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The 5 Worst Books for Your Children

And why they should be avoided.

Bonnie Ramthun


February 16, 2014 - 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: This article was first published in July of 2013. It is being republished as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months. Click here to vote for your favorites in the comments.

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.

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All Comments   (6)
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Thank you for mentioning "My Side of the Mountain!" I LOVED that book, and it has formed my philosophy for writing books. My characters are always in situations where they have to improvise-- even in advanced societies.

51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Never had summer reading back in Elementary school (or at least, I don't recall it, and since I recall a lot of things from way back before Elementary school, if I don't remember it, chances are I didn't have it), although I did have it in Middle and High School (including the transition points). I think I had to read by sixth grade Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None (When reading that, I basically read the ending before I read the full book, due to hating suspense), and the Junior/Senior year I had to read Little Women and I think The Joy Luck Club. May have also read bits of Animal Farm and possibly the book on box people. There were some books that did not sit well for me (like Joy Luck Club. I had an easier time getting through Little Women than I did getting through Joy Luck Club). Don't recall ever reading the books you listed, though. I have heard of the Series of Unfortunate Events (and saw the film with a friend, he pretty much talked me into it), and I have heard of the Golden Compass film, but I've never actually read the books.

EDIT: Okay, correction, I MAY have read the Island of the Blue Dolphins in either the third or the fourth grade, though it wasn't particularly memorable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Except for some reservations about the Pullman books (I can't abide angry atheists, since I used to be one, and know what monumental asshats they are), I don't agree with Ramthun on Any of her objections to the other books. So they have tragedy and bleakness in them.


Seriously, what happened to Bambi's Mom? And the fate of The Yearling? The numerous classic fairy tales with gruesome aspects to them? Are they off-limits too?

I assume that Ramthun's kids read other, more cheerful, books, so they get a balanced view of the world. And why not recommend Lemony Snicket if he (she?) is such a good writer? If it's good writing, your kids should read it.

Seriously, Ramthun sounds too much like an entire PC school system here.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are right in that kids will probably experience tragedy while growing up. Everyone does. I know I had to experience 9/11.

But there's a big difference between children personally experiencing tragedy, and forcing kids to read things that are exceptionally child-unfriendly, as its going to do serious damage to the kids minds. Bambi's mom being killed by a hunter, while tragic, is small fry compared to the kinds of things "Monster" exposed and promoted. And besides, even Bambi's mom being killed was merely implied instead of explicitly shown (at least in the Disney version), unlike the graphic details in "Monster."

And having good writing is no excuse to exposing children to deeply depraved actions especially when said things would most likely warp them. One can say "120 Nights of Sodom" by Sade was a well-written piece of work, yet I'll bet you wouldn't be caught dead trying to have your children read that philosophical pornographic book.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I congratulate you--excellent list! I say this ruefully as a mom who let her kids enjoy the Lemony Snicket craze their school was going through (as the books were still coming out); I could be wrong, but I thought the kids "got" that it was exaggerated, over-the-top, tongue in cheek. (Still not very attractive.) I agree totally about Island of the Blue Dolphins, which was new in my childhood and was featured in my 4th or 5th grade class. When I reread it as a mom, I was struck both by what a tedious read it was, and how irredeemably cruel and heartless the death of the girl's brother seemed.
As a child, I sometimes came upon adult content in books; the first adult book I read (other than Dickens, which doesn't pose the same problems) was How Green Was My Valley; there is a child who is raped and murdered in that book, as well as the issue of a promiscuous woman being publicly shamed. In any case, I was shocked and distressed (aged about 10) to read this, but given that it wasn't assigned for school (can't imagine discussions at school about the Walter Dean Myers book you describe!) and I kept reading by my own choice, I would guess this means that I was able to understand the book (at some level) and wasn't damaged by it.

Thanks for an interesting article!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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