>Children’s Books: Culture and the Messages we give our Children

>I talked with my older daughter today.  She is going to go to a baby shower and has ordered a book on line for a gift–it was one that I had purposefully gone out of my way to get to read to her when she was little.  And she wanted this book specifically to give to her friend and went out of her way to find it on line when she couldn’t find it in the local bookstores.  It was called I’ll Love you Forever, by Munsch.  It traces a lifetime of a mother watching her son grow up, causing trouble as he went–from a two year old trashing the bathroom to a teenager and his friends holding rock band practice in the house.  At each stage, the mother goes into his room at night and sings:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

A similar book that captures the essence of  our culture’s message to our children is the classic, Runaway Bunny.  No matter how hard you try to run away, you cannot escape your mother’s love and protection.

My younger daughter, who is also going to go to this baby shower, decided to go find a book here in Hong Kong to take home with her that would be in both Chinese and English.  She picked one out about a little brown bear that looked cute.  When we got home she went and read it in her room.  She was disturbed and called me to come and read it.  It is a story about a little brown bear that things the river is all his own and growls at the other creatures–hummingbirds, beaver, reindeer, etc. when they come near.  Soon the little bear was not paying attention and fell into the deep water.  The other animals’ response?  Serves him right!  The beavers ended up pulling him out ONLY because they were interested in the tree that was under.  The others did help the little bear then, but what was the message when he said “thank you?”  It was that he didn’t deserve it and they might not be so kind next time.  The little bear decided that he better let everyone use the river because he might need the others in the future if something went terribly wrong.

I can’t entirely articulate what seems so entirely wrong with this book’s message to my American ears and the American ears of my daughter (and I can’t be entirely sure it represents “Chinese” culture).  But it disturbed my daughter enough that she put a disclaimer in the book asking the parents of this soon-to-be born child to tell the story differently.

OK, now that I’ve reflected a bit, the Runaway Bunny and I’ll love you forever could appear to portray parents as stalkers.  And maybe American parents are way too protective and affirming when they need to be tough.  Could we try something in-between?