Friday, April 10, 2009

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Little A's godmother from Edinburgh was recently in town with her husband for the Easter holidays. Apart from hitting the beach and catching up with as many friends as they could see in their fortnight here, I also helped her get some work done while our husbands went golfing.

She and her sister-in-law are starting a UK-based luxury organic children's clothing line that will be distributed around Europe and eventually in America and maybe Asia. The product line looks lovely, but there are still some details that need to be finalised. While here, she met with a couple of printer friends to discuss packaging and marketing collaterals. We also met with a lady who may be tasked with some of the production, whose daughter runs the playschool Little A attends. 

In turn, my friend gave me a potential writing job as they require some quirky copy to make their designs come alive. She specified "nothing too sickeningly sweet," preferring a dark side and plenty of alliteration a la the Lemony Snicket books.

Task in hand, I set about "gathering research material"; in other words, rereading my Roald Dahl collection and revisiting classic fairy tales.

I quickly realized that dark and twisted children's verse is actually more traditional than sugar, spice and all things nice. A glance at any Mother Goose collection reveals misfortune left and right, from irreparable eggs and children tumbling down hills to slap-happy foster mothers and cleaver-wielding farmers' wives. Which begs the question, are children meant to be exposed to violence from the time they are in the cradle?

When we were young, it was common for nannies and babysitters to scare children with threats of mystical creatures from local folklore when they misbehaved. As we grew older and begun to read on our own, Grimm's grim tales and Hans Christian Andersen's sad stories, even when sweetened for young sensibilities, still struck some fear into the hearts of those who had not yet learned to suspend disbelief.

As a parent of barely two years, I try to avoid exposing my son to violence because I don't want him growing up thinking that the use of fists, guns or bombs is easily justifiable. Certainly, there will be bitterness and disappointment even in his young life, but hopefully he will find other ways to deal with them rather than resorting to hitting or throwing things. And yet much children's reading matter suggests otherwise. Wicked stepmothers wanting hearts cut out and poisoning fruit or children fattened up to be eaten by witches or giants makes one wonder what message young minds really receive from the telling of these tales. The good characters often get their happy endings, but even so, do the ends justify the means? I wonder.

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