Fuse #8

Friday, March 09, 2007

Top Ten Children's Books Where Things End Unhappily

Recently The Guardian featured Richard Gwyn's top 10 books in which things end badly and it made me think of kidlit equivalents. It's different, of course. Teen books are allowed to have sad endings, whereas children's literature gets to choke out a last gasp of "hope" or two. So I started wondering about the top ten children's books where things turn out poorly by the tale's close. Additional thoughts are welcome.

1. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson- Sort of the go-to sad ending book. Then again, at least one of the kids live. That's worth something, right?

2. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson - Dead dog. Oh, I'm sorry. Did I ruin it for you?

3. Anything by Robert Cormier - Who is technically YA, but was shelved in children's rooms for so many years that we're giving him this one. Did any of his books end happily though?

4. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen - Curse you, little match girl! Curse you for depressing me as a five-year-old. Where's THAT Disney movie, huh?

5. The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen - Yeah yeah yeah. She gets turned into some kind of watery spirit. Whatever, dude. Andersen had "issues". Oh yeah. I said it.

6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein - She's a stump and, to add insult to injury, the boy she once loved sits on her. Ouch.

7. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch - Creeeepy ending. Maybe not "sad" but I still shiver when I think of it. I think this qualifies as ending "unhappily".

8. Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister - Sad little fishy. All his beautiful scales are gone and he's putting on this fake face where he seems to be saying, "I'm totally cool with looking exactly like everyone else... really!"

9. Wolves by Emily Gravett - I should clarify that I like this book's ending. But that last image of all the rabbit's mail piling up because he is dead dead deadski ain't exactly heartening.

10. Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis - EEEEEEEEK!

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At 12:18 AM , Blogger Erin said...

I have vivid memories of MY 5-yr-old self being depressed by The Little Match Girl...

At 12:20 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Yeah. I totally did a dance of joy when the short animated film of it didn't win an Oscar. Eat it, Andersen!

At 12:24 AM , Blogger web said...

My favorite book with an unhappy ending: Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy. I was pretty impressed when they only lightened it a little for the movie version.

At 12:49 AM , Anonymous Brian said...

How does Vogel/Sendak's How Little Lori Visited Times Square end again? Isn't she never seen again or something like that? Does that count?

At 8:51 AM , Blogger Corinne Hatcher said...

what about Arlene Sardine by Raschka?

At 9:38 AM , Blogger Laura said...

Glad to see Love You Forever get some un-love from you - doesn't it strike anyone else has slightly sick and twisted? And I'd like to add Edward Tulane to that group. The whole book is one big horrific ending - I'm not really supposed to be HAPPY by the end, am I? After all, the sister is still dead and that poor kid is still messed up for life. Oh, and lest we forget, Edward was crucified!!!

At 9:39 AM , Blogger Mitali Perkins said...

I still can't believe Louisa May killed Beth.

At 9:49 AM , Blogger Charlotte said...

How about The Giver, by Lois Lowry? The two main characters sledding to certain death just broke me up. Which is why I was so so so cross when she brought them back to life in Messenger.

At 1:50 PM , Anonymous Ben said...

Finally! My thanks to Fuse and Laura for providing proof that I am not the only person who finds Love You Forever to be one of the scariest/creepiest books around. In my nightmares I see old women driving around town with ladders strapped to the tops of their cars.

At 3:11 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I see that I'll need to report my Triumvirate of Mediocrity link again soon.

At 3:16 PM , Anonymous Margaret said...

I guess the Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events books are right out of the running for being too obvious?

At 3:30 PM , Blogger Brooke said...

Why stop with "The Little Mermaid" and "The Little Match Girl"? When I was a kid, I remember weeping over the unfair ending of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier."

And can we put "The Butter Battle Book" on this list? And maybe "The Lorax"? Them stories still a-give me the jibblies.

At 5:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just told my husband about your list and how I am still psychologically scarred by Old Yeller. (I never read the book but was messed up for life by the damn Disney movie.)

His response: "Why?"

I started explaining why the ending was so sad (thinking maybe he didn't know about it) and he interrupted me - "I'm not asking why the movie bothered you, I'm asking why that book was even written. Did someone just have to mess with the minds of children everywhere and torture us for life? And then why did Disney have to make that movie? What was good about it after that ending?"

So yeah - add two more people to the "Never going to get over Old Yeller list!"

Colleen aka Chasing Ray

At 6:11 PM , Blogger gail said...

I once read a description of the movie Old Yeller as being one of the few Disney films of its era that didn't include a dead mother. No, the mom was there, and she made her kid kill his dog.

Personally, I don't believe I'll Love You Forever is a children's book. Adults suck up that kind of stuff. I've read that it's supposed to sell very well around adult housing communities. (I believe at the author's website.) The author has also said he wrote it in response to an adult trauma he experienced. It wasn't written around a children's issue. Why not admit it's for adults and shelf it in the adult section?

At 6:00 PM , Blogger Dawn said...

One fine fall day, when my oldest daughter was about 5, I decided to read a nice autumn-themed story called "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin." I hadn't read it in years, but I figured, hey, it's Ms. Potter, it's got to be sweet, right? We did ok for a while. But then the owl swoops down on Nutkin and tries to skin him! And Nutkin escapes only by snapping his tail off! And apparently the traumatic experience did some brain damage because he went from being an articulate brat, chanting rhymes and riddles, to a babbling crank, speaking only in gibberish. At the end, my daughter burst into tears and yelled, "Why did you do that to me?! Why did you read me that horrible story?!"
Maybe it works for some folks, but it was a bad ending for us.

At 7:54 PM , Blogger Nancy said...

Great list!

I seem to remember a Sweet Valley book called P.S. I Love You that ended on a bit of a downer (he was perfect, then he died).

What I don't remember clearly is whether Paul Zindel's The Pigman ended badly, or just was a real bummer in the middle. It's been too long since I read it and I've blocked it from my memory.

At 5:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, it may not be strictly a children's book, but what about His Dark Materials? I'm sorry, but leaving Pantalaimon and Will was just horrible. Even if she got Pan back, it was just...damn you Mr Pullman.

At 11:45 AM , Anonymous danielle said...

Must not forget Where the Red Fern Grows. I suppose one could say that the ending is on an up-note, but geez; getting there is a wrencher.

At 9:04 AM , Anonymous Leonie said...

Jock of the Bushveld, by South African author Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, also has a dog that dies. I remember reading this when I was about 10 in the back of the car on a family holiday. When I finally managed to get my sobbing under control, my dad asked, so what happens in the end? And didn't Black Beauty also end sadly?


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