Sunday, May 3, 2009

Color This Purple - And Keep It Away from Children

I have to say that even though I think using a coloring book that includes a drawing of the Twin Towers going up in flames as a tool to ease kid's fears about the crumbling world around them is completely, dazzlingly wrongheaded, I have to admit to ever-so-slightly mixed feelings about it. That's because I'm a liberal and I understand about letting your heart get in the way of your head.

We do these things because we love.

"A Scary Thing Happened" was put out by an Albert Lea, Minnesota Crisis Response team after a terrible tornado season, and illustrated by a grandmother of 10, with support from a medical center associated with the Mayo Clinic, a plumbing company, a printing company, and a bank, among others.

I can see those grown-ups brainstorming around a table, thinking they needed to come up with something a frightened kid could look at and understand that they're not alone, that their feelings are perfectly normal, and that there are adults who get it and want to help. I could see me sitting around that table after that devastating tornado season, wringing my hands, pounding my head: Think. THINK. What can we do?? But I like to think that even I would recognize that using the destruction of the Twin Towers as a teaching tool for terrified toddlers was glaringly beyond the pale. Still, they didn't just include a page about 9/11 inside the little book, they flashed it in full color on the cover.

Word got around about the book and in 2003 it made its way to the FEMA website, where it could be downloaded from the Kid's Page as a pdf. file. Nobody seemed to pay much attention until recently, when somebody apparently saw it and complained about the cover. The new FEMA crew took a look and promptly pulled it from the website. When they were asked why, they said a parent did complain about the content, and anyway, they were redesigning their website.

It was supposed to be gone, but of course somebody always has everything, so finding it wasn't that hard. I found it on The Smoking Gun (no surprise) and downloaded the pdf. file to see it for myself.

It is meant to be a comfort--I can see that. But I'm a grown-up and not a child still into coloring books. Coloring books are meant to be a pleasant pastime; something to while away the carefree hours. One frightening page leads to another in this book and by the time the kid has finished, he/she has a right to be scared witless. Fires, tornadoes, floods--they're all out to get you. I can't imagine even one child feeling better about the crumbling world around them because they're able to color in disaster scenes or draw pictures of how they feel. ("Draw a picture of yourself when you heard about the disaster.")

These are the kinds of things we need to talk about with our kids face-to-face. They need to feel our arms around them when we tell them the truth about what they've either witnessed or what has directly happened to them. They need to be able to talk to us about their own fears. We need to do it together, without the distraction of visual aids. But more important, we need to keep it in the here and now, and not bombard them with the things that might happen, that could happen, that will happen.

That's the egregious part about the honest but rash effort on the part of the Freeborn County Crisis Response Team--they came at it from a grown-up's logical, dispassionate point of view instead of from a kid's fearful, nightmare image of a world already out of their control .

From my own point of view, the only visual aid a scared kid needs is the sight of us being there for them.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)


  1. hi, Ramona--
    again, I see that I'm more cynical than you are.
    I posted about the book, too-- only my interpretation was more sinister.

    granted, in the best-of-all-possible-worlds, parents and children might sit down with this book and parents might explain to their children what they're ready to comprehend about the dangers in the world.

    but, we don't live in that best-scenario world. most parents hand their kids a coloring book and leave them to get on with it.

    I think that grandma may have been naive. somehow, I don't think our federal government with all its sophistication was as innocent.

    I hope your interpretation is true. I fear mine is.

  2. I've never considered government in terms of "innocence". There's always a motive behind everything they do. I could see FEMA drooling over this little coloring book, knowing they could use it in their ongoing campaign of fear. And I could see that little Crisis Team being thrilled to death that the gov'mint thought so "highly" of it and was going to promote it.

    I went back and read your blog about this and maybe you're a little more cynical than I am about it but I think we both agree that the whole exercise was incredibly stupid.

    Naive? I don't know. I think the Grandma thought she was doing her community a service. I don't think any of them thought it would go beyond their county. I think they're shocked that WE'RE shocked.

    (I cross-posted this on my Talking Points Memo blog and it's getting a lot of comments. If you want to read them, just click on the "cross-posted" note at the bottom of my blog post.)

  3. hey, again--
    I followed your link to Talking Points Memo but, after I registered, they didn't get back to me. I'll try again, later.

    I noted the several comments over there about the days of leading elementary school kids in the duck-and-cover drills of the 1950's. I remember them well.
    in fact, during the 1970's, I speculated as to whether our massive rebellion might have been sparked by the fact that we had had it drummed into our heads, when we were very young, that ours was the first generation born into a world that could be wiped out in an instant.

    makes me wonder how our kids will act out this situation.

  4. Great points, Two Crows. I've never thought of that. Something happened in the 70s that changed that generation so radically. Of course, the Vietnam War was a huge influence. So were the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

    It'll be interesting to see how this next generation copes with today's problems. If 9/11 changed everything again.

    We've been a mess since the Reagan years, but I'm looking up and hoping that's a blue sky I'm seeing.

  5. hey again--
    from your mouth to the gods' ears -- as far as seeing a blue sky above.

    1] yeah, I think things have changed -- though not in the way BushCo would've had us believe. and the changes began long before 9/11.

    other countries [ok, I know Bush & Them don't believe in such things, but they ARE there] had been dealing with terrorism long before it came here.

    and 9/11 hasn't been the be-all-end-all of our consciousness since 2001 -- no matter how hard BushCo tried to keep it there.

    if, as you pointed out, parents will truly be there for their kids, the children will weather this just fine. if not? not.

    2] meanwhile, watching the Greedy Old Party implode is kinda fun. is hosting a party today-- complete with popcorn. =)

  6. Good Morning Ramona,
    First, I had a lot of difficult pulling up your blog, more than once. The message that I heard was "not responding" as I have you in my favorites. So I went through Google and used at route.
    I have to agree with some of the other posters here and can remember the drills for the "duck and cover" for the atomic bomb drills.
    But I have to wonder how this will actually assist children and to emulate that violence in coloring books with the likes of Superman and other types of what I consider "children's coloring books", I find it inconceivable that 9/11 would be a subject to hand out to children with "stay in the lines" type of instruction. One has to wonder how this would be presented to a classroom or to your child.
    Did the government have a hidden agenda with this one?
    I did have one dark thought though, was this initiated by Dick Cheney... Inquiring minds want to know.
    Best wishes, Nedra

  7. I'm sorry you're having trouble. I don't know why that would be. Hmmm. But I'm glad you kept trying.

    Using 9/11 images in coloring books is truly disturbing, but then the last eight years have been incredibly disturbing. I'm just happy to see that clearer heads have prevailed and at least in this one instance, they've thought of the kids first and actually pulled this item from their website and book store.


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