Have you ever met a new or expectant parent who didn’t think their child would grow up to be marvelous? Whatever their idea of “wonderful” might be, most parents hold their newborns in their arms and marvel at the magnificent, delightful human beings they are sure they will become.
But we all know that every child isn’t a perfect little angel. If your life experience hasn’t left you with a few peers, family members or co-workers you struggle to feel positive about, our favorite books at least teach us the world isn’t full of charming, adorable children with just the right balance of sass and sweetness. We all know the reality here. From awful bullies to tedious bores to ungrateful, spoiled brats, my library is full of children that make my skin crawl. And let’s face it: I might be growing one of these very children as I type. Here are just a few fictional children I worry most about raising.
9. Eloise, Eloise
I adored Eloise as a child. She’s not icky-sweet or adorable. She’s rude, demanding and disrespectful with messy hair and a bit of a belly. More or less dismissed by her parents to be raised by a nanny, she spends her days roaming the Plaza Hotel indulging in the sort of terrorizing behavior I only wished I could get away with as a child. On my first visit to NYC, I took a mirror selfie at the Plaza and posted it with the ubiquitous caption, “I absolutely love the Plaza”, because I was 17, unoriginal, and still remembered my love for this rotten child.
But as an expectant parent or even potential nanny, I am concerned. I don’t have the funds to meet this sort of high standard of living for my child. Other than her clearly exorbitant housing costs, Eloise cites her clothing and food needs as Dior and filet mignon. If we ever move to NYC, my husband insists we’ll be scraping pennies to keep our dog, much less house, feed, and clothe a child with the appetites of a miniature Eloise.
I also begin to turn a bit green imagining a grade-schooler who says, “Charge it, please, thank you very much” with such confidence that intelligent adults listen.
May my little one learn the value of a good budget, the occasional meatless Monday and rocking a head-to-toe look from Target.
8. Fudge, Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing
This first book in this series is narrated by Peter, Fudge’s older brother, when Fudge is two. Fudge is an adorable terror whose antics range from the expected (throwing a tantrum in a store) to the grating (refusing to eat any food with a spoon because he decides he is a dog and can only eat from the floor on all fours) to the worrisome (knocking out his two front teeth when he leaps from the top of the monkey bars at the playground, pretending to be a bird). He also, at one point, swallows his brother’s pet turtle, which dies in his stomach.
I don’t worry so much about having a Fudge as much as I fear becoming Fudge’s mother, Anne Hatcher. No matter what Fudge does, Anne is slow to punish or correct him. She is patient with him to the point of absurdity — a key example of the “special snowflake” “no discipline to avoid crushing his imaginative spirit” parenting tactic that apparently has made us millennials so unbearable to the rest of society. Poor Peter came across as woefully neglected to me as a child, and Fudge was entertaining but overwhelming.
May we set boundaries and not be so blinded by love for our child that we lose the ability to say, “This is unacceptable behavior” to our child when she attempts to jump off the top of the monkey bars because she is pretending she is a bird. None of this “if you’re a bird, I’m a bird” nonsense to my precariously perched little snowflake. Get down before you bust out your two front teeth like Fudge.
7. Benny, The Boxcar Children
Remember the first book in the series, before they get adopted by their rich grandfather and start solving mysteries? The four orphan kids hide out in a boxcar and make a lovely life for themselves. I’ve never been a fan of Benny, though Wikipedia tells me his “endearingly childish qualities and comments make him a favorite amongst young children”. Well, good for you, other young children, but Benny’s frequent crying episodes and obsession with a cracked pink cup he finds in the dump have always annoyed me.
6. Karen, The Baby-Sitters Club and Baby-Sitters Club Little Sister series
I adored reading about Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey, Claudia, and Dawn when I was in elementary school. I tore through every regular book, Super Special, Mystery, Super Mystery, and Portrait Collection book the library had. So it only makes sense that some well-meaning parent, teacher or friend would direct me towards the Little Sister spin-off series. The series is meant for a younger reader and follows Karen Brewer, Kristy’s seven-year-old stepsister, as she navigates her parent’s divorces, remarriages, and the typical school troubles of a young elementary school kid. Partially because they were a step down in reading level from the older series, I never really enjoyed them. But three things about Karen have stuck with me over the years: 1) She took a vacation to Plimouth Plantation that I obsessively wanted to replicate as a child, 2) She was always described by adults and the babysitters as “precocious”, and 3) She never used contractions.
Never. As the books were told in first person, that meant the entirety of each book goes like this:
“Is that for real, Karen?” asked Bobby. “I cannot believe it!”
I tried to read a full chapter to see if this was as annoying to me now as it was when I was 7. It was worse. I’ve given myself a headache remembering how halting this was to read. I also can’t figure out why she wouldn’t use contractions. The main series used them, so it couldn’t have been some vendetta Martin had against them, right? I’m so baffled. If this was a list completely controlled by my emotional response without logical weight, she would be #1 on this list for pure aggravation. Please, let my child learn to use contractions when she speaks and writes.
5 & 4. Crabbe and Goyle, Harry Potter Series
My husband and I disagree about which character from Harry Potter would be the least desirable child. He advocated for Draco or Dudley. Obviously Voldemort would be terrible (in particular the Voldy-baby from Goblet of Fire. Yikes) but many of the nature/nurture aspects of his character (generations of incest, conceived under a love potion, raised without supervision in a British orphanage) didn’t happen/won’t happen to Baby Lamb, so I don’t have any fears about giving birth to a Dark Lord.
Now, I don’t hope our child is a bigoted, murderous Death Eater or a spoiled, nasty bully. Not in the slightest. But I think having every one of these qualities plus being a lackey makes Crabbe and Goyle worse.
They aren’t even evil or villainous in their own respective ways, they simply act as mindless followers for whatever ill-spirited plan Draco concocts. Crabbe does finally stand up to Draco in Deathly Hallows, but his attempt to kill the trio with Fiendfyre backfires when it destroys a Hocrux, the Room of Requirement, and, oh yeah, kills him as well. So maybe it is for the best that it took him so long to show some initiative. But I’d still like my daughter to aspire towards more than henchwoman.
3. Amy March, Little Women
Don’t let those perfect ringlets and innocent features fool you. This child burns books. You know who else burns books? Awful dystopian societies and Nazis. No further explanation necessary.
2. Stuart Little, Stuart Little
Remember, this is a book blog, so I’m not talking about the Michael J. Fox movie version here. If you’ve only seen the film, you might be surprised to see this on the list. “Hey, wasn’t Stuart a lovely, well-spoken, caring young mouse who had wonderful adventures involving boat races, cars, cats and birds?” You might ask. “And wasn’t he adopted? Isn’t that something you hope to do?”
Well, movie-watcher, get ready for this bombshell. In the book, he isn’t adopted. He is their biological son. Yes. Mrs. Little gives birth to a mouse and the family has to learn to adapt. Do I need to further explain my terror at the thought of giving birth to a child that is another species? I think not.
1. The Kid, The Giving Tree
This kid is such a punk. The tree (often understood to represent his mother) gives and gives of herself and her resources to provide for the child. Eventually, to make his dreams possible, she even lets him cut her down! Is he grateful? Does she get a nice hug or card? No! He fails in his dreams and comes back and sits on her stump. Isn’t that sort of like spitting on her grave?
The tree is a shining example of sacrificial, all-giving love that asks nothing in return. That is beautiful. I’m not anti-agape love, and it should be noted that at the end of the story, the tree is happy to have given so much of herself to the child. But the kid learns no lesson, shows no gratitude. We don’t see any sort of comeuppance nor does he appreciate the tree’s gifts. He is, like I said, an ungrateful punk until the end. Even the kid in that creepy Love You Forever book eventually comes back and tries to show his mother how much he values her. May my daughter at some point in her life have one iota of gratitude for the sacrifices we are sure to make and at the very least stop short of taking everything I have, then casually sitting by as though annoyed that I literally have nothing else to give.
Honorable Mentions: Kitty and Lydia, Pride and Prejudice; Every child, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle; Every child excluding Charlie Bucket, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
These kids are entertaining, sure. They fill some of my favorite childhood reads that I can’t wait to share with our kiddo…but I’d really, really rather not raise them.
Which bookish kids did I leave off? Let me know!