The Charles Addams Mother Goose

addams-gooseThe Charles Addams comic was accompanied by this comment:

The Charles Addams Mother Goose is pretty much what you’d expect, a macabre take on some traditional nursery rhymes. So what I’m wondering is… What’s the market for this thing? Amazon claims it’s for kids between the ages of 4 and 8, but I’m not sure I’d have given my kids this book when they were 4 (and my kids were hardly sheltered; my younger son, when he was 5, asked me to explain to him the difference between murder and manslaughter) — and a kid old enough to deal with Jack Sprat and his wife being portrayed as cannibals, without several episodes of nightmares, probably wouldn’t be caught dead reading a Mother Goose book even with subversive illustrations.

Just for the record, though (speaking of subversive children’s books), every preschooler should own The Z Was Zapped (the link has been updated)— and I’ve personally made sure that most of my nieces and nephews had theirs.


  1. I don’t know, some fairy tales are pretty grim, even without illustrations.
    Calvin wrote his own macabre version of ‘Goldilocks’.
    What about ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’ ?

    ‘On beyond zebra’ is cheerier.

    When I was 7 and attending Sunday school, my father laughed all the time because I was also reading this kind of (adult) comics at the same time :

  2. Yes, in the case of Edward Gorey, I’m not even sure the question of giving the books to children can be raised in the terms of “the intended audience”. I have to think adults are pictured as at least onlookers if not the actual official main target.

  3. In the case of “The Z Was Zapped,” while I’ve distributed a number of copies over the years (though not as many copies as The Glorious Mother Goose), I always ask the parents first in case some might object to an alphabet book that glorifies violence and mayhem.

  4. After watching television and/or read the news, you’re worried about objections to “an alphabet book that glorifies violence and mayhem”?

  5. Mitch4 : I remember a Frazz strip in which he is unpacking books he offered the school library, ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’ being one of them.

  6. “What’s the market for this thing? Amazon claims it’s for kids between the ages of 4 and 8”

    The intended audience was fans of Charles Addams; adults and macabre children and teens (like I was) who had discovered Addams from snooping around their parents’ coffee tables. Amazons recomendentation is a computer algorithm and doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

    It’s probably recommended for 4-8 because it has the word “Mother Goose” in and because people who are fans of Charles Addams have overly high opinions of their children’s intelligence and coping and feel saying things like “perhaps conventional parents will have their sensibilities ruffled, but my children loved it and” make them distinguished.

    In all seriousness, it’s intended audience is adults and it is simply the exact same level of humor, content, and style as his other cartoons. WHich is to say lots of kids, (your kids, my kids, and me as a kid) will love it despite not being the intended audience. And such kids will not be ashamed of a Mother Goose title because they would understand this a a black humor satire of it.

  7. I read the one- and two-star reviews for “The Z Was Zapped” and out of the five reviews, only one had anything to do with the book itself. (The others were complaints about the condition of the book on arrival.)

    That one negative review is really worth going to read, along with the comments on it.

    Snowflakes of the world, UNITE!

  8. “Gulliver’s Travels” is an adult book that’s frequently classed as children’s literature (admittedly in sterile kiddie versions). Likewise a lot of Twain’s work. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” is constantly being filmed and always stripped of Twain’s fury.

  9. I’ve tried three times to get through Gulliver’s Travels, and never made it. The author’s misogyny and general detestation of just about everything was too burdensome.

  10. How do you feel about Shel Silverstein’s Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book?
    P is for potty

    See the potty.
    The potty is deep.
    The potty has water at the bottom.
    Maybe somebody will fall in the potty and drown.
    Don’t worry.
    As long as you keep wetting your pants, you will never drown in the potty.

  11. Most older children’s stories were originally much darker than they are now. Cinderella involved cutting off of toes and heel by her stepsisters to try to fit into the slipper. Only in Disney’s two versions of the Little Mermaid does it have a happy ending. Actually Disney made most of the traditional stories “nicer” for children.

  12. Sure. Ever watch a four-year-old seeing the end of “Sleeping Beauty” for the first time?

    I was probably around 13 and took a girl to see “Bambi” in the theater, because I’m old enough that my dating life includes the era when Disney used to re-release films back to theaters. Anyways, she’d never seen it, and didn’t know anything about it. I was expecting our post-movie discussion to be centered around Thumper’s transformation at the end of the movie. Nope. I’d overlooked one part of the movie that was likely to stick with a 13-year-old girl seeing “Bambi” for the first time.

    And Bambi is one of the only Disney film characters that even HAS a mother. (It’s not a complete shutout. There’s Duchess from “The Aristocats”, joined eventually by Surabi in the Lion King… but Disney didn’t make a lot of movies involving people (or, er, animals) who had complete, healthy families. Those poor twins in “The Parent Trap” had parents who thought it was a good idea to split up the sisters and then never tell either one that the other existed. Youch).

  13. “Amazon claims it’s for kids between the ages of 4 and 8”

    It’s my observation that Amazon bases this on reading level alone, rather on appropriateness.

  14. James, I always thought the logic was “young people with mothers and stable family lives were less likely to get into the sort of mischief that drives the plot.”

  15. That’s just lazy writers. Podkayne of Mars had a happy, healthy family. So did narrators of both Starship Troopers and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which won Hugo awards, and Tunnel in the Sky, Red Planet, and the Rolling Stones, which didn’t. It’s not just science-fiction, either. Frodo Baggins had a full, extended family. Harry Potter had dead parents, but Ron and Hermione had families. Laura Ingalls Wilder got seven books out of her family. In the movies, Sarah has a family at the beginning and ending of Labyrinth. The main character of “The Princess Bride” has family. Traditional drama? Both Romeo AND Juliet have close ties to their families throughout the play. Anthropomorphic animals? Hmm. That one’s harder. Wait, how about Mrs. Frisby? Parody music song? In Weird Al’s “The Saga Begins”, Anakin kissed his mommy goodbye, saying “soon I’m gonna be a Jedi”. He doesn’t get orphanated until the SECOND movie.
    OK, Superheroes.
    Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man are all orphans (coincidentally, all only children, as well, discounting clones). But Thor has a family. The Incredibles, the Inhumans, and Power Pack are all family units, and manage to have plenty of story-worthy adventures.

  16. “Podkayne of Mars had a happy, healthy family”

    How long has it been since you read it? Doesn’t her uncle at some point (after most of the drama is over) bemoan her lack of parental attention? Or am I conflating Poddy with another story?

  17. “How long has it been since you read it?”

    Let’s see. My daughter’s 22 now, and the period when I was reading to her was between when she was 5 and around 10 or 11, so… somewhere between 12 to 16 years ago.
    Podkayne is strong and independent. Except for that little bit at the end, she’s just the sort of person you’d want your strong and independent female offspring to emulate. The parents aren’t in the story… they stay behind on Mars while Podkayne and her brother take a trip.
    Podkayne isn’t neglected. She’s allowed to assert her own agency. These can be confused for each other by people who don’t know any better, but they are VERY different. Podkayne’s problems don’t come from her parents’ failings, it comes from the subrosa machinations of her uncle and the dangerous combination of intelligence and immaturity in her brother.

  18. “But I have a message for you, sir, one that you should pass on
    to your wife. Just this: people who will not take the trouble to
    raise children should not have them. You with your nose always
    in a book, your wife gallivanting off God knows where-between
    you, your daughter was almost killed. No credit to either of you
    that she wasn’t. Just blind luck. You should tell your wife,
    sir, that building bridges and space stations and such gadgets
    is all very well … but that a woman has more important work to
    do. I tried to suggest this to you years ago… and was told to
    mind my own business. Now I am saying it. Your daughter will get
    well, no thanks to either of you. But I have my doubts about
    Clark. With him it may be too late. God may give you a second
    chance if you hurry.”

  19. A couple of things are revealed in this blockquote.

    The first is that you don’t have a copy with the actual ending of Podkayne of Mars. Podkayne wasn’t “almost killed”. But that’s not important.

    The important piece is that Podkayne’s uncle reveals that he knows nothing of how to raise children. You want proof that Podkayne was raised properly? It’s a little bit earlier than the block you quoted:

    But apparently Poddy did just that. Went back to the house, I mean. She was found later that day, about a kilometer from the house, outside the circle of total destruction– but caught by the blast.
    With a live baby fairy in her arms– her body had protected it. It doesn’t appear to have been hurt at all.

    Podkayne meets her end because evil people who want to force politician “uncle Tom” to their course of action kidnap her to use as hostage. Podkayne meets her end because Podkayne’s brother Clark detonates an atomic bomb as part of their escape. But mostly, Podkayne meets her end because she is moved to protect and defend a helpless child.
    As I said before, Podkayne is what I would hope by daughter would want to be… strong, confident, capable, and resilient.

  20. [site operation notes]
    An interesting twist — though nested comments have been turned off (a wise decision) and the Reply button is again for the main post or for the thread if you want to think of it that way (instead of being located at each previous comment) — the email updates system seems to have built in the idea that any comment is a response to the immediately previous one in the thread.

    Thus, one email I’m looking at says chakolate commented on The Charles Addams Mother Goose. in response to James Pollock: and proceeds to insert a quotation of James’s comment beginning “That’s just lazy writers” in an indented, italics format with vertical greybar at the indent line — like some “blockquote” formats, even though Chak was not blockquoting this in her comment.

    Then, in the email main body, it prints the text of Chak’s comment.

    Which in fact was in response to James’s comment, and even quoted (not in blockquote tho) a sentence from his remarks.

    So my first thought was that the multiple reply buttons still appear in certain web formats, and some users are specifying where their replies apply. But that doesn’t seem to bear out. So could it be acting very smart, and looking into the texts to figure out who is being answered? Well, I don’t really think it is that, or anyway doesn’t have to be seen as such, since usually it is just naming the immediate previous comment.

  21. But right away I see I’m wrong! And it’s doing something different, even if not “smarter”.

    This email update, from this same thread, says James Pollock commented on The Charles Addams Mother Goose. and quotes his comment beginning “How long has it been since you read it?”
    Let’s see. My daughter’s 22 now […]

    BUT the rest of the top matter was James Pollock commented on The Charles Addams Mother Goose. in response to CIDU Bill:
    The Charles Addams comic was accompanied by this comment

    Which is the topnote (original post) for this thread, and NOT the comment immediately preceding James’s reply in the thread. … Which would the one from Chakolate mentioned in my previous note, and does contain the “how long has it been..?” question he quotes.

    Hmm. Artificial denseness?

  22. Nancy Drew’s mom had died. The Dana Girls had lost both parents and lived with aunt and uncle until they went to college.

    I think I have more than 7 Laura Ingalls Wilder books – too lazy to go up and find them, so I will check. Her books did end up with legal problems. She left the rights to the books to the local library in Mansfield, Mo where she and Almanzo ended up. Somehow her daughter managed to leave the rights to the books (which she did not have) to the son of a friend. So he and the library had to deal with figuring it out. He had additional books written about the family and “Ma” when she was little.

  23. @ Bill – I just received copies of both the “Charles Addams Mother Goose” and “The Z was Zapped”, but was very dismayed to discover that the latter book is hiedously marred by an error in the interleaving: the text (even) pages come one page “late”, meaning you have to turn the page (and cannot see the picture) before you find out what the caption for each letter is.

    Has anyone else seen the book? Do I have a right to complain, or all all the copies like that?

  24. Kilby, I read the book last week and it was as you describe. I didn’t think it was an error, but rather an opportunity to guess what the verb was before turning the page. ‘Now, what do you think the E is doing here, Ronnie?’

  25. Thanks. Treesong! I’ll try that with my son the next time we look at the book together. Still, I would have preferred to have the text and pictures visible together.

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