Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Never Talk To Strangers

Joyce, Irma. 1967/2009. Never Talk To Strangers. Illustrated by George Buckett. Random House/Golden Books.

This is one strange book. At first I kept saying to myself, "they published this, really?" Then I read that it was a 'classic' golden book from the 1960s--1967 to be more exact. That clarified it a little bit for me. I can see at least one use for Never Talk To Strangers: to present to a classroom of college students as an example of didactic literature. What does the book offer to readers? Let's see. Rhymes mostly on the silly side. Nostalgic-looking illustrations with an odd flavor that can only mean the 1960s*. And a message that is repeated on practically every page.

If you are hanging from a trapeze
And up sneaks a camel with bony knees,
Remember this rule, if you please--
Never talk to strangers.

If you are shopping in a store
And a spotted leopard leaps through the door,
Don't ask him what he's shopping for.
Never talk to strangers.

If the doorbell rings, and standing there
Is a grouchy, grumbling grizzly bear,
Shut the door. Your mother won't care.
Never talk to strangers.

You're getting the idea I'd imagine. Animals. Crazy clothes-wearing animals represent the concept of stranger on each page of this "classic" little book for kids. Of course, they present a few exceptions, if your parents (and/or teacher) know the strange animal in question, you can talk as much as you want. The only other exception? You can always talk to the easter bunny because everyone knows him (and he's harmless.)

Not only is the message repeated over and over and over and over again. It's presented in a way that's weird at best and confusing at worst. Animals are not humans. They don't walk around wearing clothes. They're not the ones posing threats to kids. "Strangers" aren't weird looking, different looking, glaringly obvious threats. "Strangers" are people like you and me. Men. Women. All ages. All sizes. All colors. Some could be dangerous. Others aren't. Because you can't tell by looking at someone if they're a threat, then it's best to be cautious. But not freaked-out-silly.

The truth of the matter is, that sometimes it's not "strangers" that present the greatest threat to kids. Family members. Friends of the family. Acquaintances. So yes, it's important to talk to kids about safety. But this book isn't really the answer.

What do YOU think? Did you grow up with this book? Was it part of your childhood? Do you plan to read this to your grandkids? Are you just discovering this book? Do you plan to read it to your kids?

*Personally, I find the illustrations a bit scary. But that's just me, maybe?

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

1 comment:

  1. A safety book that I like (but my kids have not yet shown much interest in, I think it's because the illustrations are only one color) is, My Body is Private.

    I agree the "never talk to strangers" rule is outdated and ineffective. Another great safety book for parents to read is Protecting the Gift, by Gavin de Becker.