Remember the fascinating books that supposedly teach children to read by repeating the same set of letters in every other word? “The fat cat sat on the mat.”
When I was about 4, my mother tried diligently to instill a love of reading in me by sitting me down every day with a stack of horrifically boring picture books. My favorite repeated the same sentence about 10 times. “The (blank) monster was under the bed.” As an exciting twist, the color of the monster changed on every page. I liked it so much because I had it memorized and could flip through it in a few seconds.
I hated reading and would have continued to hate it if my grandmother hadn’t saved the day with a book about a hamster named Fluffy. Fluffy lived in an elementary-school classroom, but had all sorts of exciting adventures when no one was looking. It was the first time I enjoyed reading myself a book.
It was ages before I found another book I liked as much. In general, I had no patience with children’s books. The stories were often dull, I didn’t care much about the pictures, and I found rhyming particularly idiotic. I didn’t really start to love reading until I was old enough to get through books like “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
I wasn’t impressed with TV either. Some of it was boring and the rest was terrifying. I could hardly keep my eyes open throughout an episode of “The Teletubbies,” but “Winnie the Pooh” gave me nightmares. (If I remember correctly, it was the bees that scared me.)
There were exceptions of course, as I’m sure my mother, who sat through “Mary Poppins” one too many times, can attest to. And for some reason I can’t conceive of, I loved “Barney.” But in general, no entertainment meant for young children really interested me.
In the last year or so, I’ve gained new appreciation for children’s books and movies. I’ve read enough good books now to realize (reluctantly) that the Harry Potter series is not the greatest work of literature ever published. And the classic Disney story about a prince whisking a princess off to a happy new life has lost a bit of its charm.
However, I probably watch twice as many ridiculous animated musicals as serious movies, and I’ve spent a few afternoons going through old picture books.
I could appreciate even the dullest of them, although I might have felt different had I stumbled across the monster book.
Even at its worst, children’s entertainment is a welcome chance to turn off my brain. There’s something appealing about putting aside my skepticism (about, say, Pocahontas and John Smith “listening with their hearts” to talk to each other in languages they don’t understand) and enjoying the music, comfortingly predictable stories, and impressive artwork of Disney movies.
Most of my time is spent doing things that require thinking. And that can get really tiring. Maybe that’s why I’ve recently found so much pleasure in reverting to a less preoccupied version of myself.
I saw “Frozen” this weekend, a movie popular even among people older than 6. I liked it largely because it diverted from the cliched “break the spell with a kiss” tactic of earlier children’s movies. Talking snowmen and magic ice aside, it was more realistic than the average Disney story; the characters even had a shred of complexity.
But as I watched, I realized that quality was beside the point. I probably would have loved “Frozen” even if it hadn’t bothered with originality.