So while we’re making lists, how about one of the most overrated children’s books? Not really the “worst” ones, I guess – much better to put together something along the lines of Noah’s list, with the targets limited to books that are regularly described as “classics,” as “beloved,” etc. After a bit of thought about the matter, I’ve got two from my son’s bookshelf that deserve a calling-out:
- The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. I guess that this is a pretty common target in these kinds of discussions, but damn is it ever deserved. Tree loves boy. Boy loves tree. Boy grows up. Boy exploits tree. Tree takes it all silently, growing less happy with each lonely year. Boy gets old, tree is a stump, boy sits on tree, no apologies. I mean, I get the point: the tree loves the boy. But heck, even Jesus was able to rise triumphant when all was said and done; couldn’t Silverstein have made the love at least a little more, you know, mutual? (Other questions: Why didn’t the tree’s apples grow back? And how did the boy build himself and his family a house out of branches?)
- The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg. Yes, the illustrations are beautiful; yes, the story is generally enjoyable; and yes, it is indeed “beloved.” But a children’s book about a trip to the North Pole that concludes by informing its readers that people usually stop believing in Santa Claus when they grow up? We bought this one last Christmas and it’s been fine reading for a two-year-old, but at some point it may have to disappear. Being made into a creepy-looking CGI film starring the voice of Tom Hanks as the glassy-eyed conductor seems an appropriate fate.
Anyway, that’s my attempt to start things off; anyone want to add to the list? I’m sure I’m not the only one out there with scores to settle.