Book Review: Lies We Tell Our Kids

Lies We Tell Our Kids, written and illustrated by Brett E. Wagner

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery/Animal Media Group.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I found this book to be surprisingly touching.  In general, I must say that I am not in favor of lying to children.  It is fairly common, unfortunately, for children to ask a lot of questions, not all of which they genuinely wish to know, but all the same I believe that children should receive honest but age-appropriate answers to the concerns that they have and that their curiosity in the world around them should be gratified and encouraged to the greatest extent possible.  I expected this book to be a lot more cynical and sarcastic than it was, and found the book surprisingly touching.  If I feel that the book is mislabeled as humor [1], at least I feel that this book has something to offer that is genuinely touching and much of the artwork here is gorgeous.  The author has done a really good job of taking ridiculous scenarios and showing how they would work out as drawings, and this is a work that has to be seen to be believed, and perhaps even read to children for them to laugh at.

This book is designed very simply and repeats its pattern consistently.  First there is an obviously untrue statement, followed by a drawing that presents what it would look like if this statement was true.  Some of the statements sound like things people would tell their children, like the fact that monsters under the bed just want to read, or that dinosaurs died because they couldn’t swim, or that Abraham Lincoln simulated the Civil War with a VR headset or that George Washington was the first president in space.  Other ones seem far darker, like the screeching of screech owls coming from the babies they steal or the fact that the storks are also involved in the baby trafficking ring.  The lies seem set up to show of the virtuoso drawing skills of the author, to point out that perhaps he has a bit too much of an imagination when it comes to telling his kids untruths, and to demonstrate a concern about subject matter children are interested in.  At the very least, while some of these obvious untruths seem particularly frightening to many small children, they at least seem like the sort of thing that children would enjoy reading.

Overall, I think this book is directed at children to prompt them to ask questions or want to create obviously imaginary stories.  Some of these setups will bring a smile and a laugh to tolerant adults, who will no doubt appreciate the talent of the artist as well as the creativity of his untruths.  Even so, this looks like a book whose main audience is young, with monsters that could have come out of Where The Wild Things Are or The Princess In Black or any other related story like that.  The humor is often of a fairly immature but amusing nature, and one can at least see adults–not least the author–trying to fob off irritating questions with stories like these.  For adults, this book is likely a reminder that fiction can be a good place to start a story when, as in this book, it is framed as imaginary and not factual and where there is no attempt to pass them off as true, but merely use them as the origin source for an amusing or heartwarming tale.  Warning children not to accept donuts from gators can be an introduction into discussing dangerous strangers, while telling children that monsters under the bed want to read can point out that even powerful and frightening beings may have surprising vulnerabilities.  These are all things that could help spur the emotional and moral development of children, which is all the more surprising given the silly tone of much of this book.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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