Millennials have endured more than our fair share of horrors in our lifetime, and interestingly enough, like student debt, some of them were contrived by our parents' generation. Many examples of this can be found in these children's books that were actually kind of scary, but our lovely parents bought them for us anyways. I guess they were just preparing us for life?
To be fair, the original fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen were unbelievably horrifying (The Little Mermaid is way worse than even the Disney version), but they were never meant for children. Our parents gave us Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and The Giving Tree — on purpose — and simply expected us to not be psychologically damaged from reading them. Parables or not, some of these books really stay with you, and reader, I am not giving them to my kids. They can have slightly less terrifying books about pigeons who drive buses alongside books with monsters at the end that might teach dubious lessons about ignoring informed consent.
OK, so maybe everyone blames their need for therapy on their parents, eventually, but millennials have more cause than most with these kids' books that were actually kind of scary — and the trophies and debt.
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1. 'The Lorax'
I love Dr. Seuss, and I love The Lorax, but can we admit it's a little scary? The cautionary tale about consumerism and environmental decay and the problems with capitalism all with an orange monster who is just over it? The gloom of the smoke and the desperate desire you can feel in the Once-ler? Yeah, it's terrifying.
2. 'The Giving Tree'
Why is this book scary? Think about it from the point of the tree. I get that's what you're supposed to do anyway, but really think about it. This kid is your "friend," and he maims and eventually chops you down to your feet only to then use you as a place to sit.
Why is this not terrifying more people?
3. 'Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!'
Did we just all skip over the part where they all fall out of the tree and suffer serious injury? Did we just glance over M being looped, N being stooped, and O being twisted ally-ooped? J and K are about to cry. It was a recipe for disaster from the beginning, and yet it rhymes, so we just kept reading. Are we just that conditioned towards casual violence?
4. 'The Green Ribbon'
Some of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and In a Dark, Dark Room were fine. Others, like "The Green Ribbon," still screw with me to this day. Jenny wears a green ribbon around her neck from childhood through adulthood. In adolescence, she falls in love with Alfred. They marry and he never learns of why she wears the ribbon until she is on her deathbed, and she has him untie it, and her freaking head falls off. Her last moment with her husband was her having him remove her head from her body.
At no point did she think to tell her husband "In case of an emergency, dear G-d, don't remove this ribbon because it's the only thing keeping my head on, and yes I get that it's weird because I have matured with my head literally not a part of my body."
Safe to say I'm still all effed up about this one.
5. 'The Witches'
Come freaking on, Roald Dahl. I get that all of your books are just this side of nightmare city, but a book about a group of witches set out to kill kids — marketed to children? What in the sociopathic chocolate factory addled evil crap is that?
Obviously, this was one of my favorite books as a child and I still love it. Also obviously, I went through a very, very goth phase in high school. (The Anjelica Huston movie is straight up terrifying.)
6. 'The Gingerbread Boy'
A sentient cookie running amok after being baked by an old woman in the cottage in the forest. Why and how is this not terrifying? Also, there's creepy "othering" happening in the baking of the cookie. She's filling the boy with "exotic" spices like ginger and cardamom. It's definitely a literary microaggression. All those "exotic" spices sure do make a rambunctious anthropomorphic baked good.
7. 'The Three Little Pigs'
No matter how you tell this story, it's about pig's nearly certain doom at the hands (paws?) of an inept wolf who chooses air as the best method of home destruction.
And then we serve our kids bacon. Are we the wolf in this scenario? Is it worse if I make my bacon in the air fryer? Probably. Possibly.
8. 'Little Red Riding Hood'
Wolves are being unfairly demonized, I think. (But not in The Wolf of Wall Street; he was genuinely terrible.)
Anyway, a girl who travels alone in the forest (free-range parenting) to see her elderly grandmother comes to find out that Granny has been eaten by a wolf, and the wolf is Single White Femaling Granny to lure the girl to be dinner. It's all bad.
9. All of Nancy Drew
There are ghosts, messages in trees, phantoms in the sky, mysterious sounds — everything. And we start reading these books in elementary school. I know, I read every one of them starting in third grade. What were my parents thinking? I still think about The Hidden Staircase, and I'm in my 30s.
10. 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
Terrifying movies with Depp and Wilder aside, just think about how many kids die or experience near-death in this book. It's a moral story about the danger of giving in too fully to one's own vices, told through the lens of child torture and death. There's a grisly drowning in an opaque pool of a chocolate. There's a transmogrification into a bubble of berry gum. There's wealth and a grasping acquisitiveness leading to incineration. There is a boy who shrinks himself to fit into the television. And the hero? He almost beheads himself in a fan alongside his suddenly well grandfather.
(Also, don't get me started on poor old Grandpa Joe, who was bedridden until something interested him.)
11. 'Peter Pan'
Imagine being a girl of 11 or 12, being taken away to a faraway place where you're expected to serve as a mother for a bunch of boys who never grow up yet are constantly engaged in war. The only other female companionship you have is that of a tiny flying sprite with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. But, if you get bored, there's always a much, much older criminal there ready for you to be his mommy.
Thank you, I'd rather stay in bed.
12. 'Love You Forever'
This book starts out super sweet, and talks about things many of us as parents feel. Watching your child grow is bittersweet, and sometimes it's heartbreaking. But this book takes it to a dark, dark place that feels way too deep cut for a kids' book.
"I will love you until it becomes stalker behavior and you have to cradle me in my old age because we have familial issues that no one must ever discuss aloud."
I love you, sweet baby, until you are old and I'm just the reason the empty rocking chair in the corner squeaks and rocks at the same time every night. (Did I just make it worse?)