Behaving Badly

Behaving Badly by Susan Fry

It’s a rule of life that kids misbehave. They may try to control themselves, but chances are that when they’re tired, or hungry, or the moon is full, they’ll find themselves hitting, kicking, and screaming their way to a time out. Along the way, parents may not behave so well, either. Reading about these fits when everyone is calm can help both parents and children process their emotions – and show that life, and a happy parent-child relationship, can still go on afterwards.


Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, by John Burningham. Gently colored cartoons tell an equally gentle story. Mr. Gumpy (not Mr. Grumpy) lives in a peaceful house by a river. He decides to take his boat on an outing, and everyone else around him – including a couple of children, a pig, some chickens, a calf, and a goat – wants to come, too. Mr. Gumpy sets the rules. “If you don’t squabble,” he tells the children, for example, and “If you don’t kick,” he tells the goat. And, for a little while, “They all went along happily.” But then, everyone does what they’re not supposed to do: the goat kicks, the calf tramples, the children squabble. The boat tips, and they all fall out. But is Mr. Gumpy angry? No. He seems to accept that children will be children, and goats will be goats. He gives everyone tea and simply says at the end, “Come for a ride another day.”


No, David! by David Shannon. It’s no coincidence that the author and main character share the same name. Shannon based the character on his own childhood, and he shows an understanding of both sides of unruly behavior – a child’s and a parent’s frustration at constantly having to hear, or say, “No!” Little David is filled with a frenetic, uncontrolled energy. Even the drawings seem to vibrate with jagged lines, snaggly teeth, and smears of color. David seeks out things that will get him in trouble, tipping over a fishbowl, tracking mud on the carpet, jumping on the bed, and even running naked down the street. Cries of “Come back here!” “Not in the house!” and “No!” follow his escapades. But a final infraction – David breaks a vase with a baseball bat – leads to a gentle conclusion. After a time out, his understanding mother hugs him and finally gets to say one “Yes:” “Yes, David, I love you.”


Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Marla Frazee. For me, this book is a remarkable portrayal of parent-child conflict. The authors are willing to show strong emotions on both sides – both the child and the mother fall apart. Little Harriet spends the morning knocking over juice, smearing jam on her pants, and splattering paint on the carpet, “just like that.” Each time, “Her mother didn’t like to yell, so instead she said, ‘Harriet, my darling child. Harriet, you’ll drive me wild.’” Eventually, even this enviable mother’s patience cracks. When Harriet rips open a feather pillow, “There was a terrible silence. Then Harriet’s mother began to yell. She yelled and yelled and yelled.” While it’s heartbreaking to see Harriet cry following her mother’s anger, the mother-daughter recovery is astonishingly heartwarming. “I shouldn’t have yelled, and I wish I hadn’t,” her mother says, hugging her daughter. “But sometimes it happens, just like that.” Harriet and her mother end by laughing at the mess and cleaning it up together.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications. You will find links to all of her children’s book reviews on our Toys & Books page.

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