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Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Time Event
3:24a
Children's Books Don't Age Well, or, It's My Own Damn Fault My Toddler Is Now Fascinated With Guns
We've been digging through the attic, both to find the things we'll need when the new baby comes and to make the attic itself more habitable for my helpful cousin Ian. I found a box of my favorite picture books from when I was a kid in the 1970's, and oh my, people had some different ideas then about what was appropriate for young children to read about.

I remembered loving the wacky etiquette advice in Sesyle Joslin and Maurice Sendak's What Do You Say, Dear? Actually, the etiquette advice itself is sound enough, but example situations are full of crashing airplanes, decapitated dragons, and orchestras of ravenous bears.

On Gareth's favorite page, the villainous cowboy Bad Nose Bill snarls this offer: "Would you like me to shoot a hole in your head?"

What do you say, dear? Why, you say, "No, thank you." In Sendak's illustrations, Bad Nose Bill is so startled by the politeness of the refusal that the offer appears to be withdrawn.

Rather than learn to respond to offers he'd like to decline with a courteous "No, thank you," Gareth has learned from this page to imagine that gun-shaped things are guns, and that he is Bad Nose Bill. "I am being bad with a gun!" he declares proudly.

In two weeks, he'll go for the first time to the local Unitarian Church's Montessori preschool, the one with the peace pole in the children's butterfly garden. All the other parents, who've been sending their kids there since the kids were in the newborns' daycare room, will faint with horror at my formerly gentle son as he brandishes all those Montessori toys menacingly and offers to shoot holes in people's heads.

What do you say, dear?

"May peace prevail on Earth."

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