Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Can books teach children to behave badly?

Books featuring naughty children create a neutral space for children to explore the consequences of bad behaviour – just look at Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt's Eat Your Peas

David Shannon, No David!
My four-year-old adores David Shannon's No, David! As we read the book, he revels in the terrible things that David does but, because we share them and I seem to like them too, he also feels that it is a permissible kind of behaviour. He certainly imitates it – we've had muddy footprints tramped across the carpet – and wants me to say "No Alex!" just as David's mum does. Do books like this encourage children – and their parents – to normalise more challenging behaviour? If so, is that a useful talking point or is it just a bad example for children to follow? I'm struggling with it! – Iva, mother of four-year-old Alex

In No, David!, David's terrible behaviour – splashing all the water out of the bath and filling his mouth with food to make it look like a volcano, for example – elicit the only two words of the text: No, David! from his mother.
She remains admirably restrained, or foolishly indulgent, depending on your perspective. It's certainly not surprising that your four-year-old, and probably many others, take the book as a licence to behave in the same way.
Kes Gray, Eat Your Peas (Daisy Picture Books)For some over-constrained children, that could be liberating – if irritating! Dr Seuss's classic The Cat in the Hat, which celebrates outrageous play behaviour all of which is cleverly all put straight just before Mother comes home, is the best example of this.
But the real point about a book like this – and there are many others, including Satoshi Kitamura's brilliant Angry Arthur, a visually explosively manifestation of a child's rage – is that they can provide a relatively neutral place for an objective look at children's behaviour and adults' reactions to it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the age and social maturity of the child in question. 5 year olds love these books as they know absolutely that these things are naughty and not to be tried. Just choose a book where the naughty things are not going to cause a mess or danger to the child is my advice to parents . Good fun though.