Judd Apatow isn't concerned he'll screw his kids up. He's worried Roald Dahl will. The comedy director, and editor of the new anthology "I Found This Funny," thinks books by the "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" author may be brilliant, but they're not always age-appropriate.
"When you read that too early, some of it's really disturbing. You need Roald Dahl for the right periods in the life," he tells Meredith Blake in an interview with The New Yorker this week. "The terrible comedy writer in me wants everything to be funny."
And Dahl's "The Witches" and "BFG" are funny. But they're also riddled with parental deaths, kidnapping, heartlessly cruel adults and loss of identity. It's just the stuff that triggers creativity in 11 years olds and nightmares in 7 year olds. Or is it?
Emily Bazelon at Slate has similar concerns with Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials." Despite her enamor with the fantasy trilogy as a child, she wonders whether its portrayal of "grotesquely ruthless parents who threaten to sever children from their souls" could scar her single digit sons. "Maybe this is an idea that's more horrifying to read about as a parent than as a child, but giving Pullman to my still-small sons, even a couple of years from now, is an experiment I'm not about to conduct," she writes.
Meanwhile, some moms and educators even worry about the messages behind classics like "Where the Wild Things Are" or "The Giving Tree."
If those are concerns, just wait till their kids are old enough to read young adult fiction. "Flowers in the Attic", a must-read for every pre-teen from a past generation, introduced brother-sister incest to kids in the elementary school library. Bazelon notes that incest that made the book famous starts right away on page six. Meanwhile "Go Ask Alice," was more of a glossary of drugs to try than a cautionary tale for kids back in the day. The fictional (yes, it was a hoax) account of an acid and speed addled teen was savored more for the details of thrilling psychoactive adventures, than the dark aftermath in the last third of the book. "Lisa, Bright and Dark" and "Slakes Limbo" were two other books that snared pre-teen attention in the '80s. The stories of a schizophrenic teenager and a homeless boy who lived in the subway, respectively, were harrowing. Especially since they were written, as most young adult fiction, to seem like the kind of thing that could happen to anyone. They presented newfound and more realistic fears, just as we were finally getting over the Brother's Grimm and their child-baking warnings.
But you can't ignore the benefits of engaging childhood imagination. And sometimes that means pushing kids' intellectual boundaries to trigger creative thinking and a real interest in reading. Is it overprotective to keep your kids from reading certain books at a young age or responsible? And which books do you worry about sharing with your kids? Is it fair to deprive your kid of a brilliant writer like Dahl, just because of their age? Hey, we read those books as kids and we turned out okay...didn't we?