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The 5 Worst Books for Your Children

And why they should be avoided.

Bonnie Ramthun


July 22, 2013 - 9:00 am
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As a reader, the mother of four children, and an author, I want my kids to love to read and to approach reading as joy and nourishment. The following five works of fiction do not encourage and inspire the love of reading in children. They’re terrible books for kids. If you make your children read these they will develop a loathing for reading that will last their whole lives and may possibly poison their very souls. Let’s see why.

Note: Minor spoilers.

5.) The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck The Red Pony

This is a set of four short stories set in the western United States and an excellent example of John Steinbeck’s famously spare, elegant prose. Beautifully written, with underlying themes of death and redemption, we can all agree that this is a classic. Did I mention the gruesome death of the title character, the beloved red pony? No? Want to watch your children sob in heartbreak and then continue on to read the next three stories with increasing puzzlement and despair as the complicated themes go over their heads and they must endure the agonizing death of another beloved horse? The Red Pony will not give your children a desire to read for pleasure. Just because a novel features a child doesn’t mean that the work is appropriate for them.

Yes, children should be exposed to stories of heartbreak, loss, and redemption, but there are much better novels than Steinbeck’s to share with your child. Hand over Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, or Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Each of these books will make your child cry, but in the end will fill them with joy.

Top Rated Comments   
Pullman is an athiest and he deliberately wrote "His Dark Materials" as an attack on Christianity and an attempt to destroy children's belief in God. He's said so himself, so I think I'm on pretty solid ground here:
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem is they are the wrong leasons for children.

Evil is easy to make pretty. That leads to kids who think that anyone with morals and cares for other people is a chump.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, they still teach reading?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (88)
All Comments   (88)
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To this list, I would add Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," which tells us that the highest form of love is to remain in an abusive relationship with a person who is only interested in exploiting you for material gain, and who will take everything you offer and demand more. To be truly virtuous, you should invite your partner to mutilate you, dismember you, and eventually kill you in order to get the things he wants.

At the end of the story, the "giving tree" is nothing but a stump, which the abusive partner uses for sitting on. (Yes, he "honors" the memory of his deceased friend by using her corpse as a place to park his sorry ass.) In the last line of the book, Silverstein claims that the tree is "happy." Dude, she is DEAD. Slaughtered and butchered by the one she loved.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
only got through 12 1/2 of Lemony Snicket. Seemed like drudgery to finish.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for this article, Ms. Ramthun. Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote (courageously) about the sad quality of current literature for young people too. I say "courageously" because the scorn, verging on abuse, that was prompted by her article, was quite shocking. My twelve year-old granddaughter is reading Steinbeck's The Pearl Diver, for school. She's not ready for it, unless I read it to her, and she hates it, which is a terrible shame because the experience will put her off Steinbeck for a long time. I can recommend a wonderful book that seems to be enjoyed by all ages: HOTEY, by Josephine Bailey.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was surprised #5 didn't include "Where the Red Fern Grows." Phenomenal book.
I loved "My Side of the Mountain" and the Narnia books. Amazing. I'm getting them for my kids. Thanks for this article.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bonnie, thank you for your kind words and encouragement. My original plan was to continue the series, but after a trip to the bookstore, I wasn't sure. You have inspired me to continue with the series.

I am in a difficult position; I have over 400 stories and three books, but I have yet to publish, except for the internet. So with over two million words, I need to be cautious about writing more, until I find my niche. The infamous writer's block has never been a problem for me.

I had no intention of writing for children, but I feel like too many kids are missing out on farm life and ranch life. They would all be better off if they experienced the country life for a few weeks every summer. They can learn that meat doesn't come wrapped in cellophane and vegetables aren't necessarily delivered in a truck.

Thanks again, Skook.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read all Steinbeck between the ages of 9 and 12 and about half of it was not age-appropriate. The Red Pony was the worst, but then I feel the same way about Old Yeller and Black Beauty. Too sad. Another terrible one is Where the Red Fern Grows. I still wish I had not read that.

Loved Jack London, Mark Twain and James Mitchner.

Learned all about sex from the Clan of the Cave Bear series :) I found them under my mom's bed.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm fan of the "wise men from Chelm" in the Bashevis Singer' Stories for Children :)
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bonnie, I write a lot of stories. They are written to give adult readers an appreciation of life on a ranch and animals. Several people encouraged or challenged me to write a children's story.

I wrote, The Last Son of The Gray Ghost, and then wondered what age group it would appeal to. I stopped at a big bookstore to check out the children's section to do research. What a shock, I thought all the books were way more advanced than the books I read to my children 20 years ago.

I have no intention of being a children's author, but it would be nice if you read the short and gave me your opinion.

I am a horseman and like to write with realism and accuracy; yet, I wanted a wholesome story for children. (The same formula I use for adults.)
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was in Jr. High two of the Best Books I read were;
The Man who rode the thunder by William Rankin
Mig Pilot by John Barron
they led me to read KGB by John Barron
I learned an awful lot from those books.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I tried to read A Series of Unfortunate Events, but if found it so vapid I could not even finish the first one.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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