Monday, December 26, 2016

My 2016 Kidlit Reading Pet Peeves

I read more than 650 books this year.  As I went through my Goodreads shelves seeking the books I loved best for tomorrow's blog post, I came upon many 1-star and 2-star reviews that I wrote, criticizing various books that I either borrowed from the library or downloaded via NetGalley or Edelweiss. I noticed some interesting trends in my comments about these books that I so thoroughly disliked and wrote them up for today's post. Here are some of the most common complaints I had about books I read in 2016.

Toilet humor.

I realize that finding humor in using the bathroom is part of a developmental phase all kids pass through. What I can't stand are adults who write children's books prolonging this phase by indulging it and even celebrating it. Books containing bathroom jokes send the message that toilet humor is funny and acceptable, and they demean children's literature as a whole, confirming the stereotype that kids' books are not serious literature. If there is a joke about pee, poop, butts, or the like in a children's book, and I know about it ahead of time, my children never see that book. Writers should want to do better.

Owls who sleep at night.

Miss Muffet has loved owls since she was about a year old, and she has filed away lots of facts about owl behavior. One of those facts is that owls are nocturnal. Therefore, she is confused by stories where owls are awake during the day and sleep at night. What annoys me about this more than anything else is that the animal in a given story does not need to be an owl. If an author needs a diurnal animal in the story to make it effective, there are many to choose from. I don't see the rationale behind writing an owl story where the owl character does not actually behave at all like an owl. It seemed like I read more owl books this year where the owls were unrealistic than books where they were portrayed accurately. (Apparently, there are some crepuscular owls. Sadly, I don't think I have seen a single one of those in a picture book.)

Bad rhyme.

This is not a new complaint this year. Bad rhyme is my number one pet peeve in children's books, song lyrics, rhyming poetry, and anywhere else rhyme may occur. The purpose of reading rhyming books to children, aside from entertainment, of course, is to teach them how to hear rhyme themselves. It's impossible for children to hear this in a text where words are chosen simply because they rhyme, and not because they are the best words for the story, or where imperfect rhymes are used more frequently than perfect ones. I don't think there is any excuse for publishing a poorly written rhyming book. Authors either need to master rhyme like Margaret Mahy and Virginia Kahl have done, or stick to prose.

Too much like an existing book.

It is true that there are only so many plots authors can use, and there are going to be lots of repeats. But when an author writes a book in 2016 that sounds almost exactly like a book from 50 years before, it makes me think someone involved with the publication of that book just doesn't know his or her children's literature that well. Also annoying are books that try to imitate the style of recent award-winners and best-sellers. Surely there must be authors writing today who have original ideas; I'd like to see them get published.

Illustrator is a poor writer.

I read somewhere that there is a growing push for picture book creators to both write and illustrate their books. Unfortunately, it seems that many talented illustrators really do not have much of a way with words. There have been several books this year with beautiful artwork and truly terrible texts. In every instance, my review said something like, "I wish this illustrator would do the pictures for a book written by someone else." Writing and illustrating require two very different skill sets. I think it's silly to expect any one person to have equal talent in both areas. Some do, and it works for them, but those who don't should be working on projects that use their strengths.

Religious inaccuracies.

Another thing that drives me up the wall are books with glaring inaccuracies about world religions - and specifically about Catholicism/Christianity. You can easily Google to find out what a specific religion teaches, or speak to someone who practices that religion. There is absolutely no excuse for an author getting a fundamental belief or practice wrong in a book. The only reasons that happens are laziness or a willful ignorance of inconvenient facts that do not fit the book's worldview. This year I also read a picture book version of a Bible story which had removed all references to God, and that was totally baffling.  

Allegedly humorous, but does not make me laugh.

I am not someone who laughs very much at kids' books, so this is a very subjective complaint, but I would think that a book that is marketed as hilarious, or praised for making kids laugh out loud would at least cause someone in my family to crack a smile. I'm aware that my sense of humor is not necessarily in line with the mainstream (see above re: toilet humor), but to have so many truly silly and lame books labeled as funny and to have all of them fall flat is about more than just me being weird.

Prescriptive and preachy.

I am tired of books that try to teach me and my children How to be Good People. This is partly because the messages tend to be very political in nature, but it's also because children don't like preachy stories. As a parent reading with a young child, it is my role to guide conversations about various fictional situations in a direction that helps with my kids' moral development. I don't need the book to do this for me. I can't tell if authors don't trust adults who read to kids to have the "right" conversations with their kids, or if publishers just aren't weeding out these books like they used to, but it seemed like there were a lot of Very Special Stories this year that made my eyes roll nearly all the way back into my head.

Despite these complaints, there were actually lots of books I liked this year! Check back tomorrow, and I'll have the whole list.


  1. I think I love you! Along with toilet humor...underwear. Our children's librarian loves underwear books. :p I sent you a friend request on GR. (stephanie aka @oneaponceatime) Merry Christmas!

    1. Ugh, yes, underwear too. Glad to connect on Goodreads! Merry Christmas to you too. :-)

  2. I'm so with you regards toilet humour (and underwear) those books don't even get in the door here.
    Re owls I feel like that re goats, we raised goats growing up and contrary to urban myth they do not eat everything and it irks me no end with books that portray they do.
    Yep hear you re religious inaccuracies, agree!
    and so with you regards preachy/social engineering books on all topics. I don't need books to be so blatant with agendas for my kids thanks
    Great post ! :-)