ABC Book, Mischief or Meanness?

In some contexts the word mischief can mean “serious calamity” or “evil intent,” for example, criminal mischief.

When the word occurs in the title of an ABC book, one would expect it to mean “harmless fun.”

M is for Mischief, An A to Z of Naughty Children by Linda Ashman and Nancy Carpenter resembles the scary cautionary tales parents gave children during Victorian times, but without a clear moral purpose.

M is for Mischief

M is for Mischief

My four-year-old grand-daughter was both fascinated and disturbed by the pictures. We stopped at the letter K.

If this book were not an ABC book, my reaction might be different. Older children love outrageous illustrations and behavior. ABC books, however, are intended to be read to children ages 3-6.

Pictures of a little girl angrily jumping up and down on a restaurant table, screaming at a waiter, and smashing a canvas over a man’s  head upset my grandchild. When she asked me to explain why the alligator was wearing the little girl’s tiara, the explanation that the animal had eaten the little girl brought a look of worry to her face.

Not “mischief,” assault.

Author Ashman says that her inspiration for the book was her two-year-old son’s enjoyment of “nursery rhymes about naughty children”: “nursery rhymes have a lot of naughty children in them–and the worse the behavior, the more Jackson liked the poem.”

I’d like to know which nursery rhyme children she’s thinking of.

Tom, Tom the Piper’s son stole a pig, but he was whipped for it.  Georgie Porgie made the girls cry, but the other boys made him run away. John went to bed with his stockings on: not so reprehensible. Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, but we don’t know that he was sitting there because he’d been naughty.

Maybe my acquaintance with nursery rhymes is not as broad as I thought. I can’t think of any in which children do the equivalent of deliberately smearing jam in an upholstered chair for their mother to sit on, or knocking a little girl to the floor with a frisbie.

Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal give this book positive reviews: PW for ages 6 and up; SLJ for grades K-3. The SLJ review says “only truly prudish parents are advised to explore no further, for Ashman and Carpenter have collaborated to truly hilarious effect.”

What may be hilarious to older children and adults can be detrimental and scary to a pre-schooler. M is for Mischief is an ABC book to avoid.

M is for Mischief, An A to Z of Naughty Children
Der Struwwelpeter: An example of a 19th century book of cautionary tales for children.

1 comment to ABC Book, Mischief or Meanness?

  • Marilyn Collins

    I agree completely with the American English Doctor on this one. I remember pictures in the books that I read as a child as vividly as the story itself. Life is scary enough without adding the additional trauma of “M is for Mischief….”

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