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Mike Mulligan smokes and other bad habits kids learn from books
"Mommy, Mike Mulligan smokes a pipe," my three year old son told me the other day while we were digging in the garden.
I knew right away what he was talking about: we'd been out for pizza the night before, and on the way to the car he was gleefully jumping off picnic table benches when we encountered not one, but many cigarette butts.
Of course he wanted to know what they were, and I explained that some people smoke them even though it's really bad for them, and it makes it unhealthy for their lungs. And they often don't clean up after themselves and leave part of the cigarette behind.He nodded earnestly, and that was, I thought, the last of it ...until he brought it up in the garden the next day.
"You're right, Mike Mulligan does smoke a pipe" I said, hoping we could just leave it at that.
"Is he a-posed to though mommy?" he asked me, earnestly, scanning my face for the way I would respond.
"Well, no. It will make his lungs hurt," I replied.
"But then why does he do it?"
Oy. How on earth do you answer that? Mike Mulligan drives a STEAM SHOVEL for crying out loud. He is what every little digger-obsessed boy wants to be.
Granted, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is old school. A classic. Outdated, maybe, but it's a favorite around our house.
And there are so other classic kid's books that endorse bad behaviors: Ella the Elephant which is a delightful tale about overcoming selfishness and learning to help others, exept for the fact that a mean old farmer tries to shoot Ella in the rump. In fact, many Bill Peet books feature both guns and pipes.
It's even more of a slippery slope once one begins to delve into the realm of 'chapter books'. Pipi Longstocking who wields guns, drinks coffee, curses, and generally runs amok, while also setting a fierce and delightful example for girls to be anything they wish to be. And The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, well, the book was, and still is, banned from various schools by various groups of concerned individuals.
So. What should you do as a parent with these books from from an era gone by, that are at onece (arguably) a bad influence, AND great stories of character, plot, and sheer delight? Do you skip them, or read them and attempt to give your kiddo a literary and social context with which to interpret them?