“In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults.” -Thomas Szasz
Some of the email I get, periodically, asks me if there are any science books or TV shows that I recommend. (When a particularly good one comes across my radar, I let you know.) But a more unusual request I recently received was if there were any books or TV shows that I recommended for kids.
For me — personally — I don’t have kids, but the best things out there from my memories as a kid are the things that aren’t for kids only. Which is why the song I’m giving you for this weekend, off the album Not for Kids Only, is Jerry Garcia and David Grisman’s version of the classic children’s song,
I bring this book up to you not only because of my fond memories of it, nor because of the very Chinese theme of siblings with special powers, but because it is banned from many schools and libraries due to accusations of ethnic stereotyping, on account of the illustration style depicting the characters with slanted eyes and yellow skin. In my experience, your kid won’t grow up to be a racist because they read this book; but they will grow up unaware of this rich story if they don’t.
The British TV Show: Shaun the Sheep. Perhaps most closely related to a modern-day Bugs Bunny, Shaun is a clever, resourceful, adventuresome, slightly mischievous but problem-solving sheep.
Facing the day-to-day problems on his farm, including a bumbling farmer, a well-meaning but incompetent herding dog, and the enemy pigs that live on the other side of the wall, Shaun’s bravery and leadership abilities help the sheep obtain apples, avoid being sheared (sometimes), and get up to some amazing antics. Suitable for children but still entertaining for adults, this is a great and easy television program to watch. With almost no dialogue and a rich gamut of characters, this may be the perfect show to chill out with on a rainy day. One of the things I love about it is its strong encouragement of curiosity, and its positive portrayal of bravery and risk-taking. And finally,
The American TV Show: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Unlike most children’s shows that also have an appeal to adults (and this one does, believe me), this show is noticeable for three major things:
- The characters are forced to deal with difficult internal issues, such as jealousy, impatience, keeping secrets, and being good to other people. External events occur frequently, but are secondary in importance.
- Pretty much all of the main characters are girls, but the themes the cartoon deals with are almost 100% equally applicable to boys. Even the “girliest” characters are much deeper than simply being cute, superficial ponies, and contend with these internal issues.
- And they get these issues wrong very frequently, but they learn. They apologize, they fix their mistakes, and they actually do better in the future.
You wouldn’t expect a children’s show to tackle issues like land disputes (!), but this show not only pulls it off, they do so in ways far superior to that of great world leaders. The episodes are well-crafted, the characters are rich and well-written, and the show is sincere, rather than sarcastic, which is definitely a rarity.
So I hope you enjoyed the song, and if you were looking for a book or TV show that was suitable for a kid — but not for kids only — I hope this helped make you a little more aware of some of the excellent material that’s out there. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!