Good stories are timeless. They have a way of burrowing into your mind and your heart, staying with you for years to come.
Children’s literature is no different.
Young readers with impressionable minds have been exploring the world through the lens of bedtime stories since the printing press first came to be in the 1400s.
Many of these best-selling books, however, do little to inspire and uplift young children. Like the terrifying story of Hansel and Gretel or the concerning story of Little Red Riding Hood, many classic fairy tales have very dark undertones amidst the imaginative storylines.
While there is no doubt that these children’s book authors have inspiring imaginations, I wonder if they have used their imaginations to instill valuable lessons in younger children.
I’d like to offer a love-based perspective on these classic children’s stories that so many families have grown to love over the years.
I’d like to propose that we ditch them!
There is certainly much to be learned from these adventures that are spelled out in (sometimes frightening) detail, but can’t we offer so much more to our young children?
Can’t we offer uplifting, inspiring, and loving lessons in our children’s literature?
I say that we can. Absolutely and without a doubt.
But first, let’s take a look at the top classic children’s books and see exactly what lessons are being taught by these stories.
Top 10 Classic Children’s Books That Will Shock You
Children’s books should be about so much more than a vivid imagination. Must-have books must also have valuable lessons, right? Well, take a look at these unnerving bedtime stories that teach your child confusing lessons.
1. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
This picture book is a heartwarming one to be sure, but it also leaves young readers questioning where a person’s worth may come from. In the case of the Velveteen Rabbit, it seems that the poor rabbit is only real when a child loves him. As young children begin to grasp with the concept of the self, they often look to others to determine their self-worth. With a book like this, as beautiful as it is, it only further perpetuates the message that children gain their worth through the love of others. Don’t we want our children to know that their self-worth is stable and valuable simply because they exist?
2. The Witches by Roald Dahl
This classic tale is downright horrifying and there really is no explanation needed. The story tells of women who are secretly witches that prey on younger children. The young boy in the story learns of the witches and becomes paranoid as he discovers that unassuming women all around him are actually witches. It teaches young readers that women are not to be trusted, that “loathsome” children will be shunned, and perhaps even murdered, by adults, and that everyone you love dies. While it certainly makes reading a riveting experience, it does very little to support the beautiful mind or life of young children.
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
When it comes to classic fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland really takes the cake. This children’s book author explored new limits between storytelling and fantasy, paving the way for authors to explore fantasy stories for years to come. Though it is a classic that helped shape children’s stories (and even children’s movies) for years to come, let’s not forget that this story is far too dark for young children. Stories such as this might teach young readers that life will not provide for you, when needed, and that you do not have the power within you to meet your own needs. Many child development professionals cringe at the idea of instilling these lessons in young minds as they go directly against the work of natural parenting. Rather than teach your child that the world is unsafe and impossible to navigate, let’s find a way to teach lessons of courage and compassion.
4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden beautiful tale of a secret garden helps bring two young children back to themselves, the selves who are compassionate, curious, and happy. But it also tells the story of two young children who were grossly underloved and were crippled as a result. Only when they were free to explore in the secret garden were they able to discover their worth. The problem lies in the path to discovering their worth, because they had it all along!
5. Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
The Grimms’ Fairy Tales were born of a life filled with grief and trouble, which is easily translated into the dark stories in the series. The stories often tell of conditional love, external source of validation, and troubling challenges. They also offer uplifting stories and successes, but not without first telling of conditional self-worth.
6. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
This sweet story warns of a life full of broken rules and dangerous strangers, which isn’t necessarily a bad lesson. It is an entertaining one, too! But at no point does it share the inner journey that Peter experiences as he carefully makes his way back to safety. It warmly shows that his family will be waiting there for him upon his return, but what about his own inner-guidance through the whole debacle? What does it say of the outer world and new experiences? Though the world may be big and indeed dangerous, it is also much more manageable when we realize that we have the potential to navigate it right within us.
7. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
This popular classic story pairs beautiful and creative illustrations with a senseless story about a bear who loses his hat (and wants it back). The bear wanders from animal to animal, asking if anyone has seen his hat. He loses confidence after a few defeating moments and only regains enthusiasm when another animal poses him a question. It teaches that life’s hardships can be defeating and that we need a hero to bring us back to life. Don’t we want our children to believe in themselves through life’s hardships?
8. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
As cute as this story is, it wastes the beautiful illustrations on a rather pointless story. Sure, it shares the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but couldn’t there be a more impactful lesson about transformation in the process?
9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
A dark story about children who cannot resist temptation teaches our young children that temptation leads to certain doom. While temptation can certainly lead to negative consequences, succumbing to it doesn’t reduce a person’s worth.
10. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and Libby Hamilton
While this story is one that adults can relate to on a personal level (who is the man behind the curtain in your life?) it is a disturbing story for young children. It tells of characters with defects that greatly reduce their worth, and therefore the support they receive. The happy ending helps children discover that perhaps they have everything they need right within them, but it is a lesson that seems to be overshadowed by the dark story that leads up to it.
Children’s Books To Buy Instead
If you’re looking for inspiring children’s books that will instill the lessons that you believe in the most, then this list is a great start. Each of these books teaches what it means to be a valued human, just as you are.
In many ways, these books are in line with the Attachment Parenting approach because they show that though the world can be scary, you are no less deserving of the safe space to explore it.
You’re All Kinds of Wonderful – Nancy Tillman
My BIG Book of Beginnings – Carmel Stoesz
If You Hold A Seed – Elly MacKay
What are some of your favorite books for children? What lessons do they teach? I’d love to hear more and learn about the ways that this community is connecting with their children!