Pop Culture Decoder: Children’s Books

Misty Harris deciphers the hidden messages in beloved kids’ tales to discover the secret meaning of Green Eggs and Ham, and Robert Munsch’s ode to Psycho

By Misty Harris

Read the same children’s books night after night AFTER NIGHT and two things are likely to come to mind: suicide, and questions about what the respective authors were really trying to say.

 

From Lewis Carroll to C.S. Lewis, scribes of children’s literature are notorious for hiding political, religious and even mathematical messages in plain sight. Is this also true of more straightforward titles such as Everyone Poops and Mortimer? I watched enough Carmen Sandiego as a kid to feel comfortable playing gumshoe on this one.* Let’s detect!

 

Green Eggs and Ham: If you push something bland and unappetizing on people long enough, they’ll relent and accept it – a timeless message that explains everything from reality TV to the endurance of Gwyneth Paltrow.

 

Love You Forever: Robert Munsch’s classic story about a mother whose life revolves around her troubled son. She eventually falls gravely ill and, in a twist ending, the son basically becomes his mother. This is also the blueprint of Psycho, in case you didn’t notice. Indeed, strip away the sentimentality of this beloved tearjerker (I’m a sucker for it, too) and you’re left with a cautionary tale about a helicopter parent who’s so obsessive about her kid, she breaks into his house at night, army-crawls across the floor, and rocks him while he sleeps. (If you don’t find this creepy, imagine waking up to find your mother-in-law cradling your unconscious spouse; need I say more?)

 

A scene from Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. Totally normal behaviour.

A scene from Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. Totally normal behaviour.

 

The Giving Tree: Like Kim Kardashian’s new book of selfies, this is a beautiful rendering of a horrible human being. If you want to teach your children about the rewards of selfishness, dysfunctional relationships, and co-dependency, by all means read them this sad parable of male privilege. The only piece of literature more depressing is my bank statement.

 

Mortimer-police-book

Mortimer is confronted by the police. But like NWA before him, he is unmoved.

 

Mortimer: The parents of 18 children struggle to discipline one of their boys, whose rotten behaviour goes unchanged even after the authorities intervene. If there’s a message here, neither the Duggars nor TLC got it.

 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Along with teaching that fruit won’t satisfy hunger pangs, this 1969 book reveals that binge-eating cake, candy and ice cream can lead to a Sleeping Beauty-style food coma from which you’ll emerge looking more beautiful than ever. If that isn’t the American diet dream, I don’t know what is.

Food illustration from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my diet Bible.

Food illustration from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my diet Bible.

 

Five Little Monkeys: My daughter loves this book. But every time we read it, I’m horrified at how long the mother turns a blind eye to her children’s recklessness, and how little the doctor does to spare the remaining children from head injuries. You’d think by the third suspicious “fall” off the bed, a social worker would’ve been called – or at least a helmet manufacturer. I can only conclude that this is a subversive commentary on the state of healthcare.

 

College lit classes will one day be devoted to decoding the imagery in Everyone Poops.

College lit classes will one day be devoted to decoding the imagery in Everyone Poops.

 

Everyone Poops: A shrewd statement about nanny-state bylaws. Don’t believe me? Check out this illustration, in which it’s CLEARLY suggested that the only place left where it’s legal to smoke is inside your house, sealed in a bathroom, sitting on a toilet. And even then, someone will find a way to shame you in a shitty book.

 

* None of this is to be taken seriously. Except the serious stuff.

 

@popcultini

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