Classics That Ain't So Classic

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Classics That Ain't So Classic

Following Michael’s thought-provoking post on writing reviews on Goodreads, I figured I’d take my turn dipping a spoon into the controversy crock-pot. You see, there are works that are commonly thought to fall into the children’s book canon, classics that stay with readers for years. These are the books people look forward to giving to children again and again, so they, too, can experience these wonderful stories that are loved so dearly. But every once in a while you’ll finds one of these books that you, well, just don’t like that much.

But you keep quiet. You don’t rock the boat. You hope no one notices the slight hitch in your voice when you say, “Oh, it was … lovely!” and quickly change the subject to the terrific cookies Loraine baked.

We spend so much time purring about those books we hold dear. I think it’s time to talk a little about children’s classics that we just don’t like. Did you find yourself hoping Wilbur got the ax? Wishing Willie Wonka kept his stupid factory closed? Wondering why those stuck-up kids wandered into the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Here’s your chance to get it off your chest. In the comments, post a title and a quick explanation (think, 75 words or less) for why a classic book just didn’t work for you. If you feel more comfortable, post anonymously.

I’ll start things off with The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: I had a memory of enjoying this as a kid and recently picked it up to reread. This time? Complete snoozefest. Too many characters, too many points of view, not compelling enough (could be because I remembered the ending, but regardless) to keep me interested. I think I may have (gulp) actually liked the movie as a kid, and not the book. I put it aside after 40 pages.

To add to the fun, feel free to also post a rebuttal to someone else’s pick, limited to under 50 words, if possible.

We can argue. We can debate. And we can have some fun. Let er’ rip!

  1. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some E.B. White. But Stuart Little? It’s a tad weird, a tad creepy, and it ends on an unsatisfying note.

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  2. My Side of the Mountain. It’s not written in anything resembling the voice of a twelve year old boy. I kept hearing a middle-aged woman. Couldn’t finish the book.

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  3. Martha, I don’t know why you’d find it strange that a woman gives birth to a mouse. And I suppose your children are all tailless and without fur? tsk.

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  4. Curious George. I loved him as a kid, but when I revisited the books as an education major in college, I didn’t get it. What’s up with the man in the yellow hat not having a name? And bringing a wild animal home to live in his house and leaving him unsupervised to get into trouble? Insanity!

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  5. Don’t get me started on Eloise. I think she’s a nasty spoiled brat and nothing good or fun should ever happen to her.

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  6. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Creepy.

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  7. That Kurt is a different Kurt. Just so it’s clear.

    I’ll say The Chocolate War. When it comes to angsty downbeat YA fiction, give me Paul Zindel any day. A little humor goes a long way.

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  8. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Too much fretting, not enough with the rats or their background. She should have thrown Tiny Tim mouse, or whatever his name was, to Mr. Peepers, or whatever the cat’s name was, and gotten the rest of her mousekins the heck outta there.

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    • Shannon, I think you’re remembering the names perfectly. I LOVED that book as a child, but haven’t read it since. And the movie creeped me the heck out.

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  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ellen Greene and Debra Schubert. Debra Schubert said: RT @UpstartCrowLit Now on the Upstart Crow blog: Classics That Ain’t So Classic (http://tinyurl.com/na7vx8) […]

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  10. I admit to not being able to get through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; the scene with Edmund and the White Witch and the Turkish Delight made me want to scream. Maybe it’s because I didn’t read it as a child.

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  11. A Wrinkle in Time. I “reread” it last year via audiobook, so perhaps it was the dreadful narration, but the repetition of Charles Wallace (first and middle names) on every stinkin’ page still haunts me. Too preachy, too long-winded.

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  12. Caddie Woodlawn. Urgh. Maybe I would have liked it if I kept reading but I could never get beyond the first chapter.

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  13. Go Ax Alice.

    I put it on my blog (I will revisit) as a favorite but after rereading it I realized how hard up I must have been when I intially read it. Just cut to the end and spare yourselves unnecessary yawning.

    And William Shatner as the dad in the film needed serious therapy. And a haircut.

    Pippy also drives me mad. A bit to obnoxious for my taste. Needs a sedative. Calm down kid.

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  14. Oh, when I was eight or nine, my mother gave me a copy of a book she’d read when she was a child: ELSIE DINSMORE. Man, that Elsie was so good and perfect and truly, sincerely, wonderfully religious, she drove me nuts. How anybody could keep reading about that horrid little perfect girl, I don’t know.

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  15. A comment on Twitter just reminded me of another sacrilege to confess: I find the illustrations in Goodnight Moon horribly uninspiring.

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  16. Island of the Blue Dolphins: I wanted so badly to like this book. I tried to read it three times during junior high and couldn’t. Then as a student teacher, I had to teach it. I got through it begrudgingly (Sorry, kids, perhaps there is comfort in knowing I did not become a teacher). Apparently, I need dialogue.

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  17. Goodnight Moon. NO STRUCTURE. Absolutely random in terms of plot, rhythm, any pattern a child (or reading parent) can grab onto. Much prefer Goodnight Opus. 🙂

    On the flip side, while husband and I both love Where the Wild Things Are, my son had no interest in even the first read. So it’s all personal.

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  18. Loved the Little House on the Prarie TV show- totally had a thing for Albert Ingalls and loved to hate Nellie Olsen but the book puts me to sleep.

    Where The Wild Things Are scared the crap out of me as a kid. I spent years feeling guilty that I also hated the illustrations. However, I did come around and ended up loving a lot of Sendak’s stuff.

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  19. I like the idea of The Lonely Doll, but she has a permanent grief stricken look on her face (even when she’s supposed to be having fun) and she gets spanked by a teddy bear. How twisted is that?

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  20. My son LOVES Goodnight Moon (he’s 2), but I agree with the complaints about rhythm and the illustrations. Now I just let him put his head on my shoulder and recite it by heart.

    But the kids books I truly dislike reading? The Eric Carle ones. If I have to read, “Macaroni Penguin, Macaroni Penquin, what do you see?” one more time, I might have to put the book into the fireplace.

    It’s hard to think back to books I disliked in school, but I remember detesting Island of the Blue Dolphins. When I was a kid, we never got to read anything fun. It was all historical fiction, and was always a snooze-fest for me.

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  21. I’m feeling badly for my negativity, so can I say the children’s books I love? (Anyone can debate these with me.)

    I LOVED “No More Dead Dogs” by Gordon Korman. I think all middle schoolers should read it.

    I LOVE all the Jane Yolen Dinosaur books, and my toddler does too. Those get the most reading in our house.

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  22. Velveteen Rabbit. As a child, I thought it was a surreal and freaky book for adults. As an adult, I think it’s a weird and boring book for kids. Possibly… somewhere in my teenage years, it would have been just right but, alas, I was rotting my brain on non-classics during that time.

    The grandmother in Goodnight Moon reminds me of the “mother” in Psycho every time.

    Sendak’s “Night Kitchen” scares the crap out of me as a parent. If he didn’t already have other books under his belt, Sendak would have been the creepy old man who liked to draw pictures of naked kids in batter. There is just something wrong and twisted… and… yes… I’ll say it… unhygienic. Shudder.

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  23. I’m with Jody and Brigid on Island of the Blue Dolphins. Man, did I want to love the book Scott O’Dell autographed “To Debbie with the chubby cheeks.”

    I had the mumps when O’Dell came to a junior high book fair reception at my house. I was in second grade. He was so thoughtful and generous, but I never could make it through all that description in the book – probably why I didn’t notice until it was too late that it was lost somewhere during the many moves my family made during junior high and high school.

    So if anyone sees an Island of the Blue Dolphins with that inscription, could you let me know? I promise to read it, though I can’t promise I’ll like it.

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  24. When I was a kid, I absolutely loved The Girl Who Owned A City and always considered it a classic. Then I re-read it as an adult to discover the entire ending is some long political manifesto where the author forced his very young main character to espouse his adult views for pages and pages on end. Agree or disagree with his philosophy, it doesn’t matter to me; it was just that it was “telling not showing” in the worst way. He should have let the readers come to their own conclusions, and that he didn’t was off-putting enough to retroactively ruin the book for me.

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  25. Where the Wild Things Are.
    Scared me and creeped me out as a kid.

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  26. Well, these aren’t classics, but I read every one when I was young, and they were loved by girls everywhere–Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. They. Are. The. Worst.

    Stupid characters who never grow, unbelievable plots that keep repeating over and over and over, terrible dialogue and description.

    I must also admit that I never liked Charlotte’s Web. I loved Templeton. And Wilbur was OK for a dumb little piglet. But I never warmed up to Charlotte or her little parachuting babies.

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  27. Shannon! For shame! Would you feed your disabled child to a lion and then happily move your family away?

    I read Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH for the first time as an adult when I read it to my kids. I LOVED it. I thought it was very clever.

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  28. SALLY: This summer my daughters and I checked out a ton of NANCY DREW and I read them aloud. HOWEVER, I’d insert my own comments throughout. For example: Nancy, an attractive titian blond, grinned up at her friend. {insert: The friend had no idea Nancy had just blown a gigantic silent fart, because Nancy’s farts never, ever stink.} Gross, for sure, but my comments, if I do say so myself, made the books so much more entertaining.

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  29. I read about forty Nancy Drews and thirty or so Hardy Boys books when I was nine or ten or so. They didn’t take long to read, and they always delivered what they promised. It wasn’t much, no, but it was a comforting formula. Would dread reading them now.

    Of course, they’ve been “updated” so many times that the original prose, never brilliant to begin with, has been watered down into a bland nothingness.

    As for the book I hate that everyone adores, it has to be A Wrinkle in Time. I hated it as a kid, and I reread it a few years ago and still hated it. I find it heavy-handed and obvious now, and can’t say much about what I thought about it back then. I do remember putting it aside to read a Robert Silverberg juvenile about living in a new ice age, so maybe that means I found it boring. Regardless, I hate it.

    Strangely—and I say this with no gender bias—I find that the readers most passionate about it are always, to a one, women. (Case in point, Rebecca Stead, whose When You Reach Me I adore to distraction, gives the L’Engle book a linchpin position in her novel.)

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  30. A Little Princess. Jesus H., she’s got strange men climbing in her bedroom window at night. How many things are wrong with that picture?

    Of course The Giving Tree which is probably the worst kid’s book in human history.

    I agree on Wrinkle. Tried to read it to my kids. They threatened to hurt me if I didn’t stop. It’s slower than an episode of Mad Men.

    Yeah, that’s right, I dissed Mad Men. There’s no plot, the characters are cardboard, they wander aimlessly around the early 60’s like bored field trip kids at a museum. It’s televised Ambien.

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  31. Disliked and still dislike: Good Night Moon, and Pat the Bunny. Really, they are possibly why I decided it might be okay jump into this rat race…but I know, it WAS a different time when those were published.

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  32. Dr. Seuss books. I couldn’t get into them as a kid. Found them hugely boring. I recently picked up Cat in the Hat to see what I might have been missing. Still don’t get the appeal. If anyone here does, please fill me in!

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  33. Junie B Jones. I absolutely ABHOR those books. There are no consequences for a child who is completely out of control, rude, mouthy and speaks poorly. Six year olds speak better than that. I work with them, I have first hand experience. And if a 2 year old can say “Miss Abigail” a kindergartner can certainly say “Mrs. (Teacher’s Last Name)”

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  34. Oooo, yeah, Cat in the Hat. Totally made me uncomfortable. Face it, he’s a jerk! The poor kids tell him about a bajillion times to stop and he just ignores them and does worse stuff. Talk about a play date gone awry.

    On another tack, LOVED with a capital LOVE “Harriet the Spy” as a kid but when I started reading it out loud to my progeny, I was so surprised at how mean Harriet was! What does that say about me as a reader – now and then???

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  35. Sally – maybe that’s why I don’t have children. 🙂

    Bev – I loved Harriet the Spy, too — had a tote bag and note pad I used to gather clues (to the intriguing mysteries of my rural Indiana childhood). But, yeah, she was mean. But then, Junie B Jones is a total brat and kids LOVE her. Go figure.

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  36. For me, it’s A Wrinkle in Time. I love the characters, and that’s what kept me reading. But that giant controlling brain thingy and the singing horses or whatever they were? Too far out there for me–and I love fantasy! The plot seemed to just meander along with the author’s subconscious – possibly with the help of some artificial stimulation (not that I’m accusing anyone of anything). I’m just saying.

    Love the Westing Game, by the way. It’s all about the set up and the mystery (and I never saw the movie).

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  37. @Anita, too funny. Those comments would definitely make Nancy more interesting.

    @both Michaels–Charles Wallace is one of the most adorable characters ever and I loved him dearly when I was young. I did try to read Wrinkle aloud to my kids, though, and quit after a few chapters. It WAS boring.

    @Michael Grant–I never read A Little Princess (the title is obnoxious), but Sarah Crewe is a great book. That little girl is so sweet and she is so abused (and NOT by the guy crawling in her window! You’re terrible!). You can’t help but want her to get back what has been stolen from her. (NOT her virginity, I might add! Did I already say you were terrible?)

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  38. @Shannon, and the fact that you have no children is what makes it possible for you to write so many danged proposals. Good gravy! You’re a wild woman.

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  39. The Catcher in the Rye. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.

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  40. My daughter couldn’t stand Junie B. Jones. She thought she was a naughty brat..and I have to agree.

    And E.B. White redeemed himself forever with Charlotte’s Web, perhaps one of the greatest kids books of all time. (I agree, Stuart Little was not his highest achievement).

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  41. I was never a big fan of The Cat in the Hat. From the mother leaving the children home alone to the destructive man-sized feline, who kept two “things” captive in a box, the storyline has always bothered me. Now I may be a bit prejudice due to my severe allergy to cats, but it is the one Dr. Seuss book I do not enjoy.

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  42. The Phantom Tollbooth
    I know this is a classic, but it was just too slow for me. Also at the time of first reading I was growing up in Ireland. We didn’t have tollbooths so the whole premise was shot from the beginning.

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  43. The Rainbow Fish irritates me beyond belief.

    Moral of The Rainbow Fish: Dear little children, if you have something everyone else is jealous of, make sure you rip it off your body and give it to them. You don’t want them to be sad, do you? 🙂

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  44. Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I hate that book. There is a joke that there is a fine line between giving the characters in your story realism through how they talk and making them sound brain damaged. This book obliterates that line. And, the long convoluted words he uses that sound made up only make it worse.

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  45. Mary,
    I am right there with you on The Rainbow Fish. It took the lesson of sharing to am unhealthy level, not to mention it preaches the idea that in order to make friends, kids should buy them off. Nice:)

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  46. Don’t know if I would put “The Rainbow Fish” or “Junie” in the classic category.
    They are not and never will be “classics”.

    “Catcher” did not do much for me.

    “Cat in the Hat” did not do much for me, either but some of Suess’s others were fun read alouds. One Fish, Two Fish…Green Eggs…Oh, the Places You’ll Go…What I don’t like is that people place them in the PB category. They are not PBs.

    I loved “Little Princess” mostly because I loved Sarah Crewe’s personality and bravery and heart, and the plot was moving. I agree with Michael Grant’s thoughts on the stranger comes into bedroom but I can overlook that because this stranger is NOBLE and not a predator. (Nowadays we all are wary of such a notion.)

    I have mixed feelings about Charlotte’s Web. My daughter is Charlotte she most certainly is not a spider…but she is wise and cares about people. This is a strange and sweet book. Fern is torn. Which makes her real to me And that is okay by me.

    Goodnight Moon is a bit weird but I love the calmness and thoughtful word selection, and appreciation and attentiveness to detail…and little kids love detail in words and pictures. I did. They read them with importance. They read pictures like clues. That is what makes them interactive and they must have that to connect.

    Great conversation. 🙂

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  47. Seuss in general. It doesn’t take a genius to make up a word in order to complete a rhyme.

    I do not like the way he cheats
    his rhymes use words like slock and zleets!

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  48. The Rainbow Fish comment reminded me.

    Leo the Late Bloomer. I despise this book. No… wait… it’s deeper than that. It’s at loathing. I have two Special Needs children and this book just offends me. The kids’ preschool teacher used to read it at parent meetings to encourage parents to not be so concerned that something might be wrong with their kids if they don’t meet their milestones. Shudder. We had a discussion about it. I’ve since discovered that most of my friends with Autistic children feel the same way about the book. I’ve mentored enough parents trying to cope with seeking a diagnosis that were told by every one around them, “Just give it time… kids do things in their own time.” It’s hard enough to get past denial without books encouraging it. Bah! It’s the one time that I’ve considered burning a book.

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  49. Nancy Drew drove me crazy. I love mystery, even formulaic stuff, but they were just too perfect. (Great idea about inserting inappropriate comments to spice up the text. I’ve often used that with my kids too) I quickly made my way to The Three Investigators (Hitchcock inspired), Agatha Christie, and Dick Francis.

    Though they may not be ‘classics’ yet, I have to say I can’t stand the, ‘If you gave a mouse a… (insert whatever, eg bloody nose) series. Inane.

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  50. I’m another who’s not a huge GIVING TREE fan. I’ve always thought it makes selfishness into a good thing. I also don’t really like CHARLOTTE’S WEB — and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA depressed for me days as a child, and I refuse to read it again (or make my kids read it).

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  51. I have tried A WRINKLE IN TIME at least twice….but I’m wiser now and have given up. Its awful. I also can’t stand THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW although so many people have raved about it. I loved A LITTLE PRINCESS and credit Sarah for teaching me strength. As for Ram Dass – perhaps a little freaky, but still, I always thought of him as a sort of guardian angel.

    And as for dear Junie B.? They were so awful that my daughter and I read those books with red pens in our hands – turns out, they are full of opportunities to train our young editors and for discussions on proper manners.

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  52. Glad to know I’m not the only one who hates Goodnight, Moon. My other big hate is Go, Dog, Go! My children, however, loved it and I have had to read it 8,433,212 times — and I’ve hated every one of them.

    @Wendy, I do love Leo the Late Bloomer. That is my special needs child to a T.

    Junie B. is not, and may she never be, a classic.

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  53. I know this is way late, and probably won’t be read, but I had to put my two cents worth of guilt in here. I hated “Where the Red Fern Grows”. Maybe it was because I finished it while at school (junior high) and was totally mortified by my own tears. I don’t know. But it totally turned me off of animal stories. That means no “Black Beauty”, too. I won’t watch “Old Yeller”, either. So there.

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  54. Hi,
    I’m glad this blog is still going.

    I never liked Charlotte’s Web as a child nor as an adult. Wilbur was a total crybaby and I found Charlotte to be a smug know-it-all. The goose was annoying too – “T-double-E” indeed. It must be a genetic thing because my daughter had to read Charlotte’s Web in school and said she hated it and we had never talked about the book before!

    She also thought Stuart Little was creepy and did not like the ambiguous ending.

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