Children

The Kid Lit Creep Factor

So I was reading the bookselling news in Publishers Weekly and learned that the Curious George Bookstore, in Cambridge, Mass, is reopening this spring. My first thought was: there was a Curious George bookstore? My second thought was: great! I’m excited to hear about the opening (or reopening) of any bookstore, and it sounds like the owners have a unique and sustainable business model (they’re diversifying a little, stocking some non-CG books, along with a plethora of CG-related merchandise) that will help them to attract customers and make it more of a “destination bookstore.”

All in all, this is great news.

So now that I’ve dispensed with my support and enthusiasm for “The World’s Only Curious George Store,” I feel like I can tell you what my third thought was: Curious George kinda creeps me out. 

Often, I’ll look back on the books and movies that I loved as a kid and think, this is kinda whack (re-watched Return to Oz lately? It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I LOVED it when I was eight). But Curious George creeped me out right from the beginning. I mean, like, when I was six. There was something about the whole thing that just seemed…not right.

First of all, the Man with the Yellow Hat goes to Africa, captures a monkey, and brings him home to live in the city? Why would he do that?! Initially, the Man puts George in a zoo, from which George immediately escapes (because he wants to live in AFRICA), at which point the Man takes him home and assumes guardianship over him.

Then there’s the Man himself: why is he always wearing that all-yellow outfit? Also, WHO IS THIS MAN? In researching, I discovered that, “The Man is never mentioned by name in the original adventures, or in any subsequent content over more than six decades. He is always called either ‘the Man’ or fully ‘the Man with the Yellow Hat.’ When people speak to George about the Man, they often refer to him as ‘your friend.’” 

I’m going to ignore all obvious references to slavery, and just focus on the inherent creepiness of the books, because it wasn’t just the Man I found off-putting, it was the monkey, too. George can’t talk, right? This makes sense. He’s a monkey. But in my six-year-old mind — and I have no idea why — I somehow thought it would be less creepy if the monkey talked, instead of just being this mute, smiling, weirdo monkey-pet who’s always doing things like calling the fire department and getting thrown in jail and getting into trucks with strangers stealing things inadvertently.

Now that I think about it, there were some other books that creeped me out in the same way…

Like Amelia Bedelia. Okay, why is this grown-up woman such an idiot? Here’s Wikipedia’s description of the books: “Amelia Bedelia was based on a maid in Cameroon, where the author spent some time during her formative years. Her vast collection of hats, notorious for their extensive plumage, inspired her to write an assortment of tales based on her experiences in North Africa. Some of the stories involve Amelia repeatedly misunderstanding various commands of her employer by always taking figures of speech and various terminology literally, causing her to perform wrong actions with comical effect. However, she almost always manages to win everyone over at the end of the book by baking an (apparently delicious) pie or cake.”

Obviously, the books don’t call Amelia a slave. HarperCollins calls her the “literal-minded housekeeper,” who’s always providing hilarity for everyone around her; but I never found her mishaps particularly funny when I was younger. I was always just like, why is she so stupid? Why isn’t anyone helping her? Why doesn’t she seem to be learning? Why am I smarter than this adult woman who is responsible for the care of children and household appliances? 

Also, Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. This is a common one, I think, but it wasn’t the fact that the mother continues to rock her child in her arms and sing to him even when her child is a grownup that creeped me out; it was the total absence of other people. Like, where is the dad? When the boy grows up and gets married, where is the wife? Where the hell is everyone else?

See, these books creeped me out in the same way that the Muppet Babies did. Remember that show? The premise was that the Muppets all lived together, as babies, in a nursery, under the care of a human they called Nanny. Putting aside the question of where their parents are (because who cares? They’re Muppets), what disturbed me to no end was that the viewer always saw Nanny from the Muppets’ perspective: purple shoes, green and white striped socks, pink skirt, and purple sweater. I mean, I know what they were going for, but it was still mad creepy. Where is her torso? Where is her head? Where is her FACE?

Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, Love You Forever, Muppet Babies: they all gave me this uneasy feeling, like, there’s something they’re not telling us, here. Was I a paranoid child? Probably. But I didn’t like it when I felt like vital information was being kept from me. I wanted to know the whole story.

What books creeped you out when you were young? Were there any that everyone else seemed to love but you just couldn’t get behind?

About Morgan Macgregor

Morgan Macgregor is a reader living in Los Angeles. She reviews fiction and is working on her first novel.