Picture Books that tell a Darker Tale

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“So, do Children’s books have a role to play in the targeting of young people by creeps online?”

Certainly not a question I have heard every day, even in what is becoming an increasingly open classroom with my Year 10 and 11 class. 

“What about gangs and groups like ISIS?”

Come on now…

“Yeah, the messages in the books kind of teach kids to go looking for it…”

And so we began, we read “Missy Moo Goes to the Zoo” in which a cow, Missy Moo, is struggling to find happiness in her current life on the farm. She leaves, due to boredom and not fitting in, to find a life elsewhere. She sees other farms, but knows they will be just like the one she left. When she finally comes across a zoo, and specifically a petting zoo, she finds that everyone loves her, and she finally feels happy, content and above all, wanted and accepted. The moral of the story, we all agreed, was that if you aren’t happy, or if people don’t like you, you shouldn’t change to fit in, but rather you should find somewhere where people love you just the way you are. THAT is where true happiness lies.

So we read on to other books, so many examples of children’s books where the moral was, in essence, if people don’t like you, find different people. Or if not that, you can be happy with friendships that are slightly unusual (the bird that was friends with the dragon, for example) because they accept you for who you are.

Now these morals are ones that we all agreed are entirely valuable ones for ensuring that young people grow up to value themselves and to not change for others. But, as we live in a world where young people can IMMEDIATELY access (and be accessed by…) ANYONE in the World, we need to be more careful. Ancient Philosophers guided people towards internal happiness, being aware of self, and the purpose of decisions and choices, however, they lived at a time when your scope to find happiness was your doorstep.

The alarming thought to come out of my lesson today, was that young people are encouraged to find friends/experiences that will fulfil them in who they are, but the very real danger is that there are people waiting at their virtual doorstep ready to offer them promises of friends/experiences that will fulfil them, with an underlying ulterior motive.

In a class in which Socratic Questioning is the new norm, we have to work very hard to engage more deeply with the answers the books give us. The class and I are certainly not being sensationalist with the outcomes of the discussion, but rather we are being real about the necessity to deeply understand WHAT messages young people are receiving and WHY they are receiving them, rather than just what messages young people are hearing.

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