The Taste of Others, part 1: Nazis at the North Pole.

19 Nov

My wife has found a new way of entertaining herself online. She looks up picture books on Amazon, and then pokes around the lowest ratings. She’s started forwarding me the best of these, a kind of menagerie of crazed, chronically bored people. The criticism seems to span the political spectrum. On the right there’s the fear of communist (or other insidious leftwing ideological) indoctrination; on the left there’s the concerns of harmful stereotypes and gender roles. Fascinatingly, the reviewers often seem to have spent a lot of time in crafting their reviews.

I know a lot about children’s books. I read picture books to children as part of my job—as well as to Simone, every night—and spend a fair amount of time perusing their content, thinking on the message, and ordering books for the library. I’ve even studied them academically. They are often political, this much is true. But more often that not, the message of children’s picture books is plucked from Mr. Rogers. Let’s be nice. Other people have feelings. We don’t want to hurt others. The world is a big, wondrous place.

These readers see something else.

So here’s the first post, profiling the best of the worst, and part of a semi-regular feature. I’ve edited out people’s names, and fixed spelling and punctuation errors when necessary. I’ve provided my own commentary in boldface type.

The book in question here is The Polar Express. I didn’t realize it, but according to these reviewers, this sweet-natured tale of a Christmas jaunt with Santa is a vicious, fascist, anti-feminist slog that encourages children to get into cars with strangers. Read on.

The story of a little boy and Santa Claus. Filled with hateful propaganda.

These first two take umbrage with the story as somehow being a recruiting tool for Nazi ideology. I’m not kidding.

Title: Fascist Images Are Not Appropriate For Children

We took this book out of the public library for our three year old child expecting a nice, warm story about Christmas. This is not what we got. Apparently, Santa has become a 1930s style fascist leader who speaks in front of large crowds and raises his hand in a gesture that looks disturbingly like a Hitler salute. I never knew St. Nicholas made it to Nuremberg. (Weird. Santa here picks up a young boy and whisks him off to the north pole. Nuremburg has nothing to do with anything.)


Title: Perfect children’s tale for the Material Age

Bland unimaginative story about a tyke who doesn’t believe that someone up north doesn’t pump out toys for all the little girls and boys. Santa and his village as portrayed in this book would have fit in perfectly in Nazi Germany. A perfect book for the entitled and spoiled American child of the Uberclass of consumerist American drones. (Ouch.)

Here’s a self-serious take on the book, thankfully moving us away from comparisons to Goring or Himmler. The war on Christmas continues.

Title: Well…

A pleasure to read but has nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas. It makes me sad when people talk about Christmas meaning giving and showing kindness but leave out the birth of Jesus. If I would say no one knows the true meaning I’m sure I would be told that many people do. So why do almost every movie, tv show, and book, especially made for children, never mention Jesus’s birth? Instead of teaching about Santa, why not also teach children what Christmas is about. The book was sweet, but missed the meaning. (This reminds me of my childhood, and not in a good way.)

Here’s a decidedly feminist critique of the story, somehow telescoping the entire western canon’s diffidence towards female heroes into a battering ram to smash Allsberg’s book. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but there’s the silly self-seriousness.

Title: Polar Express: Yet another boy’s tale

Have we learned nothing from the 60’s and 70’s studies of childrens’ books? Studies that showed that most children’s books, and textbooks, had boys as the heroes, as the active ones, while girls and women were relegated to minor ‘helping’ roles. I was about to buy this book for my 5 year old granddaughter, but when I read that it was just another story about a boy and his quest for whatever, I decided not to buy it. Where are the millennium’s great stories with girls as heroes? About a girl’s quest for knowledge and wisdom? Oh bother! I won’t be shelling out bucks for this one. How sad.

I have to think this one is a joke, but I’m not so sure. The stuff I’ve heard other parents say can be pretty wild. This reviewer clearly sees the wide-eyed wonder that defines much of children’s literature to be a bad thing. My response would be, why limit yourself to fairy tales? Why not just show them the first thirty minutes of Bad Lieutenant, over and over? Or the rape scene in Irreversible?

Title: stranger danger

Why is it okay to teach children that getting out of their beds, leaving the house, and getting on a train with a stranger in the middle of the night is a grand, desirable, adventure? I threw out a similar story about leaving the house and flying through the air with a snowman last year. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is another example. I have been searching for a copy of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to counter-effect the message. My goal in teaching my children about the world is to instill a healthy dose of caution at least, about going off with strangers, forget political correctness.

More to come . . .

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