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Stay-At-Home Dad: Books that are bummers

Updated: February 21, 2013 6:16AM



Children’s books are typically cheery. “The Little Engine That Could” makes it over the hill. Max returns from “Where the Wild Things Are” to find his supper waiting for him — and it was still hot.

But a few children’s books take a different path. Sad stories tell tales of loss or a world painted gray. Mary Adamowski and her staff in the youth services department of the Orland Park Public Library helped me compile a list of gloomy kids’ books.

Here’s our list of bummer books:

“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein: Topping the list is this classic story of an apple tree that gives everything to make a young boy happy. In the end, only a stump remains. The boy (now an old man) plops down upon on what’s left of the once-grand tree, showing little remorse.

“The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss: This story of environmental destruction was made significantly more cheery in the animated movie that debuted last year. In the book, there’s no catchy songs or boy-meets-girl backstory. It’s mostly Once-ler ravaging everything around him before handing down the last Truffula Seed.

“The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams: Imagine the movie “Toy Story,” only replace Woody with a plush (velveteen) rabbit. The much-loved bunny feels alive in the boy’s arms. He even nurses him back to health after a bout of scarlet fever. Rabbit is then placed on a burn pile with the other infected toys.

“The Wall” by Eve Bunting: A boy and his father visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. His grandfather’s name is listed there. The illustrated book captures the heavy sorrow of the monument. The boy leaves his picture beneath his grandfather’s name — a man he’ll never know.

“Sadako” by Eleanor Coarr and Ed Young: Sadako Sasaki was just a baby when the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. Her grandmother was killed. Yet, Sadako leads a normal childhood, dreaming of being chosen for her school’s relay team.

Until Sadako is diagnosed with leukemia — a sickness caused by the bomb. She sets out to fold a thousand paper cranes, believing it will cure her illness. Sadako dies before completing the project.

“Just A Dream” by Chris Van Allsburg: Walter imagines a future of flying cars and robot servants. He falls asleep and wakes up in a future piled high with garbage. Smokestacks pollute the air and fishermen are overjoyed to catch one of the few remaining fish. This stark glimpse into the future motivates Walter to recycle.

“A Story for Hippo” by Simon Puttock: Monkey’s best friend is a wise, old hippo. When the hippo dies, all the monkey can do is cry. Eventually, a chameleon asks the monkey to share some of the stories hippo told him. Monkey learns that retelling these stories makes him feel better.

Such stories are rare among the thousands of children’s books at the Orland Park Public Library. Most rely on rainbows and cheery anecdotes. But all these sad stories offer a silver lining. “The Giving Tree” teaches children about unrelenting love. The Once-ler’s tale ends with a seed of hope. “The Velveteen Rabbit” is magically transformed into a real rabbit. Sadako is memorialized with a statue honoring the young victims of Hiroshima.

Perhaps the real lesson among all these sad stories is to look for the good in every situation — no matter how gloomy things may be.

Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at howardaludwig@yahoo.com.



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