Juvenile doomsday lit

Doomsday books for kids are hot, reports Newsweek.

Scholastic is printing 200,000 copies of the teen-oriented “The Hunger Games,” about 24 kids in the ruins of North America forced by the government to kill each other in a “Survivor”-like contest. In Susan Pfeffer’s “Life As We Knew It,” an asteroid crashes into the moon and causes extreme weather events on Earth. Random House has already sold a million copies of its tie-ins to “Wall-E,” which stars a trash collecting robot and his cockroach buddy as the only creatures left in the decimated world.

Even read-aloud books for little kids are getting heavy, reports the Philly Inquirer. Illustrated books try to explain obesity, gay marriage, Daddy’s prison sentence, an older sibling’s drug use and, of course, the perils of global warming. New titles include:

My Beautiful Mommy, out since spring, prepares preschoolers for Mother’s nip-and-tuck.

What Is Jail, Mommy? unlocks the mysteries of the Big House, comparing prison to “big-people’s time-out.”

Why Daddy Is a Democrat (a sequel to Why Mommy Is a Democrat) lays out the values of the political left in simple sentences. Its illustrations contain a heavy helping of satire, aimed at the adults. Is that really a donkey cleaning up the, um, excrement of a rampaging elephant?

And so on, from allergies — The Peanut-Free Café — to sexual abuse — Not in Room 204 — and all else that might concern the sandbox set.

When I was a kid, I worried that Mr. McGregor would catch and kill Peter Rabbit. As a mother, I tried to skip the page where Babar’s mother is killed by the hunter. When my daughter noticed and demanded to see the missing page, she was distraught. Are 21st-century children ready to trade in Pooh for a dead polar bear? Do they wish to trade The Secret Garden for apocalypse lit?

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  1. ““The Hunger Games,” about 24 kids in the ruins of North America forced by the government to kill each other in a “Survivor”-like contest.”

    So it’s like an American version of Battle Royale?

  2. It would be encouraging to imagine that families with Daddies in jail are at least giving their kids books. Any reports on how that’s selling?

    I’d wager My Beautiful Mommy sells a hundred copies for each jail tale.

  3. L. C. Burgundy says:

    Bah! John Christopher – now that man knew doomsday lit. His most famous work was the Tripods series of books, but he published quite a bit of such literature from the ’50’s-’80’s, with a decent amount in the youth/young adult category.

  4. OK, so no one can make me feel guilty for reading a “simple” translation of The Odyssey to my little ones. They especially enjoyed the skewering of the Cyclops’s eyeball.

    Just to say, this idea of exposing little kids to “life” has been going on for millenia. I think I’ll skip the Democrat books and the daddy-in-jail variety, though.

  5. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Me: Awesome! Yet another person here who appreciates Japanese cinema!!!

    I wish I could say this theme is new. I remember perfectly well as a middle school student in the 1980s I was offered a chance via a book order (remember those things?) to order books in a series called “After The Bomb”, a depiction of the world after a nuclear holocaust, as you might imagine and one boy’s struggle for survival. (I preferred another post-apocalyptic series called “The Guardians” instead.)

  6. “Awesome! Yet another person here who appreciates Japanese cinema!!!”

    LOL, not exactly. I was actually thinking about the book. Never seen the film adaptation, and not sure I want to. The book itself was pretty brutal in terms of violence. I have a weak stomach when it comes to seeing gore.

    OT: While I enjoy dystopian stories, I prefer the non-post-apocalyptic variety and was so excited when The Silenced (another YA novel) was published. But it reminded me so much of Sophie Scholl…just a thinly veiled take on Hitler’s Germany. I thought maybe it was in my head until I read the author’s note and saw that Sophie Scholl had actually been his inspiration. That was disappointing. If I wanted to read about Hitler and the Third Reich, I’d pick up some historical fiction.

  7. Oh good. Maybe I can unload some of my “Mad Max” memorabilia at a good price.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    I think some of my favorite children’s doomsday tales come from Shock-headed Peter by Heinrich Hoffman in 1845. Little tales intended to warn children to do right. Here is an excerpt from Little Suck A Thumb

    But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
    Don’t suck your thumb while I’m away.
    The great tall tailor always comes
    To little boys that suck their thumbs.
    And ere they dream what he’s about
    He takes his great sharp scissors
    And cuts their thumbs clean off, – and then
    You know, they never grow again.”

    Of course little Conrad didn’t mind–and paid the consequence.

    Gruesome, lovely tales. Totally unfit for chilren.

  9. The Brothers Grimm survive.

  10. Andromeda says:

    Oh, man, I just could *not* get enough dystopian novels when I was a teenager. I adored 1984, and read everything in the genre I could get my hands on.

    Fundamentally, being a teenager was being trapped in an arbitrary and awful world, so dystopias were what spoke to me.

    And, as Bart and Mrs. C note, the awful has a long and proud tradition in storytelling. Dystopias were the literature of my adolescence, Greek mythology the literature of my childhood — shot through with death and sex and betrayal, when you get down to it.

    And also shot through (in the case of my edition) with Milton and Keats, and deep philosophical questions about the nature and role of God, and all kinds of stuff it’s great to think about when you’re a kid.

    Kids live in the world. No point in saying their literature shouldn’t allow them to grapple with it.

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Analog SF went through a siege of post apocalypse a while ago – The Postman was one I remember – so I dropped my sub until they came back. I dumped them again when they went Gaia.
    Shit happens, but you are better prepared for it if you don’t dissipate your capital building pyramids and cursing the sun.

  12. Let me get this straight: We’re banning “tag” because it’s potentially dangerous and because someone who gets stuck being “it” might get their feelings hurt, and we’re eliminating the concept of honor rolls because the underperforming students might be unhappy, yet we are foisting “downer” books on our children?

    Why, pray tell?

    I read a lot of escapist literature as a kid. Loved Winnie-the-Pooh and Narnia and the Moomin books and the Oz books. Sure, there was perhaps some minor danger in the books but at least there were happy endings that made me feel that the world at least had the potential to be a friendly place.

    The kids will have the next 50-60 years of their lives to listen to all the paranoia on the evening news.

    (And yeah, yeah, yeah, I get the stuff about “kids with a parent in jail feel more NORMAL if they read a book featuring that.” But I suspect a lot of kids reading these books are not in the situation the books address).

    I still like to read escapist literature.

  13. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Back in the 80’s–when I was around 10, I loved:

    USSA– a novel about a communist takeover of America (Think Red Dawn, but for kids)

    A Rag, A Bone, and A Hank of Hair — about a future where the human race could no longer reproduce except by cloning

    The aforementioned “Tripod” books

    Children of the Dust — A Post Nuclear Apocolyptic book


    Downwind — a disaster book about a power plant meltdown.

    My husband really got into the “After the Bomb” books.

    Post-apocolyptic kids books have been around for a while— it’s only the nature of the impending doom (was nuclear, now environmental) that’s changed.

  14. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Deidre – Indeed, I was going to say, you are showing your age. In the 1980s, for apocalyptic lit, we kids were either reading books on 1) nuclear war or 2) communist takeovers. That is very reflective of the times in which we grew up. Twenty years from now, there will be a new theme, perhaps, while a bunch of adults will be saying “I remember reading (insert title) about such-and-such environmental disaster…”

    The times and subject matter changes but the theme stays the same just as you point out above.

  15. Then there’s James Clavell’s “Children’s Tale”, a short-story version of “the takeover”. Its setting is a schoolroom, the timeline is less than a half hour.
    And it’s online:


    (You may remember Clavell from one of his other books, “Shogun”.)

    If anybody knows what the last line is about, please post here.

  16. michele says:

    Thank you, ricki! “Why, pray tell?” is a very good question!

    As you say, kids will have plenty of years to be exposed to downer topics and paranoia! Why do we insist on rushing children into adulthood with what they read, what they wear, and many choices they are allowed to make?

    The difference between today and decades past is the prevalence of disturbing information all around us today. In times when particular literature was a rare exposure to dark topics, children had more of a balance in their lives. Today kids are experiencing mature issues much earlier than we did–all around them all the time.

    “Doomsday” literature might be less close to reality if we let kids be kids, wrote more uplifting books for them, and even offered them some fanciful fantasy. There is nothing wrong with a bit of innocence in childhood. In fact, we could benefit from making it a requirement.


  1. OmegaMom says:

    […] from that, nothing is roiling my brain right now.  OmegaGranny sent me a link to a blog post about kids books and end-of-the-world catastrophism, prompted by a write-up in […]

  2. […] Juvenile doomsday lit at Joanne Jacobs Doomsday books for kids are hot. Are 21st-century children ready to trade in Pooh for a dead polar bear? Do they wish to trade The Secret Garden for apocalypse lit? […]