Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Babies

Or, as Elisabeth would have me write, Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Parents.

Caveat 1: I admit that sometimes I have no taste.  Case in point, I hate The Big Lebowski.  I find it stupid, unfunny and basically pointless.  I hear other people think it's great.  They're wrong, of course, but that's their opinion.

Caveat 2: I'm about to criticize a bunch of gifts.  No offence is meant to the gift-givers, I know that this was done in good faith.  I want you to know that your gift was a) appreciated for the gesture and b) appreciated for the rant it provided me.  To be honest, I don't much remember who has given us what.

So, with that in mind, I come to Sandra Boynton.  An author I'd never heard of a few months ago and whose name I now curse.  And not just me, Henry recoils like an adder when he sees a cover of one of her books.  I've brought his reaction up with the owner of the local book store for kids who has told me he's too young to get it and will grow into them, but I feel that the way the aging process works, where a person becomes smarter over time (Until thirty and then you become your parents), this runs counter intuitive to logic and if indeed these books are for older kids, then why are they so stupidly, utterly dumb and offensive?

In all fairness, I'm sure there are stupider things.  Like toy poodles, Juggalo's and de-alcoholized beer.  But these aren't marketed to sensitive, developing brains.  People who buy toy poodles are already functionally retarded.  This is the kind of banal humour for people who thought Family Matters was piss-your-pants funny and who can help but go "Aww," whenever a toddler vomits out its catch phrase in Steve Guttenberg's latest attempt at prime-time relevance.

I thank you all who gave us these books as gifts but they are atrocious and poor old Henry hates them.  The literally make him cry.  They are also horribly morally suspect.  Case in point:

Blue Hat, Green Hat.  In which a retarded turkey in unable to dress itself properly.  It puts on clothes in inappropriate ways and is last seen dressed in too many layers, diving into a swimming pool to presumably drown while all the other better dressed animals who know how to put their clothes on properly, watch on in empty stoned silence.

Throughout this book, the animals gaze into nothingness, do not attempt to help the unfortunate who has crossed their paths and through their passivity let him die.

The Turkey is portrayed as a species (As opposed to the elephant, moose or small cute furry whatever) to be imbecilic, lemming-like and disposable.

But Not The Hippopotamus is another exercise in exclusion as it tells the tale of animals having fun with each other while either ignoring or being blatantly racist to the titular hippopotamus.  Page after page it stares at animals doing fun things until finally they invite him to join them.

The punchline is that as soon as the hippopotamus is allowed into the circle, an armadillo it excluded from it.  Any opportunity to turn this book into a message of inclusivity or to contextualize why it's not okay to ostracize someone is lost for a cheap joke that actually makes light of shyness/exclusion/ favouritism/ racism.  I don't want to go so far as to say the book actually encourages racism but Ms. Boynton has, according to Wikipedia, written more than forty book and four thousand fucking greeting cards.  It's not like she's new at this or learning the ropes or this is her difficult second novel, she's literally produced thousands of works.  She either thinks racism is funny or she is the stupidest children's writer since Chuck VonNasty wrote It's Okay to Poke Your Eye Out, It'll Grow Back in Time For Supper Now Smile and Eat Your Plate of Broken Glass.

But I digress...

Horns To Toes And In Between is about three inbred uncles who are also monsters.  They sing about the parts of their bodies, tickle each other and then dance around, celebrating their morbid obesity.

This is a lazy book with a lazy story and lazy pictures.  It commits the cardinal sin of children's books in being utterly forgettable.  I honestly didn't know we had it for at least a month.

It also features Ms. Boynton's most irritating flourish: The weird circular belly button.  I don't know if it's meant to be cute but it draws unnecessary attention to her creatures nether-regions as well as looks like a sadistic cork lodged in the bellies of all her cute kiddy animals; ready to pop at any moment and spill out their guts until the inbred uncles of Horns to Toes are little more that carpets of a middle-class couples basement.

Belly Button Book! (Yes, that's the title.  No "the" and the exclamation point is thrust in there, forcing you to think this is a fun and/or exciting literary trip you're about to embark upon) feels like an aggressive attempt to make your kid cute by calling it's belly button "bee bo."  This is the kind of humour for stunted adults who think that Saturday's Hi and Lois strip is Bill Hicks level cutting-edge satire.

This is a book geared for older kids (You know this because it's slightly larger than all her other books) to force them to act like younger kids.

Here, the hippopotamus (No longer an ostracized freak) acts like a freak that I'd like to ostracize by devoting its time to loving their so-called bee bo's and going to bee bo positive beaches where they sing songs about their bee bo.  There is a level of forced saccharine jokey wholesomeness that is thrust down your throat throughout this book that I'm left feeling hostile towards Ms. Boynton.  The book itself is pointless.  It's just an attempt to push a catch-phrase that is neither witty or clever or makes any sense at all.

Opposites was one of the, if not the, first books that Henry received and I had high hopes for it.  Just page after page of opposite stuff.  You know, hot/ cold.  On/ off.  Anterior/ posterior.  With corresponding pictures.  The thing that makes this book go from good idea to bad (See what I did there?) is that the words and pictures are such a jumble that it's hard for a kid to know what is going on.

It's here that I might think that the lady in the bookstore had a point.  Maybe Ms. Boynton's books are indeed for kids a mite older then Henry.  But if this is so then why is she writing about such simple notions?  Why is she making dumbed down books for dumbed down kids (Who's parents see nothing wrong with a quaint touch of racism)?  It literally baffles me.

The final book I need to address is The Going To Bed Book.  Just to show I'm not a spiteful jerk, I will admit when I enjoy something.  Even The Big Lebowski made me laugh.  Twice.

This book worked for a while.  Henry enjoyed it and we enjoyed reading it to him.  The thing is, unlike Sandra Boynton's other books, this book is a poem with pictures and the thing that he clues in on is the cadence and rhythm of the voice reading to him.  He's too young to grasp the pictures (Hell, he's too young to grasp anything) but he's able to bounce along with the voice saying stuff.  This is absent in all Susan Boynton's other books (That we own) and were they there, then perhaps Henry would like them as well.

Personally, I don't care for her artistic style (Though literally millions would disagree) but it's irritating that she doesn't ever vary it to reflect the age range that she's writing for.  If the words, pictures and layouts changed for a child's capacity to understand, I might feel very differently.  But they're not.  They're too complicated for young kids and too simple for older ones.  They feel like they've been written by someone who's never had, raised or met children but has a kind of vague understanding of what children are and has geared a career towards that misunderstanding.


  1. Another great post on baby books. Gawd, I hope we didn't send you one of those (I think we sent Eric Carle). Well, I admit, we used to read some of these titles to TC when she was a baby. I always thought it was fkd up of the other animals to ostracize the hippo, then at the very end, include him only to shun the armadillo. what a crappy way to end the book!

    TC is nearly done with "Thief of Always" - she pretty much devoured it in one day. Thought it was strange, like Neil Gaiman's "Coraline". I told her the two authors were contemporaries as well as friends. The book had clippings of the book reviews from 1992 in them.

  2. TC shows good taste!

    I honestly can't remember who sent us which Boynton books. We got quite a few doubles too, which makes it hard to remember. The odd thing is, we were given plenty of Eric Carle books and nary a double. I intend to deconstruct Mr. Carle next as the antithesis to Ms. Boynton.

  3. well, well, i can't wait for the eric carle posts. just give out your boynton doubles or inflict them upon someone else having a kid! ha ha.

  4. Bahahahahaha! Stephen, I feel the exact same way you do. This said, The Toddler LOVES Boynton (thanks to my friend, Audrey who started her on a collection of Boynton books). Ah, well.

    P.S. I re-gifted a bunch of our Boynton doubles as well. We also had doubles (actually 6 copies!!!) of "Goodnight Moon"!

  5. Worse of all, Henry's now getting into her!