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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

You Couldn’t Pay Me to Read That

Had a fun conversation with someone the other day that got me to thinking.  We were discussing the fact that we both get sent a lot of children’s books to read.  Some are solicited by their authors/editors/agents and others just arrive in boxes that come from publishers.  A person can have a whole individualized set of criteria regarding the order of the books they read.  For example, I like to alternate books that have already been published with books that are going to be published.

There are some books, however, that I find myself avoiding.  Sometimes I don’t even notice that I am avoiding those books, unless someone points it out to me.  That’s what happened the other day when the conversation between my friend and myself turned to the most dangerous form of children’s literature I can name: animal stories.

When I say “animal stories” I usually mean books in the vein of Charlotte’s Web.  Stories where animals act like animals but can talk.  And though I wasn’t aware of it before, I find that unless I have a reason to do so, I tend to avoid animal stories.  When they’re done well they can be brilliant (The Underneath, the aforementioned Charlotte’s Web, etc.).  When they’re done poorly they may be the most painful fiction for kids out there.  I don’t know why it is, but there you go.  That’s my bugaboo.

So let’s have it.  Is there a particular type of children’s fiction that you find yourself avoiding when you consider large swaths of children’s books?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Me too! Animal books are always a turn off for me. I wish I could overcome it, but I just can’t seem to enjoy them!

  2. Dead dog books. If there is a dog in the story the first thing i do is turn to the last page and see if it’s still alive. I don’t want to learn a valuable lesson through a dead dog – OLD YELLER scarred me for life thank you very much.

  3. I also have a deep and abiding aversion to dead dog books (I blame WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS). And I get asked by parents ALL THE TIME if I can recommend a good sports book for their son (I’ve never had anyone ask for their daughters) and I don’t have the heart to tell them that I have a VERY hard time reading sports-themed books. Apparently, getting picked last really does leave lasting wounds. Who knew?

  4. Myself, I’d separate out picture books from my wariness with animals. As stand-ins for very young readers animals seem to work just fine in those books and I have no problem ever picking one up. And, while some of my favorite novels of all time are talking animal books (all three of E.B. White’s, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, and THE JUNGLE BOOKS), something changed me I think when I (whisper here) attempted a REDWALL title back when my students adored them. I tried and tried, but simply could not get more than a few chapters in. So now when I take a look at a new book with animals I try to figure out if it is going to be in the REDWALL vein, CHARLOTTE-like, or little-Victorian-animals-in-clothes-messing-around-boats-ish.

  5. Dog books, in general. Not that I won’t EVER read them, but I do certainly avoid them. And Holocaust books. It doesn’t help that there are a billion of them. I just get too emotional!

  6. Anything overly didactic. (Which includes most celebrity-written titles, I’ve noticed.)

  7. Historical fiction about wars. Ugh. Grim and dull.

  8. Genevieve says:

    Definitely animal books (excluding picture books). Love E.B. White’s and liked The Rescuers, but that’s about it.

  9. I don’t know how to explain this, but books that are too conspiciously clever (books that try to imitate Lemony Snicket).

  10. I can’t seem to make myself read anything with a superCUTE cover. Pink is a turnoff. Anything that looks like Fancy Nancy grew up and became a middle grade or ya. I know I shouldn’t go by covers, but it’s a knee-jerk.

    Also, things that teeter on high fantasy. Worlds beyond. I like my kids to be from this world. They can go to other worlds, but I need them to be grounded in this one. This goes all the way back to childhood. I remember wanting to like McKinley, LeGuin, Alexander. But I’ve never been able to love them.

  11. Ah, but then there are those great animal fantasies — Tor Seidler (A Rat’s Tale, The Wainscot Weasel), Michael Hoeye (the Hermux Tantamoq series),….

    I think the key thing when reviewing — and I’m sure I’m not telling you something you don’t already know here — is trying to review a book on its own terms. What did the author set out to achieve? Did she or he achieve it? And NOT What book should she have written? NOR If I’d written this book, I’d have done it differently. Etc.

  12. I guess I’m the odd guy out on this one. I love middle grade novels with animals as the main characters. Always have. It started with The Rescuers. I know, I know, just don’t throw anything at me. Ok?

    The things that I have developed an aversion to are the paranormal romancy kind of books. Gosh, haven’t enough of them been published already.


    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh, I’m not against ALL animal books. Just the rotten ones. I love The Rescuers, Hoeye’s titles, Seidler’s, Selden’s, you name it. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad they are HORRID.

  13. Foot-thick MG/YA tweener fantasies with a #1 on the spine. When I read a first page where the author introduces eight characters and the describes in detail the geography and place names of an entire world, it can be tough for me. But there are exceptions of course, and when things are well done, I don’t mind in the least.

  14. I must agree on the animal book thing. I especially have difficulty with dog and horse books. Put a horse on the cover and I just can’t open it. I’m sure they appeal to someone but not me. Also like Laurel – the superPink – super cute – super girly books are a turn off. They might be good but I can’t get past the cover.

  15. Denise Rawding says:

    I don’t like to read books about dead animals, friends, or relatives. If I want to be depressed, I’ll watch the news.

  16. Brat as hero/heroine (I never identified well with Ramona, Junie turns my stomach)

    The majority of what I called the “Modern Kids” MG books. Most of them were about school dynamics, girl cliques, new kid in town, parents divorcing, losing friends. I don’t really remember reading them as a child even, other than a few sweet valley highs when I was about 10.

    I’m much happier to run off to fantasy or history or adventure

    Animals I go back and forth on. I recall being initially intrigued with Mossflower, but never read past that in the Redwall series and found myself unwilling to go back to it, similarly with Guardians of Ga’Hoole and the Warrior Books. Happy to recommend them to kids who were interested or who liked that kind of animal or who needed adventure that had the context of animals (which some of them found less scary–I think we can handle that there is a little violence in the animal world more easily than we can in the human world).

    And I’m one of the few who disliked Underneath. But I bought it for the collection, read it and handed it to kids I thought would enjoy it. And then went on finding and reading things I did enjoy.

  17. Books with uber-precocious kids. Adventure/spy books (think Artemis Fowl and Maximum Ride). And I’m with Travis: anything that’s really really thick, with a #1 on the side.

    I am also becoming very fed up with dead/bad moms… Enough already!

  18. I’m with Jim, can’t stand anything didactic. Or saccharine.

    And I promise that my animals will never talk. Out loud anyway…

  19. Time-travel books… Even though I wrote one.

  20. Ah, Hermux Tantamoq, je t’aime. Will we see any more book about you or set in your world?

  21. Just read your post and cannot believe you wouldn’t have loved Newbery winning “Shiloh” a story that brings up topics from civil disobediance to who is really in charge of a situation – a kid or grownup. And for those who haven’t read it – no dog dies!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Those action packed books–imitation Anthony Horowitz. “Action” is defined as some kind of fighting– probably with some kind of gadget that I don’t understand and can’t be bothered to figure out. Characters weather dangerous situations that would give a normal person post-traumatic-stress for the rest of his life–but it doesn’t matter, because the characters are made of plastic; they are invulnerable, and because they are invulnerable, I don’t give a damn.

    This is even more pronounced in movies. I watch people leap through glass windows (made of sugar) and I see cars blow up in flames, and I am more bored than I am when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store.

    I recently reread a Trollope novel (Ayala’s Angel) that included a scene where a girl doesn’t want to sew, and her aunt does want her to sew. Stirring stuff, yes? But I was on the edge of my seat. Why? Because the relationship between the girl and her aunt was important, because both characters were sympathetic and they were misunderstanding each other, because whether the girl helped with the mending said worlds about her status in the household. Trollope made me care. He earned it. So many action-packed movies–and the books that ape them–think they can get my attention by blowing a lot of things up. I have news for them–they can’t.

  23. Interesting posts. It’s a good thing that publishers publish such a variety of books, since we all have our own tastes. I actually love animal stories both realistic and fantasy, in fact I just did a couple of posts on these kind of stories (see I find that I like books from most genres, but I am not a fan of horror or gross books, although I do read them on occasion so I can book talk them to my students. I also read very little adult fiction, they just don’t appeal to me.

  24. Books that confuse grimness with depth.

  25. Michele says:

    Mythology – I just don’t get the interest. I read the first Percy Jackson because the kids I work with made me, but it did nothing for me.

  26. You know what — what do I have to lose? I’ll just come out and say it: almost every single recent young-adult “dystopia.” They’re so joyless, and what’s worse, self-important in their joylessness. The effect is unintentionally comic. The animating premise is almost always something so preposterous that it doesn’t pass the snort test. That’s fine if you’re writing something funny, or at least something loose enough to allow the air of comedy to seep in. These dystopias are trying to be somber or chilling or thought-provoking. They are not. They feel mechanical, overblown, inhuman. I avoid them now.

  27. Cecilia says:

    I’m not really a horror person. And I don’t seem to have the patience for a lot of mysteries.

  28. I always thought I was weird for not liking animal stories– and I include in that not just talking animal stories (with some exceptions– Bunnicula being a particular favorite), but stories about people and their dogs and horses and whatnot. Strange watching us all come out of the woodwork here to admit that…

    And, the aforementioned Bunnicula notwithstanding again, I also have a thing against vampires. I have no problem with other horror/paranormal creatures, but vampires really bug me. I don’t know why.

  29. I usually put off reading talking animals stories as well. After a few paragraphs, I know if I’ll finish the book. The few I end up completly I love. Like The Underneath. Recently finished Carmen Deedy’s latest -The Cheshire Cheese Cat. (Oct). It had talking animals and I really enjoyed it.

    Novels with an all knowning narrator, that tries to be overly funny is a big turn off.

  30. I am a K-8 school librarian so I read a ton of stuff of all kinds. I really had to think about this one. I think I avoid fantasy that is Lord of the Rings-ish. I really dislike all the made up places. I like my fantasy to be set realistically like Harry Potter. I also won’t read any book with a dead dog or dead horse as the core. I do like the fellow above and check the last page.

  31. Anything with a dead albeit sensitive narrator.

  32. Rhymed picture books. Some are great, but more are ghastly.

  33. Mark Flowers says:

    Travis– “Foot-thick MG/YA tweener fantasies with a #1 on the spine”–made me laugh in agreement, especially since I am working my way through one for review right now. Ugh.

  34. smcneice says:

    Books that include child sexual abuse or teen suicide that are marketed to middle school kids. Life is dark enough.

  35. I teared up just thinking about Where The Red Fern Grows! I’m kind of tired of “supernatural” stories, faeries, angels, werewolves, etc. Except Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books!!! Also, depressing tales of cutting, death-obsession, dead-newborn-found-in-trash-can-at-the-prom, “memoirs” of appalling childhood abuse. For anyone who’s endured abuse, I’m very sorry, but I just can’t read it. Oh, and “edgy” books where the 15 year old main character falls deeply in love and has sex with her soulmate three days after they meet. Ugh!

  36. What James K said. I dislike books that are hopeless, which means a lot of adult fiction and some YA. I also dislike books that are twee, didactic, or talk down to kids.

    Genre-wise, I’m not fond of animal stories or historical fiction in the sense that I don’t tend to reach for them. But the best of them completely capture me; e.g., I loved Rabbit Hill as a child and I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything Karen Cushman has ever written. And speaking of fiction about small furry mammals, more recently I thought Cynthia Voigt’s Young Fredle was terrific.

    Note to those of you scarred for life about dead dogs: I hope you’ve read Gordon Korman’s book, No More Dead Dogs!

  37. Thanks, Kate! Resolved: Hopelessness is a form of sentimentality. Discuss. I’m off to re-read “Enoch Soames.”

  38. I think I overcompensate for my preferences and make a point of reading genres that are outside them (though there may be some mental-block category I’m forgetting). Once in a while, I’ll realize it’s been a few weeks since I’ve read any realistic chapter books or middle grade, even though that’s what I love and write.

  39. Linda Urban says:

    High fantasy, I’m afraid. Warlocks do me in, as do names with too many consonants.

  40. Linda, don’t forget the apostrophes! (See Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland.)

  41. @Linda @Kate Snthl’hrgh will punish you for your insolence!

  42. Any book with the term “elven steed.” And add me to those who don’t like dead dogs and hopeless future books. And add most celebrity’s books to the list, too.

    In my religion there’s a whole genre of religious fiction. Can’t stand it. I have no problem with fiction involving other religions (Elizabeth Goudge’s books for example). Just not mine.

    I always thought that I hated dog books, having been scarred by Old Yeller. But when I went through my boxes of childhood books, a large percentage of them were about dogs. I must have ordered every Weekly Reader book with a dog on the cover.

  43. Almost anything in a series. With the exception of maybe the Redwall books(sorry animal book haters! 🙂 Something about a plot line being unable to draw to a close drives me up the wall. However, oddly enough, stand alone books with re-visited characters totally work for me ( example: Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now).

  44. Oh, but don’t let it keep you from reading Richard Peck’s Secrets at Sea, ’cause I, for one, found it very funny.

  45. Lenore Look says:

    Vampires. They freak me out.

  46. Okay Jules, did Lois Lowry, Cynthia Voigt, and Richard Peck make some diabolical secret pact to all publish mouse books this year?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      All Newbery winners are required to write one mouse book in their lifetime. That’s my current theory. Avi has Poppy. Cynthia Rylant has (amongst other things) Gooseberry Park. They all succumb eventually.

  47. Most fantasy, but especially fantasies with character and place names that have so many vowels or consonants that my brain hurts just trying to figure out how they should be pronounced.

  48. @Betsy Ahhh, so THAT’S the secret! Getting to work now! Newbery, I’ll have you yet!

  49. Rachael says:

    Verse novels.

    Certain overdone historical periods (your Holocaust book better be a VERY GOOD Holocaust book).

  50. This knocks out a huge percentage of kidlit, but I’m done with orphans and plucky foster kids!