Wierdness in old children's books

The example I’m thinking of is this: my parents found for my son a stash of really old children’s books, including an old version in English of Babar the Elephant.

Boy, was reading this a hoot these days.

The story in a nutshell: Babar’s mom is shot a la Bambi, so Babar wanders into the city. Here, he is picked up on the street by an “old lady”, who, for reasons not explained, decides to dress Babar in nice clothes and bring Babar to live with her.

Soon enough, the old lady is buying Babar a fancy sports car and indeed “whatever he wants”.

When we read this, we burst out laughing - it sounded like Babar was a rent boy. :smiley: I guess when this was written in the 1930s, people wouldn’t jump to such conclusions (though it was France, so who knows? :wink: )

Any other examples you can think of, of stuff that would raise a smile these days but was considered normal at the time?

I remember a kids book called “Socks”, about a black kitten with 4 white paws.

He was ostracized by the other kittens for being different.

His solution: Dip his paws into an inkwell, and Voila! he looked just like the other kittens who were then nice to him.

What a nice moral for today! :rolleyes:

When I was very young, I loved a series of itty-bitty books called “Tiny Nonsense Stories.”
Among the characters therein: a kitten with a gun and a duck who smoked cigarettes. :eek:

You can see 'em here (The Cowboy Kitten and Uncle Quack).

That’s not how the Babar story goes these days?

I particularly remember the former king dying of mushroom poisoning. Tell me they still have that!

Heh, here’s a question: there is a story in the Struwwelpeter, a 19th century German book of children’s verse, about some White boys who tease a Black boy because he’s Black; they are punished by being turned Black themselves:


My question is: horribly racist, or progressive for its time? :wink:

I honestly don’t know … I just have the old version.

Any story involving an army drummer-boy. There was a time when we weren’t so squeamish about putting children in harm’s way. (Remember the 12-year-old midshipman in Master and Commander?)

Does it get much weirder than Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass? All the dark reinterpretation’s of recent years are kind of redundant. This is some scary, freaky shit, complete with insanity, giant bugs, and several near-death experiences. Oh, look, the maid threw a plate at the baby and it cut off his nose! That’s OK, he’s a pig now.

I bought a batch of old, used Curious George books on eBay. And promptly threw out the one where George is walking down the street and decides to get into a car with a couple of guys he’d never met before.


That one is just so wrong. :smack:

Old thread pointing out what now appear to be jarring notes of racism in the original Bobbsey Twins books.

Huh-I think Beverly Cleary wrote a book called Socks about a kitten dealing with the new baby in the house.

I remember Disney doing the “B’rer Rabbit” books, when I was little, pretty much divorced from the Uncle Remus setting. It wasn’t until I got older that I found out the origins. (I loved B’rer Rabbit getting caught in the honey pit or whatever it was. Damn.) :frowning:

That would have been the tar baby, not the honey pit.

The movie Song of the South had Uncle Remus in it. It’s pretty much never played now. Most of the merchandizing for and after the movie concentrated on the cartoon characters. At least most of the merchandizing I saw when I was a kid. There may have been some with the live action part of the story when it first came out.

Now I’ve got “Uncle Remus Says” stuck in my head. It was on a Mouseketeers record that we had.

And yet, the original book was not really racist, except in its employment of a broad African-American dialect. It was simply a collection of authentic black folktales.

Read the Victorian children’s poem “Goblin Market” and you tell me. This poem drips with freaked-out sexuality.

I remember re-reading the first one as an adult and realizing how the man with the yellow hat gets George in the first place (essentially tricks him into climbing into the hat, then sticks him in a sack and takes him home) and being shocked :eek: :eek: :eek: and since then I just haven’t felt the same way about any of the stories. :frowning:

This was an updated Disney version. We belonged to a Disney book club, and they sent a few of the Uncle Remus tales, only without the dialect. (I loved the Tar Pit story-“OWIE KAREMI!!!”)

I remember a book called “The Five Chinese Brothers”. One has a long stretchy neck, one could hold all the waters of the oceans in his mouth…etc.

I’ve read it, but I didn’t realize it was intended as a children’s book :eek: I agree about the freaked-out sexuality, although it could also be interpreted as very spiritual. It’s a beautiful poem, in any case. Christina Dante was either one of the most or least repressed writers of her time.

(I’ve wondered if the movie Labyrinth wasn’t inspired by it a teensy bit. So many of the movie’s influence are explicitly acknowledged, though, that I think this may not be the case.)

Not just them - Howard Garis and his wife wrote the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Uncle Wiggly and a host of others. The original Tom Swift books had a stereotypical black character, with accent and all. However the character wasn’t handled too badly - he was brave and loyal, and at least avoided some of the worst racism.

I’ve read a few of the original Nancy Drew books to my daughter, and they’re much worse.