There will always be a special place in my heart for particular
children's books. They are not the ones with exquisite
illustrations or perfect prose. They do not contain whimsical meter
and rhyme. They have never received a Newbery or Caldecott
In all actuality, my favorites border on the absurd. They
contain questionable themes, messages, and images for children. Yet
far be it from me to overlook the missteps of the publishing
industry. These kinds of comedic jewels should be celebrated, not
ignored. In refusing to toss such books into the trash, I instead
read them with great fervor and irony to my unsuspecting children.
The boys stare, confused by my mirth, as I wipe away tears of
laughter every time I visit Marianne's Kiddie Lit Hall of Fame
for the Tragically Inappropriate.
The first book I've placed in that category is The Tale of
Pale Male by Jeanette Winter. This true story recounts the
plight of a red-tailed hawk and his mate, Lola, as they decide to
take up residency high atop a Fifth Avenue penthouse in Manhattan.
As rat bones and feathers rain down from the building ("Evidence of
Lola's meals" the author tells us), the book's illustrations offer
detailed depictions of skeletal animal remains.
Because when all is said and done, nothing says love like
pointing out rat bones to your 4-year-old as you read to him before
bed. Joey's response? "Ew. Dat's yucky. Can we read Green Eggs
and Ham next?"
Pale Male's narrative continues as a completely
grossed-out condo association mounts pressure to get the offending
nest removed. Yet protestors and picketers (holding signs that read
"Honk 4 Hawks") quickly arrive on the scene and the spikes for the
nest are put back. Pale Male and Lola return to raise an entire
family of rodent-eating hawks in New York City.
Final Score: Animal rights activists: 1; Rat bone-covered
homeowners: 0. I was totally on the side of the homeowners for this
one, but the book is so earnest and funny without meaning to be
that I had to give the work its due place in my courtesy
The next book that leaves both my husband and I holding our
sides from laughter is Random House's vintage The Little Fire
Engine by Lois Lenski. Originally published in 1946, it is
evident from the get-go that people were simply not buying home
insurance back then. When a fire breaks out and Fireman Small
arrives at the burning house, we see mom racing out holding a lamp
while each of her children carries a chair. Fireman Small does
nothing to dissuade the family from running back into the burning
structure to grab a few more items.
It is only a few pages later when we realize that in mom's haste
to secure the furniture, she has accidentally left a child stuck on
the second floor! Who can possibly remember all those kids when
there are coffee tables to be saved?
After Fireman Small rescues the little girl, he chops a hole in
the roof and douses the entire house in water. The gathering crowd
shouts "Hooray!" The final pages include the family carrying all of
their possessions back into their water-logged and smoke-damaged
home. "The fire is over!" says Fireman Small. "Move right back in
again!" The family smiles and obliges him accordingly. No need for
an arson investigation or structural inspection. We are all left
praying that it doesn't rain now that the family has a huge 5-foot
hole in the roof.
My final and perhaps most-loved story on the list is The
Pumpkin Giant by Mary Wilkins and Ellin Greene. Published in
1970 (and very hard to find), the book tells of a menacing Pumpkin
Giant who terrorizes an entire kingdom by eating all of the fat
children. Two of the kids in the tale, a farmer's son and a
princess, are so morbidly obese that they are forced to roll around
on their bellies instead of using their legs.
The story is actually quite well-written and illustrated, but
the overt lack of political correctness would never fly in today's
publishing world. Our two chubby heroes end the story by killing
the giant and making him into hundreds of pumpkin pies. They then
marry and continue their unique habit of getting around town on
their substantial tummies. I'm not sure if the message of the tale
is bravery in the face of great obstacle, or more simply, "there's
someone out there for everyone."
My love for these inappropriate books has got to indicate some
kind of failing as a mother. I cringe when those moms known for
their good taste try to steer me towards award-winning books that
teach moral lessons and social responsibility. The stuff just isn't
funny. Falling rat bones are. These irreverent and humorous books
guarantee that I keep reading to my kids. I figure for that reason
alone, it's a win-win.
At least that's what I'll be telling their therapists.
Marianne is mother of three sons and the wife of a southside Irish fireman. She has learned that sometimes you're just too dumb to know what makes you happy. She blogs regularly at We Band of Mothers (webandofmothers.com) and curses with even greater frequency. Her material is written for the imperfect, the imprudent, and the impatient mothers who know that all this stuff is really very funny if you just give it a minute.
See more of Marianne's stories here.
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