Do you know what you are reading to your children?

February 26, 2010

in no manual for parenting

Do you really know? I mean, really really? Do you know what you are reading them and how they are hearing what you are reading them?…

I was browsing through the Costco “magazine” (what sadly passes as reading material for me nowadays) in bed when my oldest came to snuggle with sit by me. Not wanting to stop this rare moment, I tried hard to engage him in conversations.

“You like 2012 right?” The DVD is featured in the magazine because it is a shopping catalogue in disguise.

“Oh. That movie is AWESOME!” For my son, things can be easily divided into two groups: Things that are awesome; things that sucks.

I pointed to the DVD for the movie Where the Wild Things Are directed by Spike Jonze (of the Being John Malkovich fame). “Dad said the movie is actually quite good. He saw it on the plane. We should watch it sometimes.” Having two boys five years apart in age, I am constantly searching for movies that will appeal to both of them and are age-appropriate. To be honest, I aim for semi age-appropriate now because the picking is just slimmer than a meth addict on a super model diet. I bet Mr. Monk has watched more PG-13 movies than any other 7-year old in the suburbs.

“Oh. I know what it is about. It is based on the book Where the Wild Things Are…

Yeah. I was thinking. You and every other person older than three know what this movie is about. Duh.

“It is about this boy who got into trouble. He ran away from home to live with the monsters, and the monsters tried to kill him.”

“What?” I sat up to look at him. “Are you serious? No. Seriously. Is that what you think the book is about?”

“Uh huh. I told you. I have read this book. It was about this boy who went to live with the monsters, then he became homesick. And when he tried to leave, the monsters threatened to kill him. They said, ‘We will eat you up!'” He said, with even more conviction this time.

I laughed, yet at the same time, I was becoming more and more alarmed.

“No, dude. You are just being smartie pants, right? You don’t really think that’s what this book is about, right?”

“I am SERIOUS! That’s really the story! You don’t know anything, mom!”

Mr. Monk walked into the room at this time. I asked (with gnashed teeth) my oldest to not say anything about the book to his younger brother since I really don’t need two traumatized kids on my hand. I asked Mr. Monk whether he knows the story.

“I have the book. I’ll go get it!”

The three of us sat in bed while I read the story out loud. Just like I once did when they were much younger. I remember this book being one of the favorite books for both boys at around the same age.

When we got to the part where Max says goodbye to the Wild Things,

“Oh please don’t go — We’ll eat you up —“

“See? What did I tell you?!” Triumph in his voice now, my oldest moved in for the kill, “And see here? They were threatening to eat him!”

One of the most beloved children's books... What have we done?!

To think that I used to read this book to him before he went to bed. Many many nights.

p.s. No boys were harmed, physically or psychologically, in the making of this blog post.

{ 48 comments }

Terresa Wellborn February 26, 2010 at 1:02 am

Funny, the way kids interpret books. Their filter is different than ours, I guess.

Take Coraline for instance. The book is Neil Gaiman in fine form, but all the same it scared the pants off me. I’d never let my kids read it unless they were like 10 yrs old or something.

Fast forward to a family weekend where the older cousins were watching it and my kids happened to be in the same room. {I didn’t find out until after it was viewed. I was probably blogging or reading or something unmother-ish.} One of my 6 yr olds (she’s a twin) was terrified. I wanted to rewind time & save her that horror. Too late.
.-= Terresa Wellborn´s last blog…Sweet sign: I will not die an unlived life =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 2:11 am

I am so so so sorry! I hope she is ok. Maybe she’ll just forget? (Keeping my fingers crossed for you) My very mature 12-year-old loved the movie yet admitted that he thought the movie to be quite scary. Then he added, “Do NOT let [Mr. Monk] watch it!” My saying this is probably not helping you feel better. I just want to let you know that I agree: It is NOT meant for kids!

And you are right: kids do filter differently and each one differs from the other. Mr. Monk LOVES the Nightmare before Xmas yet he was so scared that he was shaking visibly by the hairless cat shown in the movie preview for “Cats & Dogs”…

honeypiehorse February 26, 2010 at 3:24 am

I was always scared and depressed by this book when I was a kid. Now I like it and my kids seem to as well but as a story it’s a bit grim.
.-= honeypiehorse´s last blog…Wellness Weekend =-.

Andrea February 26, 2010 at 5:08 am

My kids love this book, though we have not yet watched the movie. I have a friend though who bought the wild thing stuffed monsters for his toddler, thinking that it’s a classic story and that his son would think they were fun. His poor kid was so scared of the plush beasts that he would throw them out of his room and down the stairs every night at bedtime. So my friend lined the beasts up in a row just outside his son’s room whenever his son would get out of bed countless numbers of times. And those little beasties kept that kid in his bed! I think that could make it into a parenting book for sure.
.-= Andrea´s last blog…"Cousins" =-.

submom February 26, 2010 at 8:33 am

OMG. LOL! I like your friend. And I love you for telling me her story because I no longer need to worry about being the only mom that intentionally tries to traumatize her kids! LOL. 😉
.-= submom´s last blog…Do you know what you are reading to your children? =-.

Barb February 26, 2010 at 8:17 am

This was one book that I never cared for…. my 16 y/o son however actually wants to see the movie once it is out on DVD (God forbid he would waste $10 on it in the theatre)
He remembers it as an “awesome” book- however he also has questionable taste as he insisted I watch “District 9” which he said was the “BEST MOVIE EVER MADE”.

I thought it was confusing & gross… and I LIKE sci fi. 😀
.-= Barb´s last blog…Curling =-.

mrsblogalot February 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

Do you know that I have never read this book to my son because the cover has always scared me to death!
.-= mrsblogalot´s last blog…It’s My Time =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 8:36 am

Honey, Barb & Mrs. B, so what I am hearing from you ladies is that the book is INDEED gory and grim, and that my oldest is actually correct in his interpretation… Darn! I wrote this post to poke fun at him. Backfired! I am so glad he does not read my blog (god forbid!) otherwise I would never hear the end of “I TOLD YOU SO!”

Robin February 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

You should know, I have been watching rated R movies since I was in Kindergarten. Whether this is just informational or a warning, that’s up to you.
.-= Robin´s last blog…Oh Wow, Lovely =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

LOL. I’ll have to wait and see more to decide… 😉

KeepingYouAwake February 26, 2010 at 8:53 am

I think it’s what you take from it, no matter what the story says, you know?

For example, this taught me how to keep Twitter followers and blog subscribers. You can’t leave, or I will eat you.
.-= KeepingYouAwake´s last blog…KEEPEE-YAN YON AWACK =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

LOVE IT!

William February 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

Where the Wild things are is a classic for a reason. I think it is becasue it can be interpretted in various ways. The movie does a wonderful job of this and it is excellent. I think both of your boys will like it.
.-= William´s last blog…The Other Man. =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thanks! Will definitely show them. My oldest actually was saying that the plot as he interpreted is a plus for this movie! I love “Wake Up” by The Arcade Fire. Can’t get it out of my head.

Elly Lou February 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

You never know what kids will focus on. Mom sang me to sleep every night. Most nights, the song was “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I was always convinced she’d be gone in the morning.
.-= Elly Lou´s last blog…Latex-wearing Pony-humping Freakazoids =-.

Absence Alternatives February 27, 2010 at 12:24 am

LOL. Since as of now, the only song I remember the lyrics to is “The End of the World”, Mr. Monk’s heard it many times. Perhaps I should learn something more cheerful… 😉

Jen @ NathanRising February 26, 2010 at 10:26 am

I always thought the book was a little unsettling, but I never really thought about how a child would see it. The book has so many different ways in can be interpreted!
.-= Jen @ NathanRising´s last blog…Mommy Brain =-.

Absence Alternatives February 27, 2010 at 12:27 am

I didn’t even see it as unsettling at all, and that’s why I was completely caught off guard. LOL. I guess my oldest is NOT alone in his interpretation.

secret agent woman February 26, 2010 at 11:07 am

I have always adored this book and even have a print of the wild rumpus framed. I’m going to ask my kids if they ever thought the monsters were actually threatening Max.
.-= secret agent woman´s last blog…Rules are important. For other people. =-.

submom February 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

And if they did, whether that actually made the book more appealing to them! (Apparently it did for my oldest…)

Fernweher February 26, 2010 at 11:15 am

Well I looked at the ending of Where the Wild… and it looks likely the monsters DID say they were going to eat the kid, but that’s just monsters being monsters…I remember being read that book 20 years ago as a kid and liking it because it made the monsters seem friendly, but still they were dangerous in the way that a pet tiger is dangerous. I think Mr.Monk will not be too traumatized but its a very interesting story.

Also, Coraline IS a very scary story and I’m glad other ppl commented they don’t want younger kids to read it, because I don’t think its meant for them! That book is definitely a horror story set as a childhood tale, but not meant for a regular child audience. Even the movie was mad creepy..
.-= Fernweher´s last blog…Bailout Apocalypse =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:42 pm

I agree that Coraline is way too over the top for young kids. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. The visual intensity of the movie is not helping. That being said, my oldest adores that movie. I have two very different kids.

Wicked Shawn February 26, 2010 at 11:24 am

Where the Wild Things Are is one of MY faves, I read it to the kids because I liked it, never really asked how they felt about it….hmmm, suppose their feelings should have been considered.
My son is 17 now, his idea of a good movie is Jennifer’s Body (DUH) so, clearly his opinion means nothing, we will discount him in all things relating to taste. My daughter loves all things Tim Burton and art related, clearly I warped her in the proper(?) direction.

PS Elly, had my mother sang Leaving On a Jet Plane to me, I would have actually looked forward to waking in the mornings, at least until I realized it was all a cruel joke

PPS Love Letters of Camelot is definitely not my last post…….ggrrrrr
.-= Wicked Shawn´s last blog…Love Letters of Camelot…….. =-.

A Vapid Blonde February 26, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Comment luv police here….you need to go to their website and UN BAN your Url.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Yup. Wicked Shawn’s latest post http://wickedgirlsthinkitdoyou.blogspot.com/2010/02/isnt-that-lovely.html
is absolutely lovely. And the worst word in it is “bitch”. No cursing. Perhaps that’s why Comment Luv didn’t like it… 😉

Elly Lou February 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

The comluv peeps seem to have a new game where you can only update your latest post once a week (even when you unban). Is it just me?

Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities February 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I am constantly amazed at the stories we read our kids and often without thinking about it… I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me thinks we should protect our kids from life’s monsters at all costs. But the other part of me thinks that our kids are sturdy little creatures, strong and curious, and that they can handle complicated tales reflective of the blacks, whites, and grays of the real world. (And scary and subversive fictional worlds!)

I really enjoy your blog!

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Thanks! :-) (So glad you came back!)

I really believe that every child is different and s/he interprets the world differently from the next child. For example, Mr. Monk has been in love with The Nightmare before Christmas since he was under 4, yet he gets frightened by images that we consider to be harmless.

laura b. February 26, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Returning the stop in :-)
What an interesting post…and the responses too. I find that quite of bit of the literature for children has it’s dark side…read any fairytales or fables lately? Roald Dahl anyone? I tend to think children are much more sturdy psychologically than we give them credit for. The world is a multi-shaded place and there is nothing wrong with kids being exposed to the less than startlingly sunny and bright.
.-= laura b.´s last blog…Friday 5 – Comparisons =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Thanks for stopping by! (Nice tracking! LOL) I agree. This post was written because I was surprised by how my oldest interpreted this particular book since I have never thought of it this way. The Wild Things always look adorable to me. He was not scared by them, but he does read the creatures as threatening. To me, that’s fascinating.

Kristen @ Motherese February 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Big Boy recently declared Wild Things “too scary” after having it read to him 1000 times – but he’s two and runs hot and cold like that.

I’m often shocked when I read him books I loved as a kid only to realize the bizarre plot twists and messages. For instance, I am certainly more in tune to the colonialist slant of Babar than I used to be.
.-= Kristen @ Motherese´s last blog…Changing My Tune =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Babar. EXCELLENT POINT! It’s amazing isn’t it when you think about it that they still show it on the kids channel…

Miss B February 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Ummm…have you read any classic fairy tales lately? (Not the newer French & English sanitized versions — I mean the actual stories. Like in the original Cinderella, where the stepsisters cut off a bit of their heel and big toe, respectively, in order to fit into the fur-trimmed slippers. And at the end, the doves that have been helping Cinderella throughout the story peck out their eyes as the wedding coach drives by. Yep. And there are plenty of stories that are much worse.)

(For that matter, anyone raising their kids in a Judeo-Christian way is exposing their kids to some of the most gruesome stories around — have you paid any attention to the shit that was going down in the Old Testament? Not to mention all of the torturing/crucifying/&c. that went on later. I mean, really.)

I believe the point of all of these stories — which, most of the time, seem much more grim to adults than they do to children (I have read many comments about Coraline saying that the parents are way more horrified by it than their little kids are) — is to give children a way to sort of try on the idea that life can be ugly and terrible and frightening…but in a safe way, in a way that isn’t real. In a way that can be closed up and put back on the shelf. (In a way, often, that ends up — if not happily, then at least in some way that seems fair or like it makes sense.)

Don’t take my word for it, though — I was reading the Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe quietly on the playground during recess when I was 9. (And yes, I was just as popular as you might imagine.)
.-= Miss B´s last blog…Disintegration =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:53 pm

NOW that explains everything… LOL. 😉 Poe is great literature.

Agree with you on fairy tales in their original form. I distinctly remembered reading about the blood in the glass slippers & that’s why the sister was found out! But when I told my friends here in the US they all looked me like I just made it up. Old Testament, absolutely. Stoning to death if you worked on Sundays. Oy. 😉

A Vapid Blonde February 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I have never read the book or seen the movie. But my how times have changed…I got in trouble for watching a George Carlin special with my cousins one night…mmm maybe thats where the potty mouth came from!
.-= A Vapid Blonde´s last blog…The Dish, Cotton Candy And My Hair =-.

Absence Alternatives February 26, 2010 at 11:54 pm

George Carlin was hilarious! Wish he were still around…

Shelli February 27, 2010 at 2:19 am

We must just be abnormal parents (or perfectly normal, depending on your interpretation!). That was one of my, and my Son’s, favorite books growing up. I also let him watch movies way beyond his age group. Same with his sisters. Although, I did draw the line between gratuitous sex/violence/drugs and something designed to portray beauty or art or had a central meaning to the whole movie (or book). For instance, with the movie “Titanic” … we allowed them to see the “naked portrait” scene, but muted the tv and made them turn around for the “sex in the back of the car” scene. Scary movies, unless they were terribly distasteful, were allowed. We’ve watched thrillers, gore-fests, and psychological “fuck with your head for months” movies. For the kids, I’ve built a tolerance, and now none of them are scared of anything. It’s ME that’s terrified (see previous reply). *sigh*
.-= Shelli´s last blog…Hibernation =-.

Diane February 27, 2010 at 6:27 am

I read that book to my kids when they were little and it never occurred to me that it might be scary for them. I also read them Tom Sawyer and when Tom and Becky got lost in the cave, I thought my oldest son was going to have a heart attack.

Jana@Attitude Adjustment February 27, 2010 at 7:39 am

I think Where the Wild Things Are is pretty scary, and my son is easily scared, so we don’t go there. Even a seemingly harmless book we picked up from the library about a big-boy bed turned sour for me. The kid was getting out of bed and walking all over the house at night! I had to start altering the story as we read, telling him that the parents in the book were threatening “time-out.” My lesson there was, I need to read the book before I read it to my kids, to make sure it’s appropriate. I am always shocked by how much he is absorbing. While I’m reading the words and trying to get to the end so I can watch my shows and sip tea, he’s scrutinizing every single picture. Now that he’s getting older, we’re moving beyond the lift-the-flap books and into real stories. As parents, we worry about television, but books have a similar effect if the child is equally immersed. I just hope he won’t go painting on walls because Olivia does.

TheKitchenWitch February 27, 2010 at 9:51 am

Isn’t it amazing what they take away from a book?

It used to scare me as a kid, but my girls love the book. They think it’s a riot.
.-= TheKitchenWitch´s last blog…Neighbor Friday: Bon Appetit Hon =-.

Velva February 27, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I read that book often to my oldest son. He loved it!
.-= Velva´s last blog…Grilled Rib-Eye Salad with Red Wine-Honey Mustard Vinaigrette and Fresh Thyme =-.

Unknown Mami February 27, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I used to get put to bed with stories of La Llorona, who drowned her children and cried for them at night or La Mano Peluda (The Hairy Hand) that lived under the bed. I’ve never had an easy time falling asleep. I wonder why?
.-= Unknown Mami´s last blog…Fragmented Fridays =-.

Amber February 28, 2010 at 12:17 am

This reminds me of Love You Forever. That book creeped me out! What’s with that mom driving to her ADULT sons house to rock and sing him? And, climbing through the window? Creepy.

Plus, Goodnight Moon? With the “little old lady whispering hush?” Who is that? Some creepy grandma telling the kid to shut up?

Some of those classics are a little…well…weird.

Amanda@Brilliant Sulk February 28, 2010 at 12:53 am

I never read this book when I was a kid. Not sure why.

Oh I know.

I was a fan of Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” instead. The book had beautiful illustrations, including a naked little boy falling through the night sky.

Yes, even as a child I was a bit pervy…
.-= Amanda@Brilliant Sulk´s last blog…Funeral Friday =-.

shrinky February 28, 2010 at 7:50 am

The bedtime stories I used to read my kids to sleep with gave ME nightmares – those Grimm bros have a LOT to answer for..
.-= shrinky´s last blog…The Further Fantasy Adventures of a Desperate(ly Bored) Housewife =-.

Jennifer Lynn February 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Thanks you!!! I am doing much better than we anticipated:)

I loved loved this book. Amazing how some people key in on certain things and others totally miss them!
.-= Jennifer Lynn´s last blog…One limp at a time. =-.

Absence Alternatives March 2, 2010 at 3:52 am

Diane, I didn’t even think this book would be scary. That’s why I was so shocked by my oldest’s interpretation.

Jana, thanks for visiting and commenting! It’s amazing isn’t it? And every child does walk away with different things, even for simple stories like this. Actually, I wonder whether exactly because there are not many words in this book, that’s why they let their imagination do the work and naturally the outcomes are drastically different. Speaking of painting on the walls, DO NOT show him this: http://www.neatorama.com/2006/07/07/kids-and-an-open-can-of-paint-what-could-go-wrong/

TKW & Velva, that’s great ’cause I really love the book. My eldest also loved the book, but now I am thinking for different reasons… LOL. This just shows how you can’t predict how they interpret the stories you are reading/showing them.

Mami, OMG! LOL. I am sorry. I hope you are not really traumatized. You love scary movies now, don’t you?! 😉

Absence Alternatives March 3, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Amber, OMGoodness the book “Love You Forever”! I actually have done a draft on this book! Talking about the creepiest children’s books ever.

Manda, In the Night Kitchen is really really cool. So you liked kitchen even when you were young, eh? 😉

Shrinky, thank you for visiting and commenting! Grimm Brothers are not for the faint of heart. I was traumatized by The Frog Prince that I have frog phobia…

Jennifer Lynn, glad to hear that you are recovering smoothly. Enjoy your electric cart ride at Walmart! Don’t hit anybody! LOL

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