Are there some topics picture books shouldn’t cover?

denver-david-mckee Last night I picked up Denver by David McKee to read at bedtime. I’d grabbed it in the library as the cover reminded me of Mr Benn (I hadn’t realised David McKee wrote Mr Benn before. )

The story starts out straightforwardly enough. Denver is rich and generous. He has lots of staff and supports the local village with prizes for the prize giving and even dresses up as Santa at Christmas. When he has parties even more villagers are employed. (It was round about here I started to twitch. )

Then one day a stranger comes to town and whispers about how unfair it is that Denver is rich and the villagers aren’t. They had been happy before this but now they become jealous. Before it can degenerate too far, Denver divvies up everything he has and gives everyone an equal share. He goes off and rents a small house while the villagers squander their new found wealth on holidays.

Denver painted as a hobby and now begins to make a new fortune selling his work. The people of his new town are very happy as his work draws visitors and prosperity to their town, and the story ends as he employs a cleaner, with the warning to watch out for the stranger and not listen to him.

I don’t really know where to start with this. And I’m slightly bemused to find reviews describing it as moving and entertaining. I suppose lots of picture books tackle meaty topics, life, death, birth, bullying, potty training, that kind of thing. But I don’t think I’ve ever come across one simplistically imparting a political message dressed up as a parable before.

I suppose you could argue that it’s good to introduce ideas to your children for discussion, and we do discuss all sorts of things here, particularly around the dinner table. But I judge the topics we raise carefully, and appropriately to the child concerned. I can’t see how this is at all appropriate to children of 3 or 4 and I’m really disturbed by it.

What do you think? Are there topics that shouldn’t be addressed in picture books? Or am I over reacting?

ETA – the reviews at Amazon are hilarious. Have a giggle here: Denver (affiliate link.)

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  1. The reviews on Goodreads are amusing too. We own this book, I bought it in one of those cheapy bookshops because it was David McKee but it’s currently in my cull pile. I don’t really get David McKee to be honest, for the few of his books that I’ve read. I’ve never read any Elmer to compare, although did love Mr Benn as a child. Not Now, Bernard is another one I don’t get – parents ignore child, even when he’s eaten by a monster. There is no hope, you will be ignored regardless? As for Denver, yay for the rich because the proles certainly can’t be trusted with anything? When I did a book sort a few weeks ago it went onto the cull pile because I never read it to the children anyway and it’s not one that they ever choose. I don’t get the appeal at all either.

  2. P.S. In answer to the question: no, I think picture books should tackle everything. But I also think picture books are not just for small children. However, they shouldn’t be aimed at younger children if there is a message that needs to be discussed. As parents we filter, and I prefer to fill my children’s heads with different messages 😉

  3. A couple of people have raised the title click clack moo with me which is apparently about cows staging a socialist revolution. I think your point about remembering picture books aren’t just for little children is good too.

    I like elmer but I’m going to be rereading him really carefully after this, wondering what the messages really are.

    • the only Elmer book I’ve read is the one with the lost teddy, it’s cute enough but the “moral” is a bit contrived and really, it would have been just as lovely a story without the “everyone is special to someone” at the end.

  4. We did a fair bit about picturebooks and picture books (don’t ask, there is a difference but I cannot for the life of me remember what it is!) in one of the OU courses I did. Some of them were *very* left field and not stuff I would have wanted to look at with Pol at a young age. That said, one of the books – Voices In The Park – was adored by the whole family and led to some good discussions between us, it would have sailed right over her head as a little one though.

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