cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Debatables:Worst Picture Book. Ever.


Debatables Round Two: The Worst Picture Book. Ever.

New to our blogosphere is the incredible Debatables, where my co-host and debate opponent, is the amazing Mike Allegra.
Mike Allegra is the author of Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Scampers and the Scientific Method (Dawn, 2019). He also not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series (Macmillan 2018-19, pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). He was the winner of the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest and a recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. He also juggles, plays the banjo, and is known to appreciate a well-crafted fart joke.

Over 12, 000 bloggers can’t be wrong, so if you aren’t following Mike’s blog, you are missing out. If you like to laugh, snicker, and outright guffaw, you will want to check out his blog.

Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Today’s Topic: What is the worst picture book ever?

Disclaimer: The debate you are about to read is in absolute good fun. As children’s book writers we both understand the love and labor that goes into writing a book. Please no flames, comments of impending bodily harm, or allegations of shaming the writing community. This is a practice in word hurtling, nothing more.

Mike is suggesting:

love you forever cover

Cricket suggests:

cat hat cover

Cricket:

I like the idea of a critter who helps a sibling pair beat the rainy day boredom blues, but that inherent sensibility I possessed as a child followed me into adulthood. That uninvited cat who creates a multitude of mayhem scenarios makes me nervous. And that’s my gripe with Seuss’s cat: he is the Pied Piper of pandemonium.

First off, The Cat in the Hat breaks basic rules we teach our children: stranger danger (and that is one strange cat); running in the house; playing with breakables; let alone making a mess. This is all done under the guise of “let’s have fun!” Let’s add onto the list how the voice-of-reason pet fish is abused several times, and the cat stubbornly refuses to leave when asked more than once (quite firmly) to depart.

inside cathat

To add to the havoc the Cat releases the naughty Thing 1 and Thing 2. Are these thingsendangered exotic imports? Have they had their shots? Are they housebroken?

The reckless approach to busting boredom leaves poor Sally and her bro in a pickle as Mom approaches the house. They are not having fun. They are stressed out to the max. The only time the children smile is when they see the back of that cat. The real clincher are the ending lines:

Should we tell her about it?

Now, what SHOULD we do?

Well…

What would YOU do

If your mother asked YOU?

This is an invitation for children to be deceitful. Shocking, I know.  Such a playful question is really introducing children to be duplicitous. Just say “No” to cats in hats barging their way into households. Listen to the wisdom of goldfish.

Vote with me that The Cat in the Hat is the worst picture book for children. Ever.

Mike:

The mom in Seuss’s magnum opus is negligent, but at least she doesn’t remind me of The Story of Oedipus.

Love you Forever is about a mother’s lifelong devotion to her son. She sings of this love to her sleeping child when he is a baby and a young child—which is fine—and when he’s a teenager, which is less fine. She doesn’t just sing to him, she cradles the boy in her arms. We don’t see the cradling for the teenager scene; instead the illustration delivers something creepier: a young adult sleeping while his mother, wearing an expression of eager anticipation, crawls into his room on all fours.

all fours

But once the son grows up and moves out, such behavior must draw to a close, yes? Um. No. Refusing to accept this new chapter in her life, Mom grabs a ladder, drives across town, breaks into her son’s house (through a second floor window!), and cradles the sleeping adult male in her arms.

cradling

Scenes like this might have worked if the illustrations were less representational or more playful, but Sheila McGraw’s work is realistic and earnest. This elderly woman nuzzling her grown son is not a metaphor to illustrate the love between mother and child—it’s really happening. This woman really broke into her son’s house and really rocked him in her arms without his knowledge or consent.

Love You Forever is a world free of spouses. The adult son eventually has a daughter, but we never see this baby’s mother. The son’s father is also absent from the story. Where are these people? In the world of Robert Munsch’s picture book, it doesn’t matter. These significant others would only distract from the disturbing, single minded, nearly predatory mother/son bond at the story’s core.

Cricket’s Counterpoint:

While Love You Forever is creepy in its depiction of motherly devotion, it’s impact hasn’t prevailed for over fifty years like Geisel/Seuss’s creation. The Cat in the Hat is dangerous, not only as being an instigator of mayhem, but the fact is this bowtied cat is an industry, an institution of corrupting influence. Sequels, clothing, toys, teaching curriculum, movies, even designated days–this ubiquitous cat has influenced generations of children to ditch household norms under the guise of learning to read. Even Geisel, admitted in a 1983 article how The Cat in the Hat is a revolt against authority. Teaching our children to read at the cost of them totally abandoning all reason and opening their households to felonious felines is much too high a price to pay. Beware of hatted grimalkins in the guise as a reading muse. The campaign of awareness shall begin: #badcat.

Mike’s Counterpoint:

Yes, the Cat is an instrument of chaos, but TCINH’s hero (and audience surrogate) is the unnamed boy. This boy doesn’t invite The Cat in or encourage his “games.” Instead, he puts an end to the mayhem by capturing the Things and throwing The Cat out. These are good character traits (as is the “clean up after yourself” finale).

The Cat in the Hat, also did something very important, it buried the insipid Dick and Jane books once and for all. It showed that easy readers could be fun! And funny! And exciting!

Most importantly, TCITH was always written with kid readers in mind.

Love You Forever wasn’t written for kids. It was written for moms in order to affirm a subliminal hope that their babies can remain baby-like forever. This, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is an unhealthy conception of motherhood. Even a child knows that.

So, dear readers–what is your vote? Which brilliant argument convinced you? Let us know in the comments below. 

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109 thoughts on “Debatables:Worst Picture Book. Ever.

  1. Pingback: Debatables: The Worst Picture Book Ever | heylookawriterfellow

  2. Insightful arguments all, and having never read Love You Forever…. I admit it takes motherhood to a whole new level of creepy. But I’m going to have to go with Cricket on this one. Not for any of the rational reasons listed, but simply because I don’t like the cat. Never have, never will. I know it’s everyone’s favorite Dr. Seuss and I have no logical explanation for my aversion, but give me a Sneetch anyday.

  3. I feel that the theme of “Love You Forever” is the cycle of life, where the parent grows old and then might need some care from the “child.” This is an issue that many families may be facing. I love the book, but it made me tear up a bit the last time I read it to my kindergarten students. The book held their attention, which is always a positive sign. Kids love “Cat in the Hat” and most things Dr. Seuss. As a teacher, I felt that some of his books were too long to maintain attention, and even this one could have even been shortened up a bit. Rhyming is such an important skill for developing readers, so that’s an important aspect of the book for youngsters. I don’t think that reading/listening to it would actually make kids dishonest, but it could help them to explore what they would do in certain situations. I like both of these books and couldn’t vote for either one as worst picture book ever:)

  4. I always bonded with the responsible kids in The Cat in the Hat, and I resented a representation of a cat that looked so un-catlike. As a parent, I always felt it was a good early reader, and unlikely to corrupt my children! I am too old to have read Love You Forever as a child, but I confess to reading it to my kids. When they were very small (under 5), the story came across as intended: symbolic and secure in Mom’s love. Once they got a little older: “This is WEIRD, Mom.” Kids know.

  5. I remember both of these books from my days as a newish Dad reading to my sons. Both are now grown up, but they both had an affinity for Dr. Seuss (and The Berenstain Bears), though not necessarily the Cat. Love you Forever is sweet and sentimental, but I agree the illustrations make mother a bit too involved. No boundaries. And while the TCitH seems to encourage recklessness and hooliganism, it is genuinely fun to read and it sets up a great teachable moment at the end. I’m siding with Mike.

  6. I’m with cricket. The mayhem the cat unleashes! Nope. I’m too much of a clean freak and can’t handle all of the destruction. Besides, not only does the cat annoy me, but he freaks me as well lol

  7. The Cat in the Hat drove me NUTS even when I was a kid. (It’s entirely possible I was born with a need to be in control.) That said, Love you Forever wins hands down on the creepy front.

  8. I can’t, I just can’t play. I wanna be fun and easy and laugh along. But the thing is….you’re BOTH RIGHT and BOTH WRONG (as you both know, but I have to say it anyway). As writers of children’s books, we know that we must go past and beyond the bounds of belief to create a spectacular book. I’m still working on that. Oh, funny thought, though. I have talked to groups about my children’s book Birds of Paradise, and several (adult) readers took offense that the birds “talked” in my book. Birds don’t talk, they said, so why confuse the children? Now there’s a great debate for you sometime. Are kids’ books that allow non-humans to talk horribly irresponsible?????

  9. The Cat and his Things are pretty obnoxious, but the kids handled them well once they got over the “is this really happening” stage.

    That mom, on the other hand, is just plain creepy. Many kids stories are made into movies. There is a reason this story has not appeared on the big screen. Multiple reasons, really. “Stalk You Forever,” coming to theaters near you on October 31. I suppose the movie may be appealing to a certain demographic, but not likely the children’s market.

    If I remember correctly, by the end of the book, the crazy stalker lady has died, but her son is now carrying on the family tradition. When the book ends, he is holding her while she sleeps. We are all set for Part II.

    The sequel will show that man breaking and entering into his daughter’s house when she has grown up and moved out (probably to escape a very dysfunctional home) and holding her while she sleeps. The old lady got away with stalking her child for her entire life. The son, on the other hand, will probably face some jail time.

    If I ever find out that my mom climbs into my second story bedroom to hold me while I sleep, I’ll have to help her get some new meds and then start locking my windows.

  10. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Mike.

    Perhaps in “Love You Forever” the mother could have stopped her cuddling routine at the teenage years (or even pre-teen). Driving across town and climbing a ladder into (as Mike said) a weirdly spouseless house has been strange for me even since reading it as a child. The son cuddling the mother at the end always makes me tear up, so maybe audiences forget the oddness in replaced feelings of being touched?

    I really thought (hoped?) CricketMuse was going to delve into some deeper, political meanings with her opposition to The Cat in the Hat. Instead, I’m in Mike’s camp again (sorry, CMuse!). The boy and the fish point out the error of The Cat’s actions, The Cat cleans up at the end, and Suess picked a man-sized cat with boxed Things to visit the children. Clearly, Suess is just keeping things silly.

    The Cat in the Hat also has two of my favorite Suess stanzas in it, so I’m probably biased that way, too.

    I realize you two wanted surprise choices to debate about, but I think The Saddest Toilet in the World or almost all of Laura Numeroff’s books fit “the worst” category better. 🙂

    • What? Stranger danger, fish abuse, errant disregard for private property wasn’t enough! Sigh. Destruction is never silly. Misunderstood motherly devotion takes a rap. Mike is going to be hard to hang with now.

      • Welllll…. I think the fantastical element discounts the “stranger danger,” because a large, talking cat wearing a hat suggests that it may have all been an imaginary event. The fish abuse is also passable since he seems able to breathe (and talk!) out of water. Property damage and mess seems to be completely reversible, much in the same fashion as your favorite Willy Wonka’s Hsaw Aknow. 😉

      • If we start counting verisimilitude then the picture book world will have to pack it and be replaced by National Geographic’s. Besides, I love my own grownup sons but hauling myself over to their house for a midnight hug is extreme. A hug emoticon usually suffices.

    • Thanks for your vote, Chelsea, but why does your support for my argument fill you with such evident remorse?

  11. Yowza. I have to begin with a disclaimer, which is that I hate agreeing with Mike on anything. But he is wholly and 1,000,000% in the right on this one.

    Perhaps (she says, striking a teacher pose) the issue that really needs to be addressed in this (non)debate is our use of the word “worst”. I think that is what it comes down to. Is it really the worst having a little fun temporarily and cleaning up when Mother is out, when the other worst is a complete and utter lack of boundaries between a mother and her child that lasts a lifetime? Ah, no.

    Both Mothers are compromised characters, and both Sons –also both unnamed– seem to know how to read their mothers quite well. So the issue is how are these two offspring being raised? The answer: one is being raised to develop healthy independence of boundary pushing (TCITH), which is the job of every child and teenager, while the other (LYF) is utterly dependent and happily remains so his entire life. Because here is the thing: if he didn’t like that his mother was holding him and informing him that “you’ll always be my baby” (I can hardly even type the words without involuntarily shuddering) he would have drawn a line. He would have taken her ladder away or moved outside of living as an adult in the same town he grew up in. But he doesn’t, which makes him complicit in the relationship. Seuss’s Boy debates whether or not to tell his Mother what happened, as there is no trace of any shenanigans by the time Mother gets home. He is developing critical thinking skills and executive functioning, weighing pros and cons, speculating on future outcomes. What is LYF Boy doing? Happily remaining a Momma’s Boy forever. Seuss’s kids are in trouble temporarily, but by the end of the book they have gotten the situation under control and even the Cat understands it’s time for him to leave. Munsch’s book ends with the cycle of abuse continuing.

    I agree with many that TCITH is not my favorite Seuss book. I think the Lorax is far more compelling as are the Sneetches, and even Oh the Places You’ll Go has merit. And it should also be said that Robert Munsch also has written far better and engaging books, like The Paper Bag Princess (which is also actually complicated but in ways that are not head-scratching or therapy-propelling).

    So I go back to the meaning of the word “worst”. What is the ultimate plot point with TCITH? Fun happens, and it’s even better when you can get away with it. That’s called human nature. What is the plot point of LYF? No woman will ever love you like your Mommy. Egads, gentlemen. I’d say that qualifies as worst.

  12. I think you each make great arguments against your chosen books.

    But the historian in me begs to submit for your consideration a THIRD candidate:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Giftpilz

  13. Thank you, Cricket, for using the word “falderal”. So lovely, so little employed. I think the kids will tell Mother about the Cat incident eventually. I don’t think they would bother her with it now because they know what would happen, which is she absolutely would not believe them. And as Big Bird was for too many years regarding his best friend Snuffleupagus, they will be teased and dismissed, which of course are the last two reactions any responsible adult should have regarding anything a child reports to them, and of course as we all know happens with a frequency that is alarming. Please! A Cat showing up for one afternoon to pass the time since it is raining is far less intrusive and lingering in terms of adversely affecting the development of these kids than a lifetime of being told in deed and in word I will stalk you forever.

    As for the fish? He’s enjoying his last days on earth too much to try and flag down the attention of Mother. In fact, I would bet that if he asserted himself too aggressively to get her attention, she would take it as a sign that he must be ailing, and would decide to put him out of his misery before recklessly leaving her children home alone again for another rainy afternoon.

    • The kids will tell Mom when they are about 23 at Thanksgiving as they pass the cranberries. “Yeah, you know that weird fuzzy thing you found in the hallway that one rainy day when we were kids? It was a furball from a six foot cat that invaded our house and commenced havoc. Oh, and that’s why the fish died. PTSD issues from feline invasion.”

  14. Yes—just say no to cats in hats. Historians agree.

  15. In all my years as a substitute teacher I cannot recall reading a picture book I felt strongly enough against to put to memory. I certainly would never say that about anything Dr. Suess produced in his lifetime, though a few of the books released later, under his name but drawn by others, do not capture his particular genius. If I may be a contrarian then and answer just opposite of what you’re looking for — as a wee lad, no one children’s picture book captured my imagination quite like, the Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown. Only a few books survived those years and can still be found in my collection, the Films of Charlie Chaplin (complete with original crayon marks) & TSD

  16. I’m going to stand by Cricket on this one. First of all Robert Munsch is the best thing we ever imported from the US and secondly I’m deathly allergic to cats. Especially that one.

    • All righty! I hope Mike is reading this. Then again, he isn’t a cat fan either. Top hats or not, but he think this Seussian feline okay. No accounting for wishy-washiness.

  17. Pingback: Debatable: Worst Picture Book. Ever.–Recap | cricketmuse

  18. I am really late to the game here, but just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this. I never read ILYF, so I think I’ll have to side with that one being the worst after seeing some examples of the extreme creep factor. I am partial to Dr. Suess because the rhyming word play is just too fun–most of the time it doesn’t matter what he’s saying because the rhyme and rhythm make it fun to say! Indeed, he often made up words for his rhyme schemes. Guess that lends to the subversion of authority argument, though. Don’t have a rhyme for a word? Make another word up! Resist boundaries and restraints! But I guess I’m partial to the idea that it’s okay to encourage that every now and then, so I don’t blame on Suess for that. 🙂

  19. I have both of these books and love them. You’ve both RUINED them for me! UGH! Lol. Very compelling arguments, Cricket and Mike. I’m so torn! The invitation to destructive fun… or the creepy mother. Hmmm? A cat who cleans up after himself… or a book that I can’t read without getting choked up (despite the creepy mother)? Argh. I’m going with the worst…

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