, it’s easy to make the jump and think of them talking about death, but I don’t think that’s justified really.

    One that is entertaining (great artwork!) is “The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear”. It’s been bugging me lately because it sure seems to have a subtext of “I’m going to scare you with imaginary threats to get you to give me some of your stuff” Maybe I should substitue “Pat Robertson” for the bear….hmm.

    And I’m glad that I’m not they only one that finds the damn Rainbow Fish obnoxious and weird. But it does have an octopus, so that’s a plus.

  41. Clare says

    My children both really liked The Faraway Tree. Yes, yes, weird, old-fashioned, British blah blah, but ol’ Enid Blyton does some imaginative stuff with those alternative universes clanking into place up in the canopy.

  42. Carpworld says

    I fondly remember Where The Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but one book trumped them all, three words: Animals Without Backbones. I’m certain that learning about platyhelminths was vital for a 5 year old.

  43. morfydd says

    I was always a little weirded out by “Pat the Bunny”. As I recall, we had an older version of the book and the “random fluff” that was on the bunny was actually rabbit hair. So as a young child I got to contemplate the conflicting messages of “Rabbits are soft pets” and “We just killed one to make this book to give you the previous message”.

  44. llewelly says

    I love _The Giving Tree_, because it accurately describes one of life’s most important dangers in terms a child can understand.