A defence of The Bad Book
Jo Oliver, Children’s Librarian Camden Public Library, 2004
I have purchased a copy of Andy Griffiths’ The Bad Book for the junior section of our public library. I have done so for the following reasons:
- It is funny
- It is accessible and age appropriate for primary school aged children
- Preventing children’s access to ‘badness’ in literature does not aid their moral development
For those of you who are Christians as I am, or live with a belief in moral right and wrong, I offer this defence of reading literature which portrays evil and ‘badness’ and allowing children access to such, age appropriate, literature.
We live in a world with good and evil and have both possibilities in our nature. Many of the poems in The Bad Book, in addition to being amusing pose moral questions, invite the reader to think about good and evil in the world. Specifically, ‘Bad Daddy and the Big Swing’, ‘Bad Mummy and the Very Busy Six-lane Highway’, ‘Bad Baby’, ‘Bad Baby’s Christmas’, ‘Bad Mummy and the Big Cliff’, ‘Bad Mummy and the Very Hungry Lion’, all exaggerate the results of parents not giving boundaries to their children, a comment on laissez-faire parenting styles endemic to our society. ‘Bad Daddy says No’ exposes parental abuse of power as an opposite parenting tendency. ‘The Bad Little Boy, His Father and the Very Tall Mountain’ shows the result of not telling children the truth.
‘Greedy little Grace’ and ‘Peter, Peter, Junk food eater’ give a pointed look at the issue of childhood obesity. ‘Pirates, Trucks, Bombs, Sharks, Dinosaurs and Football’ is the best description of ‘boy play’ I have read and sounds like my backyard, with three boys, of an afternoon.
‘The Bad Old Duke of York’ sounds pretty much like most wars in which humans have been used as cannon fodder. ‘The Bad Builder’ reflects the absence of individual responsibility in our ‘me’ centred western society. ‘The Day Nothing Bad Happened’ would also be a first in the real history of mankind.
‘The Very, Very, Very Bad Story’ which ends the book describes the dilemma of our world and poses the most important question for humankind – ‘what can be done about badness?’ If we don’t let children grapple with this question we are cheating them of the chance to become moral and responsible adults.
I challenge those who would wish to censor this book to consider what we really want for children. Do we want to feed our children on bland or saccharine sweet junk food for the mind? I have more problems with the self-obsessed and insipid Mary-Kate and Ashley or Disney turning the gentleman Winnie-the-Pooh into a fool. Let’s resist the ‘dumbing down’ of children’s literature.
I believe children need literature that is strong, courageous and challenging as well as beautiful and inspiring. They need to be encouraged to think, feel and act. To enable them to develop discernment they need variety and choice. If this book is disturbing I do not believe that is wrong. Better to be disturbed than to encourage the complacency and selfishness that bland literature engenders. It is only by considering bad they will learn to know what is good.
In the 17th century Milton, author of Paradise Lost wrote in defence of the free press: ‘I cannot praise the fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed that never sallies out and sees her adversary, shirks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.’
Let us let children get hot and dusty as they grapple with questions of moral right and wrong and let us not fear what is ‘bad’ remembering, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).