Written by: Charles Perault, based on a story by the Grimm Brothers
Synopsis: Cinderella becomes a maid to her stepmother and stepsisters after her father dies, but gets one magical evening when her fairy godmother transforms her and enables her to attend a royal ball. When it it time to go, she accidentally leaves her shoe, and the prince uses it to find her and marry her.
The problem: Like many Grimm stories, the original version has Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels in order to squeeze into the glass slipper. Gross! And it goes from bad to worse when birds peck out the stepsisters' eyes at Cinderella's wedding. Not exactly bedtime story material.
Written by: H.A. Rey
Synopsis: A curious monkey named George is brought from his home in Africa to the big city by The Man with The Yellow Hat, where he will live and of course get into oodles of trouble.
The problem: Forget the fact that George is annoyingly, suggestively curious. The real issue is that our mischievous monkey friend was basically a slave, dramatically ripped from his natural habitat and thrown in a zoo for our amusement.
Written by: Charles Perrault
Synopsis: When a widowed king decides to marry his own daughter, she agrees only under the terms that he give her three beautiful dresses and skins his favorite donkey. Cloaked in the fresh donkey hyde, the princess runs away and finds work on a farm where a prince falls in love with her (on a rare moment that she happens to not be wearing the donkey skin). Everyone lives happily ever after when they get married, and the princess finds out that her father found someone else to marry, too.
The problem: Incest never makes for a great bedtime story. And incest dressed in a skinned donkey? Yeah, I'll pass.
Written by: Attributed to Robert Southey
Synopsis: After springy-haired little girl (or dirty old woman, in early versions) happens upon the house of three bears, she breaks in and proceeds to eat their food, and sleeps in their beds. When the bears discover her, she wakes up, jumps out the window, and is never heard from again.
The problem: Goldilocks is a criminal! And I just don't have it in me to explain breaking and entering to a 5-year-old at bedtime.
Written by: Brothers Grimm, based on a German fairy tale.
Synopsis: When a famine strikes the village, Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother convinces their father the woodcutter to abandon the children in the forest. The children make a path out of breadcrumbs leading back to their house only to find birds have eaten their path. After an evil witch finds the children and tries to eat them, Gretel shoves the witch in the oven and burns her to death.
The problem: Wait, the dad and stepmom abandon their children? That’ll be fun to explain to my kids. Also fun to explain? Burning someone alive. Sure, the witch was evil, but come on!
Written by: Robert Munsch
Synopsis: The story documents the circle of life as a young boy goes from being taken care of by his mother to eventually taking care of his mother. At the end of the story the boy, now a father himself, watches as his mother dies.
The problem: Nothing screams a great bedtime story like one where the mom character dies! Sure, it explains the circle of life but it’ll surely give the kids nightmares (and me, too).
Written by: Charles Perrault
Synopsis: When little Red Riding Hood meets a mean wolf on the way to her Grandma’s house, the wolf gets Red Riding Hood to tell him where she’s going. He beats her to Grandma’s house, eats Grandma, then puts on Grandma’s pajamas and gets in her bed where he waits to eat Red Riding Hood as well.
The problem: Any book where children (and grannies) are devoured by wild animals disguised as their beloved relatives is bound to cause nightmares.
Written by: Brothers Grimm
Synopsis: A widow favors her biological daughter over her stepdaughter, and while her own daughter becomes lazy, the stepdaughter is put to work at the spinning wheel. When the spindle falls down the well, the stepdaughter jumps in to fetch it, entering another dimension where she becomes Mother Holle’s maid. Holle is so pleased by the girl's hard work that she sends her back home covered with gold. When the biological daughter goes down the well hoping for gold, too, her refusal to work for Mother Holle results in the old woman punishing her laziness by dousing the girl in pitch/tar which never comes off. Ever.
The problem: Sure, it's bad to be lazy, but being covered in sticky black pitch for the rest of your life is a bit scary for the little kids. Do your chores -- or else!
Written by: Brothers Grimm
Synopsis: A lonely couple lives next door to a witch who has a magical garden. When the husband breaks in to steal a bit of lettuce for his pregnant wife, the witch catches the husband and forces him to give his unborn child to her. The witch then raises the beautiful girl in a high tower where the only way in and out is by climbing her loooong golden hair.
The problem: So if you break into your neighbor’s garden, you have to give up your children. And if your children are good looking, they’re going to get locked in a tower forever. And let's not forget the part where the prince's eyes are gouged out by thorns when he gets hurled from the tower for trying to save her. Ouch.
Written by: Brothers Grimm
Synopsis: When a young princess is told that she is the most beautiful in the land, her wicked stepmother sends a huntsman to kill her (by cutting out her heart in some versions, or her lungs and liver in another). Snow begs for her life and finds refuge with seven dwarves in the forest, but she can't escape the wicked queen who disguises herself numerous times to trap Snow (she finally kills her with a bite of poisonous apple). Assumed dead, the dwarves mourn Snow until a handsome prince rides up, awakening the dead princess with true love's kiss.
The problem: First of all, a huntsman is sent after Snow to mutilate and kill her. That is terrifying. Secondly, a prince — who has been told that she is dead — decides he’s in love with Snow White and kisses her anyway. Have you ever tried explaining necrophilia to a 5-year-old?
Written by: Attributed to Vera Southgate
Synopsis: A pancake is made, but when it falls out of the pan it decides it doesn't want to be eaten, and runs away, trying to escape from the cook and her hungry children and everyone else they meet along the way. Finally he trusts a pig to keep him safe, but the pig eats him.
The problem: I like pancakes as much as the next guy, but when they can walk and talk and beg for their lives ... kinda starts to seem like cannibalism, no?
Written by: Hans Christian Andersen
Synopsis: A young girl, having been sent out to sell matches by her cruel father, decides to stay on the street and warm herself with lit matches rather than go home. With each match, a happy, warm vision appears before her, including one of her dead grandmother. When the matches run out, the girl freezes to death and is taken to heaven by her grandmother.
The problem: Whether or not you believe in heaven, this is one hell of a dismal story about a girl who dies, sad and alone, of hypothermia.
Written By: Brothers Grimm, based on an ancient German fairy tale
Synopsis: In effort to rid the town of a rat infestation, a piper dressed in colorful clothing claims he can lure the rats out of town with his musical pipe. After the mayor refuses to pay him, the piper returns to town dressed as a hunter and vows to rid the town of all its children. More than a hundred children follow the piper and are never heard from again.
The problem: Fantastic! A fairy tale where a bunch of kids follow a stranger out of town and then never come back.
Written By: Margaret Wise Brown
Synopsis: The classic story of a bunny's imaginary game of hide-and-seek and the loyal bunny-mom who vows to find him no matter what.
The problem: Some call her steadfast, I call her a stalker. Watch your back, kids, because mommy is obsessed with you, and she is never going to let you out of her sight. EVER.
Written By: Neil Giaman and Dave McKean
Synopsis: When a little girl tells her parents there are wolves in the walls, her parents don’t believe her until the wolves come out of the walls.
The problem: About 99 percent of a mother’s day is spent trying to get kids to sleep or trying to get her kids to stay asleep. And after telling your kids that there aren’t monsters in the house, nor are there weird noises in the night, this book will guarantee your children will never sleep alone again. Amazing!
Written by: Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Synopsis: When a merchant goes on a business trip and finds himself lost on the way home, he stops at a castle for food and rest only to become imprisoned by the beastly lord of the castle. The only way he is allowed to leave is by promising he'll return home and send the first thing he sees back to the beast's caste (which turns out to be the merchant's loveliest daughter, Beauty). Beauty befriends the beast over time, returns home briefly, and ultimately marries the beast as he is about to die of grief over his loneliness.
The problem: Beauty & the Beast is my daughter's favorite story of all time, but it's hard to deny the sad-sack message of a beastly prince who whines about how ugly and stupid he is and convinces Beauty that if she doesn't marry him he will die. I was kind of hoping I wouldn't have to explain manipulative as*holes till my daughter went to college...
Written by: Carlo Collodi
Synopsis: When a hand-carved marionette comes to life, trouble ensues when he is led astray, telling lie after lie, on his quest to become a real boy.
The problem: A lonely old man carves himself a young boy to play with (uh, yeah), and the kid turns out to be a complete delinquent. Not to mention, in the original version he basically murders the well-meaning Jimminy Cricket character for doling out advice. Sheesh!
Written by: Heinrich Hoffmann
Synopsis: This is a German translation of 10 rhyming stories, each of which demonstrate the disastrous consequences of misbehaving. Highlights include: a thumbsucker whose thumbs are hacked off; a girl who burns to death lighting matches; and a boy who dies of starvation when he refuses to eat his soup.
The problem: I mean, don't get me wrong, I love a good creepy story, and if it gets my daughter to start eating her dinner, awesome! But these might be a bit much for the little kids.
Written by: Aldous Huxley
Synopsis: Mr. and Mrs. Crow live in a cottonwood tree, and the hungry Rattlesnake that lives at the bottom of the tree keeps stealing Mrs. Crow's eggs before they can hatch. Finally, Mr. Crow and his wise old friend Owl devise a sneaky plan to trick the snake.
The problem: Mr. Crow is a chauvinist. He tells Mrs. Crow she eats too much, she talks too much, that her ideas are bad -- that her ideas are often bad -- and basically only another guy could come up with a good plan. Sorry, Mr. Crow, but there's no room for characters like you in my children's reading library!
Written By: Hans Christian Andersen
Synopsis: When an awkward and ugly bird hatches, he is relentlessly heckled by his cruel family, and eventually runs away. When he can no longer take the cold, hunger, and cruelty of the world anymore, he decides to fly with the beautiful birds (realizing they might kill him, but what the hell) only to find that they are finally accepting of him, as he has grown up to be a gorgeous swan.
The problem: Yes, this is a survival story, but what's the real takeaway? Your friends and family won’t love you unless you’re beautiful. G'night honey!
Written by: Lewis Carroll
Synopsis: Daydreamer Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by trippy, anthropomorphic creatures. She is nearly executed by a stack of playing cards, but then wakes up, finding the whole thing was a dream.
The problem: Albeit nonsensically brilliant, have a fun time explaining the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the concept of beheading to your kids.
Written by: Peggy Parish
Synopsis: Her first day on the job goes haywire when Amelia Bedelia misunderstands every single item on her list of chores -- and hilarity ensues.
The problem: Not only is this woman a bit of an idiot, going around pouring baby powder on the furniture and cutting holes in the towels, but the un-feminist lesson is basically that no matter how badly or how often you screw up, if you can bake a pie everything will be fine.
Written by: Jean De Brunhoff
Synopsis: After his mother is killed by a hunter, an elephant named Babar escapes to the city, where a rich old lady befriends and educates him. When he returns to the jungle he is well dressed and refined and therefore crowned King of the Elephants.
The problem: It is sad to see how quickly Babar transforms into a "man," forsaking his own identity. He then proceeds to convert the other elephants, drawing a harsh class divide between the civilized elite and the ignorant, older generation.
Written by: Dr. Seuss
Synopsis: A wacky cat in a red-and-white striped hat turns a dull day into a rollicking adventure for two bored kids.
The problem: Stranger danger! Stranger danger! Not to mention, this meddlesome cat is making it look fun to completely destroy your house and everything in it.
Written by: Marcus Pfister
Synopsis: A beautiful fish has a hard time making friends because of his glittering, jewel-colored scales. The other fish don't like him because he is different, so he gives them his scales, one by one, until all the fish in the ocean look alike.
The problem: Sharing, shmaring. This book is about teaching your kid it's okay to buy friends and sacrifice their personal identity.
Written by: Stan and Jan Berenstain
Synopsis: Papa Bear and the cubs start getting fat and lazy from eating too much junk food, much to Mama's chagrin.
The problem: Like all Berenstain Bears book, this story is message-heavy, but Mama Bear is an especially overbearing b*tch in this one. The lesson of the day certainly won't be self-esteem.
Written by: Victoria Kann
Synopsis: A pink-obsessed girl eats so many pink cupcakes she turns pink from head to toe.
The problem: The only way Pinkalicious can turn back to her cream-colored self is to gag on green vegetables. That's right, gag. The girl can't just eat her veggies and enjoy them, she has to do it while sh*t-talking every single vegetable out there (and making them sound pretty gross, even to a vegetarian like me). I don’t need some brat talking about how disgusting greens are, thank you very much.
Written by: Astrid Lindgren
Synopsis: Wacky, parentless Pippi with red pigtails, a pet monkey, and a horse living on her porch, befriends her prim neighbors and invites them into her wackadoo world.
The problem: Pippi is a rude, disrespectful, and a compulsive liar. I don't need my kids picking up any tips.
Synopsis: The Stupids, along with their cat, Xylophone, and their dog, Kitty, have an enjoyable day doing ridiculous (stupid) things.
The problem: It pains me to add this to the list. I LOVE these hilarious books. But when we're trying to instill kindness in our kids, it's a bit uncool to call this absurd family "stupid" over and over again. And it's even less cool when my daughter goes around saying how "stupid" everything is.
Written by: Arlene Mosel
Synopsis: This cautionary folktale tells the story of two Chinese brothers -- the favorite son: Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, and the inferior 2nd born: Chang -- who are playing by the well. When Tikki Tikki falls in, he nearly drowns because the length of his name makes it hard for Chang to report the incident in time to a curmudgeonly old man with a Ladder.
The problem: You guessed it, this tale (not even based on Chinese folktale, but Japanese), is a racist one. It's impossible to chant the titular character's name without noticing the offensive stereotype of those "funny sounding Chinese names." Shudder.
Written by: Andy Rash
Synopsis: A young couple flee from zombies, defending their lives on each page as they brutally kill the bad-guys in a gruesome countdown from 10 to 1.
The problem: This was given to me because of my zombie obsession, but the blood-spatter and carnage miiight be a bit much for your little kid. Especially at bed time. (However, I will gladly take this tongue-in-cheek version over earlier, disgusting and racist versions of the rhyme.)