A previous writeup (whose author has told me they're asking for its deletion) nominated a children's book on sexual abuse named "I Can't Talk About It" and its placement in the children's section rather than in some section for psychologists; as someone who was sexually abused as a child, I must say that the most healing experiences I've ever had have been merely finding out that I wasn't the only one it happened to. (This was in the fantasy novel The Door Into Shadow when I was 14 years old; 13 years later I'm still using the name of the character who was my first hint at not being alone (Segnbora)). Kids who are too intimidated by their abusers to tell anyone what happened need books that are in the children's section, not in psychologists' offices.

Anyway, my vote for the worst children's book ever is "Elsie Dinsmore," an 1868 chapter book rather than a picture book as most of the other votes have been, because it is didactic and boring. It's the first in a series but I've only read the one (courtesy of my late grandmother). Elsie is an annoying goody two shoes and her father is a jerk and I have no sympathy for either of them.

Few people here have pointed out the "infant death" series of children's books, which were for a good 200 years the most prevalent books for children, and (in various forms) resurface on a regular basis even today.

The plots of these books are simple. A child is born. In the simplest, earliest, stories of this kind, the parents are described as being "poor but honest" -- in Victorian times, the parents are wealthy, and the mother is extraordinarily young and ethereally beautiful ... for all five minutes she lives after giving birth. (Frankly, a recently-delivered woman about to drop dead of childbirth is hardly a supermodel, but then...)

The resulting offspring is distinguished by a) recessive genes (blue eyes, blonde hair, pale skin) and/or general fragility or general muscular sturdiness (in boys only, and only in early versions of the tale) and b) extraordinary goodness, usually at an age when most kids can't understand what "good" is.

They hardly ever cry as babies, never fuss over their milk and pap, and, while it's not ever pointed out, probably never pee or poop without express permission either (and it probably smells like ambergris, too). As they mature, their first words are something like "Please", or "Jesus", and their first steps are to help someone out, preferably someone even less fortunate than they are. This continues, with their being unfailingly kind, honest, and adorably loving, ever on the ready to do good, until....they die.

And do they ever die! My favorite of these, the Edwardian "A Bird's Christmas Carol", has the young heroine perishing of Victorian Novel Disease on Christmas Eve, one day before her twelfth birthday, surrounded by her many young friends ("Hey, Carol's dying! Let's all stand around and watch!" "Whoa, cool!"), with the bells ringing out the joy of the season. Quite naturally, her deathbed is not only at home, but she's in such fine fettle, dying-wise, that she has time to pour out several pages of wisdom and wistful speculation about rejoining Mom in Heaven (or Summerland, it's never pointed out which) before peacefully breathing her last. Earlier books, especially those from Colonial America, are not only more realistic on the physiological side, but less optimistic: one little tyke declaims that "here I must lye/broiling for all eternitie". However, they still get to talk, talk, and talk about philosophy, morality, and religion before crossing over to The Other Side, while their IQ skyrockets and friends gather.

Somehow, the lesson to be learned seems to be that death is preferable to puberty, although the notion of defanging mortality also comes to mind (although the "broiling" passage argues against it). While a staple of Puritan, Colonial and Victorian literature, these books have never really gone out of favor: they simply get updated, repackaged, and repurposed as "young adult" novels, which get read by 11-year-olds undergoing a traumatic menarche. Just ask any girl who ever was a teenager...

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