School recommended the most dreadful book for my kindergartener-to-be.
February 28, 2014 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Last night, I read a book to my four-and-a-half year old. He will go to kindergarten next year, and this book was recommended by the school (email blast to new parents) as something that will "help kids prepare for kindergarten". The book turned out to be wildly age-inappropriate and generally horrible! I feel that I ought to do something about it beside posting a 1-star Amazon review, but I don't know what.

Here is my review so you can get an idea of what's wrong, with questions below.


I most agree with the review titled "Created Fears in my Happy Camper" (note this review has 45 upvotes, as opposed to very few upvotes on all the positive reviews). This book is outrageously age-inappropriate, both text and illustrations.

It opens with a full-page picture of an extremely distressed little girl, mouth agape in fear, hands up in the air, huge letters reading "I AM IN BIG TROUBLE", and it gets worse from there. The opening premise is that this little girl was told by an older kid that kindergarten has a lot of rules, such as, you are not allowed to bring in stuffed animals and you are not allowed to ask for help, ever. Every page from then on (it's a 10 day countdown, so there are 10 pages) reiterates how horrible kindergarten is, along with depictions of kindergarten teachers as - wait for it..... - quazi-nazis!

I kid you not, page 3 actually shows an angry man, towering over a child in a brown-black uniform jacket with a red sleeve band reading "School Police" (picture a nazi, in a nazi uniform, but "School Police" where the swastika normally is) and a speech bubble saying "Hand over the stuffy - you know the rules", his hand extended down to the child who is crying and trying to protect her little stuffed bear.

Then 10 more pages with pictures of the child in distress and more scary, graphic examples of how kindergarten is terrible.

Example one: here are verbatim quotes about not being allowed to ask for help.

"You're not allowed to ask for help. Ever." (One angry teacher).

"YOU CAN'T ASK US FOR HELP. EVER." (Speech bubbles from what looks like a mob of angry teachers).

"ONCE AGAIN: YOU CAN't ASK US FOR HELP. EVER." (Same mob as above).

Example two: here is a verbatim quote about not being able to tie your shoes.

"I'm sorry. Baby shoe-wearers have to take rest time in the sub-basement." (Speech bubble from an angry teacher towering over a crying little girl, next to the picture of the same girl being forced to wear a full-body sandwich board that says "Velcro Girl" to shame her for the fact that she wears shoes with velcro fasteners).

Sub-basement, forcing kids wear giant signs to shame them... are you kidding me? Who thought this was age-appropriate??

So after all this, guess how many pages are dedicated to dismounting this horror show? ONE. Just one page, using a single sentence "I guess I'm not in such big trouble after all". Because in the background, there is a schedule on a blackboard that includes shoe tying and stuffed animals. So a 4-year old is supposed to make the mental connection between the schedule and the false rumor used 10 horrifying pages ago as the opening premise.

My own 4-year old, who is the most happy, non-scaredy, well-adjusted boy (everyone comments on how extra happy he is!) was clinging to me and trying to hide in my lap the whole time (not his usual M/O at all). Afterwards, he couldn't sleep and called out for mama and papa twice, and asked us to leave his door open, something he hasn't asked for in months. He is clearly very troubled about having to go to kindergarten in the fall where all these nightmares will happen to him.


My questions are:

1. What do you think happened? I am thinking the school compiled a list of books that had the word "kindergarten" in the title and seemed age-appropriate at a glance, without actually reading the books?

2. What are my ethical obligations? Should I drop it, or should I email the school to complain about the book? If so, should I just send a brief note with my Amazon review attached?

3. Frankly, I think this book is an abomination. I cannot believe that this book got published, what with the nazis, the dungeons, and the sandwich boards of shame. Not only it is shockingly inappropriate for its target age of 4-5, it is not even appropriate for kids twice that age! I don't think this book should be carried in libraries, but I also don't want to put on a tinfoil censor hat and bother the libraries if this is not the sort of thing that is welcomed by librarians.

What are your thoughts on this, and if you think I should in fact let the libraries know, how should I go about it?
posted by rada to Education (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can tell the school you don't like the book. If enough parents do this maybe they'll stop recommending it.

You should not tell libraries. Just because *you* don't like the book doesn't mean it shouldn't be in libraries. I never liked "The Great Gatsby" but I'm not going to try and get it taken out of libraries.

Next time your school recommends a book for your child, read it by yourself before you read it to your child. Just because the school recommends it doesn't mean you need to red it to your child, especially if you don't like the message.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2014 [56 favorites]

It seems like your best course of action would be to write a letter to the school explaining why you think this is a terrible book to recommend for new kindergarteners.

Leaving a bad review on Amazon is fine, but if your school has already picked out the book, it's not like they're going to see one more bad review on Amazon and be all "oh dang, hit the hivemind threshold, time to pull it from our list!"

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's "shockingly inappropriate" (and by the way it's not like your typical four year olds know what Nazis look like, I mean come on), but it does sound like an incredibly unhelpful book. If it had more than one everything's ok now page at the end that'd be one thing, but no. I agree with you that it sounds like a bad book for this purpose.

So yes, by all means, leave a bad review. More importantly, though, tell the school so that they can stop recommending it in the future.
posted by phunniemee at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2014

Have you talked with other parents whose kids have been throughthe book?

Your question indicates it was recommended, not required. If your child isn't a wild thing, then maybe don't share these books.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2014

Take it up with the school. Take it up with other prospective parents if you know them. Explain your specific objections.

I know of at least one case where, sure enough, the Powers That Be in a school had no idea what they were recommending. And went pale white when the objected parts were shown to them.

And the book was indeed removed.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:13 AM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

I disagree that the book isn't shockingly age inappropriate - it most certainly is.

No, you may not censor books at the library! See: Nazi.

YES. I think you should take a copy of the book to school with post-it's on the offending pages and talk to someone about it in a reasonable way.

Follow up with a letter.
posted by jbenben at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's always a good idea to read books yourself before you read them to your child.
posted by woodvine at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

What do you think happened? I am thinking the school compiled a list of books that had the word "kindergarten" in the title and seemed age-appropriate at a glance, without actually reading the books?

Maybe. But maybe not. Your child may be happy and well-adjusted, but not all kids are. And from the little you've shown us, that book actually seems like it could be addressing the fears about new things that some kids really do have. I was afraid of new things as a child, and from the impression you've given, I'd have actually appreciated this - it was a book that would have been talking to me in the fearful place where I already was. That little girl thinking "I'm in big trouble"? That was me. And I'd have been nodding in understanding if I saw that as a child, thinking "yes, that's exactly it! Man, this book gets me!"

You child didn't benefit from this - but other kids would.

What are my ethical obligations? Should I drop it, or should I email the school to complain about the book? If so, should I just send a brief note with my Amazon review attached?

Actually, your ethical obligations were to have read the book by yourself FIRST, and made an assessment as to whether it would have been appropriate for your child specifically. I'm not getting the sense that you did that. It sounds like the school recommended some books, and you just took them at their word without vetting them for your own child; however, the school would have been trying to post this list as suggestions for a parent to pick and choose from, rather than them being "you must read these to your children".

Mind you, if the school required you to read them to your child, then I'd have seen a case of you having to complain to the school. But it sounds more like these were suggestions, not requirements.

Frankly, I think this book is an abomination. I cannot believe that this book got published, what with the nazis, the dungeons, and the sandwich boards of shame. Not only it is shockingly inappropriate for its target age of 4-5, it is not even appropriate for kids twice that age! I don't think this book should be carried in libraries, but I also don't want to put on a tinfoil censor hat and bother the libraries if this is not the sort of thing that is welcomed by librarians.

Actually, going from what you've given to us, the illustrations aren't that scary, and the dungeon stuff isn't any different from 99% of the fairy tales out there. So....I'd stay away from the libraries.

And, I'd start vetting books the school suggests first before just reading them to your child. The school is trying to cater to all children; it's your job to cater to your child in the specific.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2014 [46 favorites]

After talking with the school, if they still want to keep the book as suggested reading, you might go and address the School Board, either in person or via letter.
posted by vignettist at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used the "Search Inside" feature on Amazon to look at several images in the book, and the School Police image looks to me like a stern man in a suit wearing an ID arm band.

I was very afraid of going to kindergarten as a kid, and I could see how this book would help me conceptualize those fears. I don't think schools can predict which kids will be fearful and which kids aren't. Isn't it up to parents to determine which books are appropriate for their kids, by pre reading them? Certainly let the school know that the book was inappropriate for your child, but maybe consider that your experience is not universal?
posted by muddgirl at 10:27 AM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

I googled up the Amazon page for this book (Countdown to Kindergarten, by Alison McGhee), it has 15 5-star reviews, 2 4-star reviews, 1 3-star review, 1 2-star review, and 2 1-star reviews. Alison McGhee is a fairly successful and known children's book author. I think a reasonable adult would come to the conclusion that more people like this book than dislike and it seems appropriate to recommend.

Everyone's (and every kid's) book taste is different, and this one really didn't float your boat. Personally, I think that's kind of the end of where this story needs to go. Some of the stories my three year wants to read are pretty dang disturbing, but some kids work out their fears and anxieties that way. My kid went through a phase where he was obsessed with Hansel & Gretel, and even the very preschooler-sanitized version of the story I got still involved a witch wanting to cook and eat a kid and a girl pushing said witch into an oven. That is way more disturbing than a kid wearing a sandwich board, but it's a pretty well established story for children.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:28 AM on February 28, 2014 [19 favorites]

I have read this book. I think we own it actually, and I do not have that take on it at all. This is a molehill you are making into one giant mountain, my friend.

The book is supposed to represent some fear of kindergarten being different, and the fear of that comes from a) the unknown environment and b) what someone else told the character.

When the character herself experiences kindergarten, she learns there's nothing to fear (and that she shouldn't always listen to what other people tell her). She learns there were people to help her, etc. The point of the story is --- don't let your fears get in your way of trying something new.

Don't let your fears send you blazing into school about a book that may very well be really great for children who are not yours. This book is really not that bad. If it's not right for your child, then don't read it to your child.

You might like Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes better.
posted by zizzle at 10:29 AM on February 28, 2014 [33 favorites]

Does your school have a policy in place for parents to register complaints about required or recommended reading? Find out, and maybe follow those steps. Do keep in mind that just because it wasn't a good book for your kid doesn't make it a bad book for every kid.

And....why did you not look it over yourself first? A book may be perfectly age-appropriate and all that but not appropriate for any one particular child. Why did you keep reading it when it became obvious it was distressing your child?
posted by rtha at 10:30 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason you didn't tell us the name of the book or link to it on Amazon, incidentally? I was wishing I could check it out for myself. Can you post a link?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2014

Pretty sure that's it: Countdown to Kindergarten.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:39 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another thing for future reading with your son - discuss the book as you go! "Did big kids ever tell you anything about kindergarten?" etc.

(I didn't worry about kindergarten but I was terrified of going to first grade - I remember hiding under the picnic table before my first day. Something like this could have been really useful for my parents, who were completely surprised and bewildered!)
posted by mskyle at 10:52 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

...abomination...I cannot believe that this book got published, what with the nazis, the dungeons, and the sandwich boards of shame.

..."a full-page picture of an extremely distressed little girl, mouth agape in fear, hands up in the air, huge letters reading "I AM IN BIG TROUBLE"..."

"n angry man, towering over a child in a brown-black uniform jacket with a red sleeve band reading "School Police" (picture a nazi, in a nazi uniform, but "School Police" where the swastika normally is) "

Your language and portrayal of this book looks to me like an emotional reaction to your kid's reaction than a genuine and unbiased assessment of the book. Nazi's? Seriously? It's a guy in a jacket with an armband to me. Besides, your kid most likely has no concept of who or what Nazi's were so even if it were a picture of Adolf Hitler, it's 'just a guy in a jacket' to your child. The extra emphasis (reading the caps lock as shouting, seeing a girl with her mouth open as 'extremely distressed' rather than just yelling) is stuff YOU are adding to this book and likely not something your child even has access to.

Yes, the whole kindergarten thing may have upset your child. But I really think you are very much over-reacting about the book and, in particular, adding all kinds of baggage to what you read in it, fuelled by your emotional reaction to your child being upset. It may be nothing to do with the book. It may be because he suddenly realised he'd be away from you for a whole day when the whole discussion was going and THAT freaked him out. Maybe the book isn't even the problem for him?
posted by Brockles at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2014 [21 favorites]

Oh for goodness' sake.

Rada, I am indeed sorry that your child was negatively affected by this book, but - honestly, it REALLY isn't as universally scarring as you're making it out to be, at least not to the point that I would be mounting an official challenge to the school board. It's not age-inappropriate - in fact, it's right about on par with some of the books my mother was going through when she was taking a course on childrens' literature for her Masters in Early Childhood Education, and which my friend is reading in her course on children's literature for her masters' in Library Science.

The thing is, "age appropriate" is a general descriptor which assumes that each parent is going to further vet things for their specific child. So, rather than attack the school board, I'd just start vetting things for your own child from now on, now that you know that he doesn't like this kind of thing.

And please - and now I'm speaking as a child who grew up loving libraries and loved to read - please don't work to keep it out of libraries. Libraries are there to serve all people, and many kids would indeed enjoy this book. Kids are also pretty savvy about books on their own as well, and knowing to put a book down on their own if it's too scary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think our kid's school recommended that! And we have a relative, a kindergarten teacher, who actually sent it to us, along with a couple of other kindergarten books that we deemed 'no way'. We read (okay, we skimmed) these books before showing them to our kid--they were rejected by us, she never saw them.

I would tell the school that the book scared your kid. They should be aware of it. I would make it a point to double-check reading materials in the future. I would chalk it up to 'trust no one', which is always a good thing to remember. You know what will work for your kid and what won't.

I agree that book, and I'm pretty sure it's the one I'm thinking of, is scary and filled with negative imagery that for some kids only serves to create fears of things they had no idea existed to fear.

I think it's a case of adults failing to understand the lens through which a kid sees the world and gathers the facts and maybe a case of adult overreaching -- that instinct to be frank and honest with children and see them as miniature adults when that actually is sometimes really burdensome to kids. But as people have pointed out, kids, like adults, vary tremendously.

It's February, it sounds like your son won't face this for a long time -- you have a lot of time to undo that damage. Try not to revisit it unless he brings it up, don't present it for discussion, don't oversell kindergarten months and months ahead of time. Fears grow given enough examination. There is no need to start dabbling in the whole kindergarten experience this soon.

Schools do orientations and in my experience, despite the occasional misstep of the type of book you're describing, do a good job of getting kids ready for this experience and it's okay to let them take the lead. They are pros at managing kids and parental anxiety. (My kid's teacher said to the kids in orientation: "Are you guys nervous? I'm a little nervous. And I feel a little shy. Raise your hand if you feel a little shy." and of course they all raised their hands. It was sweet.)

I agree with you that it's kind of a bummer of a book. I also agree with those who say 'leave the libraries alone'. It's just not for you or your kid, that's all, or me or my kid. But for lots of people it's perfectly fine.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

It sounds very similar to "Monster at the End of this book" to me.

1) My mother is an elementary school teacher and has to read every book that she recommends. They put more work into that list than you think they do. So it was read by teachers/counselors/administrators. When they got to the end and SMILED, they decided to recommend it.

2) Your ethical obligations: Comfort your child and un-ring that bell that Kindergarten is a horror show. Then drop a note to the teacher saying the book upset your child. Also, pre-read books before you read it with him. As a former scaredy-kis myself, an "I promise you, this book ends up happy" from Mom goes a long way.

3) Don't bother the librarians. Other kids and parents have loved this book. That review you agreed with is almost 11 years old, by the way. It took that long for someone else to hate that book so badly that they wrote a one-star.
posted by kimberussell at 11:04 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't imagine reading a book to a pre-K child without having looked it over first.

Each child is different and what is appropriate for one my not be right for another.

Things which disturb us provide an excellent starting point for conversation and questions.
posted by cat_link at 11:20 AM on February 28, 2014

I don't think it would be crazy to write a reasoned letter to whoever distributes the list, stating your child's reaction and letting them do with that information as they may. I would want to know if a book I was recommending to children had been very upsetting to one of them. They may put a disclaimer on the list for next time. Where it would cross the line would be taking a tone or making demands with the teachers/librarians, IMO.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

So this is part of a whole sub genre of children's books that are intended to address children's fears, acknowledge them, and either teach the child how to cope with those fears or demonstrate why the fears are unnecessary.

The potential problem with these books is that if your child doesn't already have those fears in the first place, the book can create them.

This is why you need to prescreen your reading material at this age. The book isn't inappropriate for kids, it's inappropriate for your kid.

It can also be really helpful to engage in the story with your child, instead of just reading it to them. You don't have to wait for the four year old to "make the mental connection between the schedule and the false rumor used 10 horrifying pages ago as the opening premise" -- you can point that out yourself. Ask leading questions, point out subtleties you think they might be missing, openly dispute what the book says if it comes to that. ("Gee, that character's being silly, isn't she? She must not know that one of the things they teach you in kindergarten is how to tie your shoes!")

You can also suggest switching to a different book if you see your child isn't enjoying the one you're reading. (I have no idea why you kept going after noticing your son "clinging to you and trying to hide in your lap".)
posted by ook at 11:28 AM on February 28, 2014 [19 favorites]

Yes, the whole kindergarten thing may have upset your child. But I really think you are very much over-reacting about the book and, in particular, adding all kinds of baggage to what you read in it, fuelled by your emotional reaction to your child being upset. It may be nothing to do with the book. It may be because he suddenly realised he'd be away from you for a whole day when the whole discussion was going and THAT freaked him out. Maybe the book isn't even the problem for him?

Seconding that. You have to help your child interpret the book now that you've encouraged or supported his emotional reaction to it.

You can't undo this damage, but you can do your homework next time.
posted by GrapeApiary at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2014

As per the description given here, I agree that the book isn't too hot.

Some first thoughts:

Rule no. 1 to take away from what A Terrible Llama says:
-- always look over a book before showing it to your kid.
Rule no. 2, derived from actual research I've seen:
-- Don't trust recommendations for children's books. Children's books are generally judged by adults who on the basis of one or another kind of authority are deemed, or consider themselves, to know what's good for kids (this doesn't need to be bad, all I'm saying is that it is no guarantee for being good). Children's books are rarely if ever publicly, and with an impact, judged by children (and that's bad, I believe).

Now about "age appropriate": this term and concept has a close and specific connection to children's cognitive development; in other words it's not a colloquial term that describes what parents think is appropriate for their kid.
What seems not age appropriate about this book is that it doesn't take into account the average attention span of the target age group, nor the typical kind of causal thinking that kids of that age are capable of. Make-believe fears are a complicated rational concept; a kid of that age is likely to have emotional responses that only with difficulty can be modified by a rational approach in any case. Use a too-difficult setup, and a rational way of processing is blocked altogether. That seems to have happened with your kid in relationship to this book.

Then there's a statistical issue with the content. The book uses too many negative examples, and too few positive examples to dissipate the fears first instilled. That's just plain silly, and as someone said here above, it wouldn't gone down well with may kids twice that age. Children do ask themselves "what does this book want to tell me?", and the answer here seems to be, "a lot of horrifying stuff and a tiny blip of not-so-bad at the end." What kind of wisdom is this to build on in a positive spirit?

Dealing with fears in general, however, should never be a problem, provided that it's done in a manner that the individual child can process, and provided it addresses those fears the individual child actually has.* This book seems not to provide this service. [*What does it help if a kid has, say, a fear of the house going ablaze (as I had when I was very young) and someone shows them all about crocodiles and teeth? There's the reason why I'm critical of the genre of big-fat-problem-related kiddie's books.]

I would totally talk to someone at the kindergarten about this book. Ask whether they actually know it. Ask what they think it's supposed to "do" with a kid who reads it. Ask if they're aware that it has the potential of solidly scaring kids, in a plain counterproductive manner.
Now make your decision about the quality of that particular kindergarden, or move on. Seriously.
posted by Namlit at 12:02 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

[Comment removed. rada, I totally appreciate that you're frustrated by the thread you ended up with but it's not okay to get into a scrap with answerers in here; clarifying stuff in a followup is fine but please keep it on the productive side. You're welcome to check in with us at the contact form if you need to talk about other stuff related to the question, etc.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:13 PM on February 28, 2014

I agree with your take on the book presenting an unhealthy authoritarian message.
posted by steinsaltz at 12:14 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry your little boy got upset by the book. My daughter can also be sensitive (the Tinkerbell movie made her cry). However, I think you should take a moment and decide what you really want to accomplish here. Branding the book as not age-appropriate, even for kids twice your son's age, feels like an attack on parents whose kids would enjoy such a book. That's not going to get you anywhere.

What I would do is email the principal and let him/her know that the book upset your child, and propose a disclaimer on next year's list along the lines of "May be frightening for some children." Then give a hug to your little one, and drop discussion of kindergarten for a bit.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:39 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry for your situation too. I don't think it's unreasonable to mention your child's experience with the school. I'm sure they would love feedback if it isn't accusatory.

I also want to recommend another book about kindergarten. If you find one that you like, the school may appreciate your recommendation. The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten by Maureen Fergus It's about the Mom not knowing any of the rules and puts the kindergartener in the role of an expert!
posted by Gor-ella at 12:50 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who reviews children's illustrated books, I think it's a mediocre book and I also whole-heartedly agree with this comment:

The potential problem with these books is that if your child doesn't already have those fears in the first place, the book can create them.

I read a wide variety of children's books to my own daughter and I don't feel that I'm particularly protective of what she is exposed to in those books (in fact one of her favorites, which I can't stand myself, is about a zombie guy whose limbs keep falling off!), but I hate books that put fears or negative attitudes into kids' heads or feature poor role models without making it clear that they are poor role models. It's particularly important for a school to be careful about those things because in a classroom, kids will have many different personalities, insecurities, temperaments, etc.

So although I don't see this particular book as abominable, I fully understand your frustration. One thing you could consider doing is recommending books you like to the teacher, and even bringing them in for the teacher to read. If you need some suggestions, feel free to contact me via MeMail.
posted by Dansaman at 1:46 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it may have been in one of Po Bronson's books, or maybe another, where they talked about how a lot of children's media spends inordinate amounts of time and space on bad behaviour and that it is developmentally inappropriate for under 5s specifically because the one minute lesson at the end is overwhelmed by the rest. They aren't able to weight the information they're receiving to compensate for the over-emphasis of negatives.

Which is how I would address that with whoever I spoke to (me, I'd go to the librarian because I am one) - that it was far too heavy on the fears to be a book for every kid. For kids with jerk older siblings? Fine. For a kid who is looking forward to school? Bloody awful. So I'd suggest that they might want to divvy up the list, or annotate it in some way, to separate 'overcoming fears' style books with 'yay let's go' or 'this is how the kindy day goes'.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Share this book with your child's kindergarten teacher and let her know that this is how her school is recommending that parents prepare their kids for her program.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:55 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

At this point in time, YOU know your kid better than some unknown teachers and administrators at a school he has never been to. And it sounds like it was recommended, not required, reading.

You should have read the book yourself before reading it to your child, and made the determination whether or not it was appropriate to share the book with him. (And you should probably do that with any recommended book in the future, until he's old enough / mature enough to decide what to read for himself.) From your description it sounds like the book has the potential to create fears of school in kids where these kids would not previously have had that fear. I think that's an opinion worth sharing with the school; if enough parents agree with you, maybe they'll pull the book from their recommended reading list. If it were "required" reading instead of merely recommended, I'd say you'd have had a stronger case on your hands.

From what previous commenters have said, it seems like this book may be useful for kids who ALREADY have these fears about school for allaying those fears. That's something that the school should note on the list -- not merely "we recommend this book," but "we recommend this book if your child is afraid of going to school / afraid of non-parental authority figures." They don't HAVE to do that, but it might have been useful for you as a parent -- "oh, my kid's not afraid of going to school, maybe we can skip this book." It sounds like they just presented you with a list, in which case it's up to you to review the recommended reading.

Hey, lesson learned for you. I'm sorry you now have to deal with a kid who is afraid of going to school who wasn't afraid before. That's something you should probably share with his teacher or someone at the school. Maybe it will be a lesson learned for them as well.
posted by tckma at 2:06 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like I need to jump in here and say that I absolutely do not read every book first before reading it to my children. I don't think that's some sort of standard of responsible parenting. I glance at the comic books because some of those can be kind of crazy, but in general I don't look through the picture books till I read them, and my older son's usually read them several times by that point.

This book you're describing reminds me a little bit of Spider School, which we have and love, but which I can see being pretty scary for some kids. And it's less intense than what you're describing, with a longer section of the happy school day at the end. I think it's completely reasonable for you to tell the school what your experience was with this book and suggest that it not be included on this list next year. I'm sure they'll be receptive and interested to hear your opinion.
posted by gerstle at 3:07 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't let my toddler watch Fireman Sam (a British children's show from the same production company that does Thomas the Train) because this one little boy on the show always behaves badly and disregards the adults, resulting in a dangerous situation where the fire department has to be called....

So the takeaway for a child is that if you behave badly, you get all the attention. What a shitty message!

I took a look at the book in question here via that feature on Amazon. It is heavy on the negativity and drama.

It's a shame the OP can't just trust the school's recommended list, but there ya go. As with my Fireman Sam example above, I think sometimes adults mean well, but they just don't think it through from a child's perspective.

OP, I hope you follow up with the school. This isn't a hill to die on, but it IS a shame their recommended list features a book so heavy on negative bullshit.

PS - the cartoon Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (on PBS, sorta a continuation of Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood) contains LOTS of positive depictions of going to school and trying new things. Maybe stories like this can offset the bad feelings your little guy has about school right now?

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:39 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the flip side, kids can be "scarred for life" because they utterly and completely hated some book that parents, teachers, and adults in general held as "what kids like." Repeatedly asking "don't you just love X" in a tone that says you should is a great way to tell a kid they're a freak.

See also: Trying to ban book that some kids lovedly love love love.

Perhaps the school provided a list because variety.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:04 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

For those not familiar with the book, the negativity is the fears the child has about kindergarten because someone told her that was what kindergarten was --- when you read the book, it's clear a 7 year old with imperfect memory and exaggerated fantasy told these things to the main character who adds her own spin to them.

At the end of the book, she learns that's not what kindergarten is about, someone does help her to tie her shoes, and she likes it a lot.

The negativity is not about what happened. The negativity stems from thinking about what it is going to happen.

How many AskMes have there been about "I did a thing and I think everyone may hate me! What should I do?" Where people say, "Ahh, hey. Be gentle with yourself!"

This book is like this. "I'm so scared, I heard all these things about this experience!" "ahh,hey. it won't be like that really. Your're just nervous. It'll be better than you think!"

It may not be for everyone. It may. It be a great book. But it's not Scary Stpries to Read in the Dark, either.
posted by zizzle at 7:31 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Look, the judgment about whether the book is scary and inappropriate or helpful and fine is clearly (1) entirely subjective and (2) entirely individual. I don't doubt for a moment that your kid was distressed, and that you had good reason to find the book inappropriate, for your kid.

Tell the school your data point; write a review on Amazon. But more importantly, from now on vet what you give to your own kid, and trust your OWN gut with YOUR kid. There is a LOT of material for kids out there that may be deeply distressing for your kid, and you're the only authority on that. Don't trust anyone else. It's not their job to protect your kid; they don't know your kid, and anyway they just want to sell their crap. It's your job to at least scan books first; watch movies with your kid; meet their friends; find out what they're being taught at school.

This is not always easy. I got some whining when I turned off Toy Story 3 in the middle (ugh that concentration camp imagery) and I know a lot of people would think I'm crazy mommy for doing that. But I know it was the right thing for my family.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:07 AM on March 1, 2014

[Folks, "read the book first" has now been offered many, many, many times, and doesn't actually answer the question. Maybe we can move past this to address the main queries, or pass this up. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:48 AM on March 1, 2014

I have also read that small children don't really understand stories the way adults do. I think the example was a tv show that shows characters acting violently towards each other, but making up and saying fighting is wrong at the end. What children remembered when asked by researchers about the story was the fighting, not the moralizing conclusion. If you are interested in finding the research to bolster your petition to the school, I think the reference was either in "Into the minds of babes : how screen time affects children from birth to age five" or "Nurtureshock" but I don't have either book now and I am striking out on search terms.
posted by SandiBeech at 11:08 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

By all means inform the school.

Years ago one of my children went BERSERK in kindergarden for the first few weeks....thankfully he settled down.

When he was a little older he was able to communicate with us that a commercial he had seen (on Christian tv no less) had shown a teacher ripping up a child's picture. He had internalized it, and, needless to say, was very reactive.

It is hard for adults to guess how a particular child will react to something, but I can see very easily how many children would have a problem with that particular book while others would find it helpful. I agree with you that four is too young.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:36 AM on March 2, 2014

By the way, OP, this will definitely not be the last time you will have to screen suggestions from supposed authorities. Remember, there are lots of experts out there but YOU are the expert on your child, period. Don't let anyone try to persuade you otherwise!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:38 AM on March 2, 2014

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