What Should YOUR Children Read?
Plain Truth Magazine
April 1971
Volume: Vol XXXVI, No.4
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What Should YOUR Children Read?
Gary L Alexander & Terry Warren  

Should parents supervise what their children read? Are nursery rhymes, fairy tales and comics the type of material your children should read?

   PROPONENTS of fairy tales and nursery rhymes are legion. To ask whether fantasy literature including fairy tales, nursery rhymes, even comic books is good for children is, in the eyes of many, comparable to attacking motherhood or abolishing apple pie. A whole body of Freudian-Jungian theory is built around the child's supposed need to escape into his own "individuation" through fantasy and magic.
   Books which laud fantasy have been around for decades. "To cast out fairy tales is to rob human beings of their childhood," said one typical author (Laura F. Kready, A Study of Fairy Tales, page xv). Another writes, "It is probable that no other type of book has done more to give genuine distinction to children's literature than has fantasy" (Elizabeth Nesbitt, A Critical History of Children's Literature, p. 347).
   From toddler stage, youngsters read about and are taught to believe in magic, fairy tales, Santa Claus, and every other superstition compiled over the last 4000-years' evolution of folk magic tales.
   Even many pop songs are an adolescent extension of the philosophy taught in preschool fairy tales such as Cinderella, Snow White, Prince Charming.
   But, are fairy tales, nursery rhymes and comic books really beneficial a healthy supplement to your child's mental diet? Or does it make any difference?
   Is there a cause-effect relationship between what goes into the mind of your child and what is expressed by his personality and attitude?
   Does this kind of reading material help or hinder the development of good character traits? And if fairy tales, nursery rhymes or comic books, are NOT good for children, then what type of literature should you allow your child to read?

The Origin of Fairy Tales

   Let's begin by briefly describing what fairy tales are and where they came from. We should, after all, consider the source!
   According to the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, the word "fairy" is derived from the Latin word fatum meaning "to enchant." The French word f eerie means "illusion," or that which is unreal. It referred to a variety of supernatural creatures who inhabited a world known as "faierie" land.
   The belief in "enchanted people" or "fairies" was especially prevalent in Celtic folklore. They were often called "the little people."
   These supernatural, demonic creatures would supposedly emerge out of nowhere to abduct people or cattle.
   They were also feared for their supposed ability to cast spells. Mischievous and very inconsistent in their conduct, these fairies were ever vacillating between the extremes of good and evil. People tried hard to avoid angering "the little people."
   Irish legend says that when the judgment Day arrives, these fairies will "blow away like a strong wind" while "good humans" will go to glory.
   The majority of the early fairy tales and other types of folklore are the remnants of nature myths, religious myth, and rituals. Nursery rhymes have similar tainted origins.

The "Value" of Nursery Rhymes?

   Iona and Peter Opie, in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, explain where nursery rhymes came from and how they were "doctored" for pink little ears "The overwhelming majority of nursery rhymes were not in the first place composed for children; in fact many are survivors of an adult code of joviality, and in their original wording were, by present standards, strikingly unsuitable for their tender years." [Emphasis ours.] Many, they said, "came out of taverns and mug houses." Here, speaking primarily of the drinking rhymes of medieval Europe, is where the modern day style of nursery rhyme took root.
   With such a highly dubious origin, it would be a good idea to take a critical look at the "educational value" of such literature especially where youngsters are concerned. Are fairy tales a useful educational tool? Do such fantasies really warrant the glowing praise accorded to them?
   Is any part of the magic realm of childhood fantasy emotionally healthy?
   Listen to the conclusions of documented scientific studies: Fantasyland is a different, unhealthy realm to which many unbalanced children escape. From extensive scientific research, here are the scientifically proven reasons why most fairy tales are not fit for your children to read.

   1) Most Fairy Tales Are Preoccupied With Violence, Crime, Sadism, and Death

   Dr. Francis A. Macnab, of Cairnmillar Institute of Melbourne, Australia, has devoted the past twelve years to study of the psychiatric effects of fairy tales. He and a leading Australian educator, Heather Lyon, principal of the state-run Kindergarten Teacher's College, had this to say: "Some fairy tales, including Grimm's, were too sadistic for young children. Jack, during his tangle with the giant, committed about every crime there is. First, he disobeyed his mother by swapping the, cow for beans instead of money. Then he stole the giant's bird which laid the golden eggs. Not content, Jack murders the giant. And for good measure, Jack indulges in some vandalism. He cuts down the beanstalk. The giant, meanwhile, introduces tiny minds to cannibalism: Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.' "
   Beautiful literature, you say?
   Look at Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Pigs, Snow White, and many other popular tales. Death, violence, and torture are dished out in hefty portions all in the name of fantasy. "At kindergarten age, 3 to 5," concluded Miss Lyon, "children have difficulty in distinguishing reality from fiction."
   Just as most comics aren't very comical, most fairy tales are not very "fairy" like. Many youngsters suddenly bolt awake from sleep crying in terror from such stories as the huffing and puffing of "the Big Bad Wolf." Ruth C. Horell wrote that "the fear inspiring elements may yield unfortunate returns in emotionally disturbed children" ("Fairy Tales and Their Effect Upon Children," Illinois Libraries, Part I, Sept., 1956).

   2) Dangerous Escape From Reality

   Even more serious, in the minds of many psychiatrists, is the second point the habitual escape from reality which fairy tales encourage.
   Psychiatrists define insanity as a permanent "escape from reality." Yet few see the relationship between seeking escape in youthful fantasy and the ultimate escape of psychosis. One writer called fantasy a "too easy recourse to escape" (Josette Frank, Your Child's Reading Today, p. 82). Many writers are concerned. But the psychiatric profession, in general, has spoken out loudest against such habitual and detrimental escape from reality.
   The Journal of General Psychology carried a synopsis of each of the 166 articles on fantasy published in English language journals during the 30 years from 1929 through 1958. The conclusions were printed in the journal's article, "Fantasy and Its Effects" by John Blazer (1964, Volume 70, pp. 163-182).
   If you are concerned about the effect of fantasy on your children, you may want to read this entire article at your local university library. Here is a short summary of what nearly 200 psychiatrists found:
   Psychiatrists in the journal article described the mentally ill as ones who could not cast off the influence of society's "canned fantasies" and face mature decisions as adults. The classic psychotic, they implied, never did face reality. Imagination helped the psychotic to escape intolerable situations and flee back to childhood "to a happier time in which fantasy prevails unhampered by actuality."
   Famed Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler gave a stinging indictment of children's fantasy. "Weak children for whom life is not always pleasant develop greater powers of fantasy," wrote Adler in 1946. "Fantasy may be misused as a condemnation of reality."
   Fantasy can also provide vicarious lawbreaking transgressing either natural physical laws or parental behavioral laws for the mind of an already unstable child.
   Perhaps you haven't analyzed the underlying morals of fairy tales. If you had, you would be very concerned about the detrimental subconscious lessons your children are learning.

   3) Wrong Concepts Taught

   The third danger for the child who reads overmuch fantasy is the content and concepts taught by the major fairy tales. Here are a few of them:
   Disrespect for authority. Many fairy tales were originally written to lampoon royalty, other authorities, and even God.
   Have you ever noticed that fairy tale kings are usually represented as fat, doltish, cruel, or insane, while the commoner hero is hard-working, honest, and kind? Powerful, God-like authority is shown to be a farce, as in the Wizard of Oz, or lack the Giant-Killer. Parents, especially step-parents, are practically witch-like. "Many parents are disturbed," wrote Child Study magazine, "by the fact that fairy tales abound with cruel mothers and fathers."
   Two wrongs (apparently) make a right. The so-called "good guys" engage in just as much lying, stealing, and other chicanery as the "bad guys." They use crime to catch criminals! Both good and bad guys are' equally criminal. "In certain of these stories," wrote a respected teacher's periodical, "dishonesty or chicanery does pay! Often, as in the Grimm Brothers' Rumpelstilskin or Anderson's Emperor's New Clothes to cite the most obvious and beloved stories a man or woman gains all by some trick or deception, and the readers' sympathies surely go to the deceivers ! But always there is this saving grace: the deception is practiced against characters the young reader sees as `bad guys' " (Child Study, vol. 35, no. 4, p. 36).
   A more obvious example, described in another edition of Child Study magazine, is "Jack, having been cheated, scolded, threatened and chased, is justified in robbing and killing the giant" (vol. 24, no. 2, p. 57). Of course, Jack's own crimes which got him into trouble lying, deceit, trespassing, theft aren't punished. Two wrongs no make everything right, children learn.
   Wish fulfillment guaranteed. The ugly duckling just wished he were handsome. Without work, he became so. Cinderella wished to go to the dress ball. A "fairy godmother" magically fulfilled her wish. The frog became a Prince Charming by similar wish fulfillment.
   This influence can be dangerous for children. It is a magical "get-something-for-nothing" philosophy. Or, perhaps worse, it involves the wrong principle of coveting desiring to have something or to be someone we are not.
   Improper cause and effect. Death-dealing blows don't even cause an injury. Laziness is rewarded with a lucky windfall of wealth. Unsavory characters become heroes without ever changing their ways. "Watch a child read the funnies," says one author. "See if he shivers at the sight of someone who dropped from a height and landed on his head. They had previously disconnected the idea that it hurt. The same is true of folklore" (Phyllis Fenner, The Proof of the Pudding: What Children Read, John Day, 1957, p. 51).
   Perhaps most serious of all is the following point.
   Belief in fairy creatures replaces belief in God. Most children know a lot more about Santa Claus, Peter Pan, Alice, the Fairy Godmother, and the entire fantasy pantheon than they no about God, Jesus, or the leaning figures in the Bible.
   Children are not mature enough to separate God from the fantasies they hear. One little fellow, sadly disillusioned about "Santa Claus," said to a playmate, "Yes, and I'm going to look into this `Jesus Christ' business, too!" The vast majority of parents have allowed their children to learn only about the mythical "other gods before them."
   Some other weaknesses of fairy tales are that they usually lack any positive moral. Also, "things happen in them that are not true to natural laws," as one parent said. In addition, most fairy tales are not relevant to modern life.
   Julius Lester writing in a Publisher's Weekly article entitled "The Kinds of Books We Give Children: Whose Nonsense?" laments that "in the books we write and publish for children, we create a world that bears little resemblance to the one the child is growing into our own.
   "... I was never able to find any relation between the world in children's books and the world in which I liven.
   "... In a world in which a child can be dead from an overdose of heroin at age 12, Snow White is not only inadequate, it is in danger of being vulgar" (Publisher's Weekly, February 23, 1970, pp. 86-88).

What About Comic Books?

   But what about other fantasy-type literature, comic books for instance? The same basic problems contained in fairy tales are all present in comics. They are largely just fairy tales in another form.
   From 1955 to about 1969, comics generally declined in sales and popularity. It was in 1955 that a Senate Subcommittee, at the urging of citizens who had read Dr. Frederick Wertham's anti-comic expose Seduction of the Innocent, forced the Comic Cone Authority (CCA) to self-censor all excessive violence, sex, sadism, death, and the other major selling points of the comics.
   Comics now sell about 30 million copies per month, down from about 90 million in 1955. But since 1969, comic consumption has begun to grow upward again, partly due to introduction of so called "relevant" themes (student riots, racism, bombing conspiracy, etc) and partly due to the introduction of so called comix. These black-and-white, over-priced and poorly drawn comix are unapproved by the CCA, replete with obscenities, gore, sex, hatred, and vulgar anti-establishment sentiments. Most parents aren't aware such comix exist, but they are catching on fast.
   But what about "approved" comic books? A significant number of these still contain abundant violence, magic, gore, demonism, racism, and hatred. Unless you want your children to emulate such actions, you should carefully censor the comics if any which they read.
   Not all comics, of course, are worthy of the same condemnation. Some comics are thought of as cute, entertaining, and "harmless?" But should the criterion for determining your children's reading be simply that it is "harmless?" Or do you want them to learn some beneficial, positive knowledge as they read?

Why Most Comics Are Objectionable

   Most comics show an obvious preoccupation with violence, crime, sadism, and death. In "approved" comics the most notable increase lately is in horror, magic, and mystery tales, an unhealthy escape from reality to "another world" of demons and witches.
   The same false concepts contained in fairy tales are also taught via the comics. "In the comics, people in authority," for instance, "tend to be stupid, pompous and sadistic, and inevitably they are humiliated. How appealing is this to the youngster who is so much under the thumb of adult authority!" (Evelyn Rose Robinson, ed., Readings About Children's Literature, David McKay, 1966, p. 48)
   Most people expect "classic" comics to be exceptions to the rule. They often are. But the 1955 Comic Code reads like this: "Crime stories [are objectionable] unless they relate to folklore or classical literature." And "classics" aren't classics because of their story plot, but because of the way the story is told.
   All reading decisions, however, are entirely up to the parent. The kind of books and periodicals you give your children is an indication of how concerned you are for their emotional well-being and character development. It's a serious responsibility. It could have a profound effect on the success of their adult years.

Guidelines for Good Reading

   With 3,000 new children's book titles monthly, teachers and librarians are unable to keep up with the good and bad qualities of each new book. It is up to the parents to supervise their children's reading.
   What type of books should your children read? Remember these important guidelines: Is the story in touch with reality? Does it instill positive character traits ?
   Here are four qualities to look for in good children's literature:
   1. Does the book teach the child more about himself and the world around him?
   2. Will it aid the child to adjust to the realities of his own social environment, his peers, his family?
   3. Will it help him to develop mentally and spiritually, learning moral lessons and factual knowledge in proper balance?
   4. Is the story entertaining with action, story, musical quality, illustrations, people, animals in a positive manner, avoiding absurdities, exaggerations, and unreal fantasies?
   Many children's books fulfill all four criteria, and many more fulfill at least two or three, depending on the subject involved. For preschoolers, for instance, there are animal books, picture stories, and "how-to" books. By age 2, you can be reading picture stories to your child each day. Most children love to be read to, even well after they learn how to read themselves.
   Reading to your child helps him to learn how to learn, and how to listen. It isn't mandatory that your child learn the alphabet, learn how to count, or how to spell before being registered in a qualified school. But your child does need to know how to learn when he gets there. Personal reading, teaching, and question answering teaches him this. Respect your child's need for variety and change, too. His attention span will start small and grow steadily.
   One point of balance should be kept in mind. You should know the difference between escapist fantasy in general and the kind of fiction which tells a positive, action-filled, believable story.

Parental Supervision Vital

   Consult your local librarian, children's section, for help in finding proper reading material. Make it very clear as to exactly the kind of books you wish your children to read. Take the time to look through the material yourself and choose it based on the principles already discussed. Don't just send your child to the library saying, "pick out a classic." It won't work. It is important you help choose the books, or approve them.
   Enjoyment of proper books must be taught, it is usually not "natural." If a child is allowed to pick only what he wants, he may well select worthless reading material. In one experiment, children were exposed to the most popular of profitable children's books on the shelves and tables of their school library. But on one corner table, half hidden, was a stack of popular comics, mainly crime, horror, "super" heroes, war, and magic comic books. The teachers nonchalantly left the room, but observed the results from outside.
   The children literally dove after the stack of comics. The books weren't touched, although both books and comics were color illustrated and fun to read. This surely illustrates the proverb: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child." The word foolishness is spelled in Hebrew evil, and it meant just what the English word "evil" has come to mean: evil or delinquent. If your child is left to himself, with no previous training, his reading matter will most likely be comprised of nonsense subjects.
   Children are lovable, sweet, and precious, but always remember, they are also "thoughtless" totally pliable, open-minded and, generally, teachable. They traditionally believe whatever you tell them, or even whatever you tell them to read. If they devour a predominant diet of fantasy, for instance, they'll believe fantasy is truth.
   Parents must teach character. Nothing comes more natural to your child than violence, fantasy, adventure, and magic. Nothing comes easier to a child at play than the imitated sputter of a machine gun as he murders his friends "in fun." There is an almost universal tendency, at any age, to be fascinated by crime, violence, war and destruction.
   But what most parents don't realize is that good reading material can be made equally enjoyable. Children have a subconscious need and desire to be told what their bounds are, to be given laws of right and wrong, black and white. They are frustrated when unguided. Left to "decide for himself," a child is miserable.

Teach Them Character

   Teach your children to sort out the good and reject the bad. Teach them why, and then, later, ask them to tell you why themselves. Teach them even in pre-school to analyze, weigh and evaluate what they see. Later in the elementary grades teach them to analyze as they read. Point out to them various magazines, newspaper articles, and books they should read.
   Good character is not inborn. Parents must teach it, developing in them the character to enforce their own reading. Your son may find a way to smuggle comics, bizarre science fiction, or even pornography into his room unless you begin to teach him character before he is able to read. Most young girls likewise secretly read "love" comics, movie magazines, or foolish and unrealistic novels unless they have learned earlier to see the harm in such reading. "Forbidden fruit" won't have its charm if you explain why it's wrong and encourage the child to develop the character to refuse it.
   Watching a child grow and learn is a tremendously rewarding experience. Be careful with your child's mind, and you may be privileged to form the knowledge, wisdom, and character of a leader in tomorrow's world.

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Plain Truth MagazineApril 1971Vol XXXVI, No.4