A Comparative Study In Attitudes In Modern Children’s Books
Conspicuous consumption vs interpersonal skills.
I have two little kids and every night, I read to them. Since they were born, we have amassed a nice cache of books of varying difficulty, sources, and topics.
For bedtime reading, the kind of books that I like to read for the kids the most are the 3 and five-minute storybooks. What I like about them is that they let me know in advance how long each story is. They also tend to follow a certain format, like fairy tales, or some sort of adventure. But I know how long each story is before I get into it.
Perhaps this comparison isn’t really fair, but after reading four of these 5-minute storybooks, the perspectives of each of the books are now clear. So here are the contestants:
Nickelodeon — 5-minute Stories Collection
Disney — Winnie The Pooh 5-minute Stories
Disney — 5-minute Minnie Tales
Daniel Tiger’s 5-minute Stories
Of the four books reviewed here today, the Nickelodeon book stands out as supremely materialistic with plots driven by reward and punishment. The other 3 books actually focused on interpersonal relationships and problem solving through collaboration.
I was a bit surprised to find this level of quality in the Disney books, considering just how materialistic the Disney company is. I know the Disney company to be quite jealous of their copyrights and quite vengeful of violations thereof. I am familiar with the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood television series and have watched many episodes with the kids, so I expected a nice dose of interpersonal skills from the Daniel Tiger stories.
Nickelodeon 5-Minute Stories Collection
A passage from the first story in the Nickelodeon book is instructive. The first story is based on the show, “PAW Patrol”, is called Ice Team, and it’s about a rescue in icy, snowy terrain somewhere on Earth.
The story introduces a new feature of the PAW Patrol world, the “PAW Patroller”, a massive mobile home/truck made for hauling the Paw Patrol team and the vehicles for each of the members of the team:
Inside the Paw Patroller was a hangout room, a snack machine and space for all of the team’s vehicles.
Wait a minute. A snack machine? Is that a family value?
Stories based on other shows from the Nick Jr channel appear in this storybook, too:
Blaze and the Monster Machines
Shimmer and Shine
Dora The Explorer
Blaze and the Monster Machines stories are about an ongoing struggle between the monster truck Blaze and his driver AJ and his friends, versus Crusher, a truck with no driver and a tendency to cheat to win races. Each time Crusher tries to cheat to win, he is inevitably punished by the seemingly natural consequences of his actions. Crusher has a sidekick named Pickle, who sort of acts like a conscience for Crusher, but he is almost never heard by Crusher.
The Shimmer and Shine stories are about two genies, Shimmer and Shine, and their “master”, Leah, a girl who happens upon the genies by luck. Again we are treated to materialism and wishful thinking with a pair of genies offering 3 wishes a day to Leah in their problem-solving adventures. Perhaps the saving grace for these stories is that applying the wishes requires some work and they don’t always get what they wish for.
The last story in this review for Nick Jr is Dora the Explorer, Let’s Save Pirate Day! Here we are treated to mix of English, Spanish and a hunt for treasure. The hunt for treasure includes an encounter with mean pirates trying to recover what they believed was stolen from them, but that treasure, in turn, was stolen from someone else. The story aims at redemption from the beginning because the premise of the story is a charitable event in support of a historical museum, and the treasure that is found would be used to fund that museum.
Looking back, I do recall that each story did include some collaboration between the members of the protagonists’ teams. In the PAW Patrol stories, all of the team members collaborated to solve problems. AJ, his friends, and his truck Blaze collaborated to defeat Crusher. Dora the Explorer collaborated with her friends to defeat the antagonists in her stories, too. Shimmer, Shine and Leah all collaborated to solve problems, and notably, they didn’t have very much punishment and reward exchanges. They didn’t really have antagonists to fight. But all of the Nickelodeon stories included fantasies of wealth, power and control.
The Disney books
Both of the Disney books in this review feature stories with zero materialism, plenty of collaboration and discussion of issues important to children: friendship, cooperation, and naps. I actually enjoyed these books and was pleased to see that Disney made the effort to get very good writers on those projects. The plots are engaging and they have good twists in the end.
The artwork is second to none for all of these books, too. Disney Corp made sure that high-quality art was a sign of the franchises represented in these books, and they were.
I actually have very little criticism for these books and have enjoyed reading them to my little kids. One story that my kids found to be very funny was in the 5-minute Minnie Tales book called, Minnie’s Hiccup Trick. Here we see a great example of collaboration among friends to help Mickey get some relief from persistent hiccups. My kids laughed like crazy when I first read it and they still ask for it from time to time.
In Winnie The Pooh 5-Minute Stories, I especially liked the Why Take A Nap? story. After the first year, my kids never took naps. They just loved being awake and no matter how hard we tried to convince them of the value of a nice little nap, they would not even consider it.
Well, the plot of this story is to help Roo, a kid kangaroo, to see the value of a nap. All of his friends help his mother get him into bed and to settle down for a nap. 2 hours later, Roo wakes up and is ready to play, and play he does. At the end of a potato sack race, everyone is tired, but Roo is ready to go for the next activity. I will admit that 2 hours is a bit much for a nap, even for a kid. But that story, like the other stories in the book, have a clear focus on collaborative problem-solving.
Daniel Tiger’s 5-Minute Stories
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood draws inspiration from a show I grew up with: Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Daniel Tiger is a kid tiger in the land of make-believe, and with his friends, they have really tame adventures together. The focus of these stories is on family, friends, and collaboration.
The stories in this book cover a wide range of topics, from bedtime to visits with the doctor, to trying new things and a new baby. One really interesting feature of all of the Daniel Tiger stories in the books and in video is that parenting skills are taught in a very subtle way in each story. It’s like they know the parents are there, watching TV with the kids, and they are reading these stories to the kids.
So for the parents, and I’m a parent, we get some training, and it’s non-confrontational, non-punitive parenting training — just the kind I like. The kids are treated to examples of how to ask for help, how to express your fears, how to deal with anger, how to treat your friends and other very useful skills. And the parents get the hint with each story.
In fact, that is the one thing that I like the most about the Daniel Tiger series of videos and books. They are very much focused on interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills are somewhat evident in the Disney books, and they get a pass in the Nick Jr. Books, but with Daniel Tiger, they are front and center.
As I write this, I am recalling a video I saw once, of an interview with Fred Rogers. In that video, Mr. Rogers tells the story of how he watched TV as a kid and saw people throwing pies at each other and how he heard the sound of people laughing. I recall how he recoiled at that experience. I recall how he said that he could do better than that. That he did, the Daniel Tiger stories reflect that vision and carry it on to this day.
Summary and conclusion
All of these books represent some form of commercialization as they are extensions of their respective franchises. Of these 3 franchises, I have clearly stated my preference for the Daniel Tiger series. While they will all help kids develop their reading skills, it is the interpersonal skills that I look for in these books.
For it is materialistic endeavors that come at the expense of our environment. To solve the ecological problems created by human enterprises, we will need strong interpersonal skills to get along and collaborate so that we can create solutions that allow humans to live in greater harmony with their environment.
So when I shop for books for my kids, I look for an emphasis on those skills. The reason I do this is that the things we own do not love us. It is the people around us who love us. The gifts of technology and human enterprise can make our lives easier to be sure, but they are no replacement for love.
Originally published on Steemit.com, April 27th, 2018. Updated for grammar, clarity and a turn of a few phrases that are usually inspired by another edit.