One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In other words, one man’s favorite children’s book is another man’s “I can’t believe you’d read that trash to your kids!” Reading to your kids is an essential part of creating a connection and can help their literary knowledge blossom, but let’s face it, some books are just the worst.
Here are the 9 worst children’s books ever:
- Skippyjon Jones by Byron Schachner
- The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
- No, David! by David Shannon
- The Berenstain Bears and the Bully by the Berenstains
- The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- I Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
- The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
- The Cat and the Hat by Dr. Seuss
If you see one of your favorites on this list, keep reading so we can explain. Below, we dive into why each of these books has been deemed one of the “worst ever,” and hopefully, our reasoning will convince you.
Skippyjon Jones has a beautiful imagination and a mama who loves him very much despite his wacky antics. That’s as far as our positive review goes on this book. In his imagination, he transforms into a chihuahua “bandito” who saves a tiny town of chihuahuas from a frijole monster.
As innocent as the storyline might seem, you weren’t crazy if you started to read this book and thought, “Is this appropriate?” The book has been banned by many libraries because it misrepresented Latin culture.
The harmful stereotypes aren’t written in a manner that you can just debrief with your kids about the inappropriateness after. Skippyjon Jones is one of those books. There’s no way you can read it without highlighting the stereotypes themselves. Even if you do it in your flattest voice or opt for not using an accent, the words are literally written with little “ido’s” and “ito’s” at the end of most sentences.
While banned books are often celebrated as a lesson in censorship, many felt that Skippyjon Jones still didn’t deserve recognition. The book depicts Mexican stereotypes and distastefully at that.
The Rainbow Fish is a truly iconic book. Who could forget the beautiful, shining cover of this classic board book? Do you remember what the story was about, though?
In the Rainbow Fish, a beautiful little fish with gorgeous sparkling scales has trouble making friends. The fish is too beautiful, and nobody wants to be around something more beautiful than they are. (Can you already start to see the problem?). Long story short, the Rainbow Fish starts to gain the affection of other ocean creatures by giving its pretty little scales away.
So what’s the problem? This is referred to on the popular literary website Book Riot as a book basically about dismemberment for the benefit of others. Giving to others is great, essential even. But peeling away literal pieces of yourself to make others happy? Not a good look.
The Rainbow Fish teaches that to be liked by others, you’ve got to adapt for them and change yourself. For kids, having a healthy self-identity isn’t about giving up parts of themselves but rather being confident in who they are. Shiny scales and all!
No is an important word; that’s undeniable. Saying “no” helps teach children boundaries, and listening to the word “no” is an important concept when discussing consent. The book No, David! by David Shannon is a great lesson in “NO,” but a bad lesson in parenting.
No, David! is the story of little David, who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. He runs around the house naked, colors on walls, and plays with his food when he should be eating. Our beef with No, David! is that it’s ignoring a concept preschool teachers and early educators have been utilizing for years: find can’s when there are can’t. Let’s explain.
When working in a classroom with young children, saying “no” or “don’t” highlights what shouldn’t be done. No running means no running, no jumping means no jumping. And that’s an important lesson, sure. But what it doesn’t explain is what the child should be doing.
For this reason, teachers try to find the yes in undesirable behaviors. Instead of saying “no running,” a more fitting “use your walking feet” helps the child build skills rather than just teach them what they shouldn’t do.
Sister runs into some bully trouble in The Berenstain Bears and the Bully by Jan & Stan Berenstain. This is a common enough theme and can be super relatable to kids. But the next steps for her are training, plotting revenge, and getting ready to bully her bully back.
Mama bear thinks that Sister should just be passive, ignore the bully, and move on. And this isn’t exactly right or a lesson we should be teaching children. It’s important to raise your voice and stand up for yourself. However, Papa and Brother bear encourage her to exact her revenge. This also isn’t exactly right, as we’d hope our children learn enough problem-solving skills to solve their problems with a little more than violence.
This book makes the list because of how much there is to unpack. The solution for bullying is somewhere between the two, depending on your family’s beliefs. And, of course, in the perfect world, the solution for bullying is prevention. In other words, good luck debriefing your child on this book.
The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss isn’t a bad book. It’s a story that has been banned, but mostly for its anti-war themes and its satirical commentary on the military complex. In essence, the book about creatures that like butter on the top of their toast hating the creatures that like the butter on the bottom of their toast can open up a lot of conversations about war, injustice, and more.
This book is on the list because of its profound, frightening ending. If there were ever a book to not read your child before bedtime, this is it. Not because they’ll go to bed worried (even though they may have a dozen questions), but because you’ll go to bed thinking of the deeper, frightening meaning of the book.
Like the book above, The Giving Tree is about a lot more than the text states, and that’s precisely why it made it on this list, not because it’s an awful book or one of the worst books ever written. It’s just probably not the right book to read before bedtime.
The Giving Tree is about a young man who takes and takes from a little tree just to keep using it when all it has left to give is an area to sit on. As children, the book had little meaning. It was a tree that kept getting smaller because of a needy man. But the meanings as adults? They’re endless.
Shel Silverstein’s book is still widely discussed by philosophers and literary geniuses alike. So, again, reading it before bedtime might prevent your mind from getting any rest as you try to fall asleep.
This one was put on the list with hesitation. I Love You Forever is a classic and gets a lot of people emotional. I mean, “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be…” makes me tear up just typing it. So if this book makes you feel all the feels, and you can’t get through it without ugly crying, then this in itself could be the problem.
But once we dive deeper into the story about a mom who crawls into her adult son’s room to cradle him and sing to him, we might start to wonder about codependency and emotional regulation. It seems like there’s something we’re missing in this book, some context as to why this mama keeps crawling into her kid’s room and holding him.
Independence, as we all know, is an important skill for children, but so is deep connection and trust with their caregiver. It’s a balancing act, for sure. Hold your babies, sing them songs, and hug them whenever possible. When they grow up, just please don’t crawl into their home through their window to do it.
If you read this book as a child and wondered why it gave you the creeps, you’re not alone. The New Yorker named it the creepiest children’s book for a good reason.
The Lonely Doll, maybe because of its black-and-white photography style or maybe because of its context, made our list because of the scarring image of Mr. Bear spanking the Lonely Doll while the tiny teddy shades his eyes in the background. With lipstick on the mirror in the background reading, “Mr. Bear is a silly old man,” mind you.
Why? Just, why?
We know this book is a classic, but hear us out.
The Cat and the Hat, in essence, is a book about two kids who let a stranger into their home and proceed to watch him tear the entire place to shreds. Not only this, but this strange adult cat asks the children to keep it a secret (more-or-less).
If you frame it right, this book can be a lesson in not letting strangers into your home, but it should also be a lesson in not keeping secrets. Keeping secrets can cause serious harm to children and should never be encouraged. If you decide to read this book, remind your children that secrets with adults are a no-go.
- The Classroom Bookshelf: Banned Book Week: Skirting Skippyjon for Latinx Kid Lit
- EdWeek.org: This Banned Books Week, Stories With LGBTQ Themes Dominate the Most-Challenged List
- Book Riot: THE RAINBOW FISH by Marcus Pfister Is Actually Pretty Messed Up
- RegardingBaby.org: What To Say Instead Of “NO!” – Six Ways To Gain Your Child’s Cooperation
- The Outline: Dr. Seuss Butter Battle Book History
- Reading Partners Blog: “The Giving Tree”…What does it all mean?
- NAEYC: Growing Independence: Tips for Parents of Toddlers and Twos | NAEYC
- The New Yorker: Creepiest Children’s Book
- Very Well Family: Why Parents Shouldn’t Tell Kids to Keep Secrets
- Teaching for Change: Supporting Healthy Identity Development