When my daughter was around 18 months old she became obsessed with the book, There was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. I had never put much thought into the book or its theme but after reading it 30 times a day for several weeks I began to. And I didn’t like it. What bothered me more than the actual contents of the book (although those are disturbing) was the fact that it bothered me at all. Parents, caregivers and educators all over the world had been reading this book to children for the better part of a decade and had probably even had a good time doing it. But here I was, hiding the book beneath a couch cushion in hopes that my daughter would lose interest. When that didn’t work, it went beneath the actual couch and then finally to the Goodwill. What was my problem? For one thing, there are exactly zero elderly people who are a regular part of my daughter’s life. I really didn’t think that this madwoman should be her first introduction into their world- apparently a world where eating insects, house pets and farm animals is par for the course. And quite frankly, I didn’t want to start answering questions about death.
Well, I had forgotten all about this incident until this week when we checked out a new batch of books from the library. I was very pleased to see that one of the books that my daughter chose was Henny Penny (also known as Chicken Little), the story of the hen who believes the sky is falling and sets off with a gang of pals to tell the king about it. Ah, an old classic from my youth! Now we’re talkin’! Dora who? The Wiggles what? Diego where? We got home and settled in to read our new books and all was going swimmingly until we got to page 27. Before I knew what hit me, I had read the following:
“From that day to this Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Loosey, Duckey Lucky, Cocky Locky, and Henny Penny have never been seen again. And the King has never been told the sky is falling. But… Foxy Loxy and Mrs. Foxy Loxy and their seven little foxes still remember the fine feast they had that day.”
Um, that is NOT the Henny Penny I remember from my youth. I looked at my daughter, whose mouth was agape, and tried to change the subject: “Hey! Let’s read Olivia!” “Why did the foxes eat all of those birdies?” “I don’t think they did, Honey. Do you want to read another book?” “No, I think they did…” Damn!
It’s not that I want to shield her from the world forever. But she’s only 3. She has a whole lifetime of cruel discoveries ahead of her. I’d like for reading time to be fun, relaxing and educational. It doesn’t have to be all fairies and teddy bears, but for now I’d prefer that none of the main characters consume one another during the course of the book. And that goes for both fowl-eating foxes and equine-eating grandmothers.
By the way, I see that Banned Books Week is coming up next month. I would like to nominate Henny Penny and There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. Oh, that’s not what Banned Books Week is all about? Foiled again…