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What We Learn from Children’s Books

Next week, pediatricians across the country will receive copies of Eric Carle’s best-selling book against gluttony, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in order to advance their nefarious “Eating Healthy, Growing Strong” campaign and make us all into leaf-chomping pupating larva living in a Mommy State. Alright, maybe it’s not so nefarious… but it is instructive. As a result, we decided to run a series of didactic children’s books, each with its own moral code. In some, the children are pure, good creatures in need of direction, while in others children are detestable, sticky ne’er-do-wells who wield immense power over their parents or their peers. Nevertheless, despite our disparate upbringings and ages, we are all in need of guidance in these hard times, so read on!

The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes by Anonymous (1765)

Quote: “For God Almighty protects not only all those who are good, but also all those who endeavor to be good.”

Moral: God-fearing poor orphan girls who own one shoe will be rewarded with a pair of shoes by a vicar’s largess one day; the procurement of said footwear will allow the protagonist, Margery, to marry a proper gentleman and embark on a new life as a schoolmarm. Something to aspire to, ladies. This is a sort of meek version of Cinderella, with little of the anger that is due toward the conditions which created Margery’s life of neglect and abuse. Our protagonist is taught to aim low and be happy with whatever she’s given, which is a depressing thought, but one that was common for the age.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum (1900)

Quote: “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

Moral: If we look inside ourselves, we can all find enough courage, empathy, and intellect to overcome any obstacle. Also, sometimes the rulers of faraway lands are just sad little men hiding behind curtains and ruling through scare tactics. There are other debatable political implications, such as: Is The Wizard of Oz an attack on the idea of the gold standard? Dorothy’s slippers were originally silver, and she did dance on a golden brick road… Would silver have kept us out of the Civil War?It could be a populist parable, or it could just be another thesis for bored pop culture economists. Either way, the debate endures.

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie (1911)

Quote: “I am old, Peter. I am ever so much more than twenty. I grew up long ago.”

Moral: Go home, your mother is worried sick! After gallivanting around Neverland, Wendy decides to return home to her mother, bringing the Lost Boys, a ragtag band of orphans, back to London. Wendy’s mother, known as “Mrs. Darling,” agrees to adopt the boys because she is such a good person. Other mothers might think their daughter is on the road to LiLo-ville, but Mrs. Darling is not the suspicious type. This is the novel based on Barrie’s popular earlier play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Unfortunately, Wendy did get older, which ruined the fun for her boy love, Mssr. Pan.

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)

Quote: “Le langage est source de malentendus.” (Language is the source of misunderstandings.)

Moral: Trust your heart, have adventures, and never lose your ability to imagine a different world. However, it is also important to be responsible, work hard, and be patient, or the baobab trees will take over your tiny planet. Also: businessmen who are only concerned with amassing property are loathsome creatures, and generally should be avoided.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)

Quote: “Charlie, don’t forget about what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted. He lived happily ever after.”

Moral: Poor children truly appreciate the sweeter things in life, whereas the rich ones generally are gluttonous and ill-mannered. Also: Secrecy! Large machinery! Candy! And…class war?! This book has it all. Charlie is the last child standing in the end, which means he, the meek product of a ramshackle two-room home, will inherit Wonka’s wonderful chocolate factory and has the power to eventually become an eccentric wearer of large hats with a penchant for purple.

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