Browsing through the stacks in the children’s department of our local library, my eyes are drawn to a book displayed on a stand on the top of a shelf. My kids are learning to read, so my mom-radar (momdar?) is specifically tuned to finding early reader books for them. The momdar goes off when I spot the familiar, old-fashioned faces of sweet little Dick and his blond sister Jane running happily through the yard. You remember Dick and Jane. We all grew up learning how to read their bland, monotonous, friendly stories.
But this is not your mother’s Dick and Jane book. This one is copyright 2010.
Here, little Dickie and Janie, wearing gleeful smiles on their cherubic faces, are being chased. By a fanged, cape-clad, gray-faced vampire.
Are you kidding me?
I pluck the book from its stand and flip through it, incredulous.
“Run, Dick. Run, Mother. Run away! No, Sally! Do not go outside. There is something outside. Run, Sally, run! Run away! Run away and come inside.” Illustrated in the same style as the original artwork, pale vampire hands reach for Sally’s back as she runs for the the door.
In another chapter, Dick and Jane approach a man in a chair reading a newspaper. “Look, Jane, look. There is Father. Hello, Father.” On the next page, vampire lowers the newspaper. “Oh, oh, oh. That is not our father. Run, Jane! Run, Dick!” Dick and Jane get the heck out of there.
Vampire, shy at first, harrasses the children in his attempt to “play.” He hides under their beds and in the bushes. (Isn’t that cute?) He follows mother to the grocery store and then disguises himself as the cashier. But eventually, he endears himself to the whole family, hiding in closets upside-down to avoid his chores, allowing the children to push him around in a baby buggy, and even donning a frilly yellow bonnet and blue dress sewed for him by mother. The smiling milkman, making his delivery to the family, thoughtfully includes one jug of red liquid for them. “Look here,” says Sally. “One is for Dick. One is for Jane. One is for vampire.” And of course, a vampire is nothing without a love interest, even in a children’s book, so in the end, Dick and Jane drag vampire by his cape to a park bench to introduce him to their new friend…a pasty-faced hot chick in a black dress.
“Happy, happy vampire.”
How nice. And disturbing.
I am not anti-vampire stories for grown-ups, even though they have multiplied ad nauseum in recent years. I have seen the Twilight movies. I kind of like them. I even used to watch re-runs of Dark Shadows years ago. They are fairy tales, not much more than that. But it is undeniable that there is more darkness in bookstores now, which I mean in both the literal and the spiritual sense of the word. There are whole sections for both young and older adults that are full of dark-hued covers. Vampire books and the like. It is obvious when you’ve stumbled into the creepy section of your Books-a-Million. All of it is ultimately thanks to Edward Cullen, the fictional vampire character whose existence in the literary world has spawned zillions of copycats, and whose smoldering gaze and glittering skin have caused an entire generation of teenage girls to swoon.
More notably, he and his copycats have caused those girls to fork over their money. Vampires equal lots of money these days.
But even though the market for vampire-related products is exploding, when did it become a good idea to insert a sinister, cross-dressing monster into a book for preschoolers who need regular convincing that there are no monsters under their beds? If the target market for this bizarre thing is moms who read Twilight, or the swooning teenagers who get the tongue-in-cheek humor, then market it to them. Display the book next to the dark-hued covers at Books-a-Million. But please don’t pretend like it’s for kids. Don’t recommend it for ages 5 and up. I guarantee that my almost 5-year-old would not find the fang-faced man funny. Frankly, he would find him terrifying. If you have to explain to a kid why a scary thing is funny, then that means it is not funny to them.
Let the vampires stay in their world, and let Dick and Jane stay in theirs. Let grown-ups stay in their world, and let kids stay in theirs. The mixing of the two, in this instance, is just too weird.