Monday, December 6, 2010

Unexpected Lessons from Underwear Wars

I thought it was a marvelous combination, two things my two year old grandson loves: dinosaurs and underpants. I bought the book Dinosaurs Love Underpants after “browsing the book” on-line and reading stellar reviews.  When it arrived, I cracked it open and began to read for the fun of it.  The book started out with engaging pictures and a fun style of narrative.  Cavemen wore underwear coveted by T. Rex and Stegosaurus.  I laughed and thought how much my grandson would enjoy it.

I read on and, suddenly, it wasn’t a fun read any more. When I previously read the synopsis, how did I miss the description of the war between cave dwellers and future fossil producers?  Worst of all, the dinosaurs are killed at the end.  They did not disappear. They did not die out. They were killed. I envisioned my grandson thinking his beloved stuffed dinosaur would be attacked next or that Barney was at risk (okay, so I wouldn't mind if Barney disappeared).  I did not want to be paying for therapy for years to come.

Trying not to overreact,  I asked myself, “Was this book age appropriate?”  I came to the conclusion it might be for a ten year old. But then, what ten year old reads picture books these days!  I marched into my local Barnes and Noble to return the book. I was not going to donate it to the book drive they were holding.  I was not going to be responsible for another child upset and worried. Fortunately, the manager was sympathetic.  He told me his kindergarten daughter came home traumatized after being read a book about Thanksgiving featuring many of the pilgrims dying of starvation.  He said the questions she asked were hard ones to answer for one so young.Age appropriateness was part of why I turned the book in but there was more to it than that

I learned several lessons from my ill-advised purchase. Most importantly, the violence-desensitized world has filtered into more than just our movies and television programs; it is in our children’s books and more. Secondly, read the whole book before you give it to a child.   Third, if we do not speak up about what is and is not appropriate for children, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Do I believe this book should be banned? No. Do I believe a child should be allowed to pick this book out and read it without parental supervision? No. Am I reminded I need to screen my grandchildren’s books and gifts carefully in the future? Absolutely.

Oh, and I picked out a new book for my grandson, Dinosaur Train. No violence but Granddad, the model train builder,  read it and was upset the train derailed! Back to the drawing board...or should I say, bookstore.

What do you need to look at more closely in your children’s lives, regardless of their age?