Help! “Free-Range Kid” Epidemic Is Spreading to Picture Books

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Free Range Kids Epidemic
Image credits: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey; Corduroy by Don Freeman; Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats; Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson; Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells

Special thanks goes to the folks at Brightly and to the original article’s writer Sharon Holbrook for sharing. For more articles about books and reading, visit the Brightly website.

Dear Child Protective Services:

I see in the news that you are FINALLY doing something about all these kids running wild, or “free-range,” as their devil-may-care parents call it. Please, I implore you to turn your attention to the following children:

Peter. This city kid has been seen playing alone MANY times–on a cold snowy day, on another day with an unleashed dog that he calls Willie, and on yet another day putting his baby sister’s furniture out on the sidewalk. (He says it’s his chair, but does it matter?) His mother sends him to the store to run errands, too. Alone!

He seems to live in his own world, hiding in cardboard boxes on the sidewalk and occasionally behind curtains, and dreaming all sorts of nonsense about snowstorms and mountain climbing. I hear his parents think he’s terrifically imaginative, but I do have to wonder if they’ve had him evaluated. And haven’t they heard of extracurricular activities? Mine have something every day. I’d never allow them to waste time puttering around smacking snow-covered trees with sticks. (Plus, sticks are dangerous.)

[The Snowy Day, A Whistle for Willie, and Peter’s Chair, all by Ezra Jack Keats.]

Sal. Clearly this is one of those hippie-dippie mothers, involving her young daughter in her blueberry canning nonsense, which as you know involves the dangers of boiling water and hot glass jars (and probably botulism, for heaven’s sake!). Doesn’t she know Target carries groceries now?

In all her crunchy oneness with blueberry-covered hills, she failed to keep her child helmeted and within arm’s length at all times. The little girl was almost eaten by a ferocious bear! I, for one, won’t even take my children hiking. What with snakes, ticks, poison ivy, bees, and dirt, you just can’t risk it, you know? My kids watch nature shows on their iPads; they stay perfectly clean while learning about nature from a safe distance.

[Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey]

Lisa. Sadly, another unattended city kid. Did you hear how she went back to that giant urban department store, alone, to buy Corduroy? Let’s think for a moment about how she got to the store: Did she walk the city alone with a purse full of money? How did she cross the streets? Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me she took the subway! She could have been kidnapped or mugged. Frankly, I don’t care if it’s two blocks or two miles, because cities scare me and they should scare all of us. Really, her parents should think about moving, but I’ll leave that to you to discuss with them.

[Corduroy, by Don Freeman]

Max and Ruby. Have you ever seen the parents? Well, I haven’t, and that’s all I’ll say.

[Max Cleans Up, Max’s Dragon Shirt, Bunny Cakes, and others, by Rosemary Wells]

Harold. A child–a baby in footie PJs, really–“decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” Before you know it, he’s off on his own, meeting terrifying dragons, nearly drowning in the ocean, falling off mountains into thin air, getting horribly lost, and talking to strangers. I’ve been told I’m overreacting, and that the child was only imagining all this, but if he was feeling secure about his parents keeping him safe and close, would he have all these traumatic obsessions? Never mind that he successfully handled every one of those challenges by himself–parents should be handling everything scary and keeping their children happy until they’re off to college. And then, I’ll still be a daily phone call away, and I can always check in with his RA and professors, too. That’s what parents are for!

[Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson]

Some families seem to think the key to learning is to “explore” and be “independent” and such, but I’m sure you agree that you never can be too careful.

Yours In Safety,
Sharon Holbrook

Sharon Holbrook, a former attorney, is a writer living with her husband and three children in Cleveland, Ohio. She can’t believe her luck that her job description is “read, think, and write.” Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, and other local and national publications.

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