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What the Vikings stole from us

December 30th, 2004 · 9 Comments

I’ve been using a homeschool curriculum list to locate books for Abigail to read. Since she has progressed beyond picture books and easy readers, it’s been difficult to find quality stories that will challenge her skills among all the options at the library. I liked the list and found its selections trustworthy, often skimming the books or reading along with my daughter. However, despite my caution and careful selection, I am wondering whether I failed my daughter.

A few weeks ago we read The Viking Adventure. In the plot, Viking H doesn’t like Viking G. When they arrive at Wineland (Canada?!) H wants to go for a walk with G and suggests that the boy Viking, through whose eyes we see the story, should accompany them. Then Viking H distracts the boy, sending him to find a knife he had dropped. When the boy returns, he finds Viking G lying at the bottom of a cliff, dead, while Viking H claims the “savages” (natives) killed him.

To me this plot was transparent and thin. Who wouldn’t see through it? Of course H killed G. This would be a bad B movie.

But Abigail – and Michaela who was listening and sharing the story on the sofa – didn’t suspect a thing. She believed H when he said the natives had killed G. It wasn’t until later, when the story spelled out the truth (revealing that H had never lost his knife and had lied to the boy to distract him) when the boy Viking and our young readers realized what had happened.

It was a revelation. A shock. Horror. They had a hard time understanding murder. H killed G?! My children talked of it for days, tossing casual references to the story in the midst of a breakfast of toast or a trip in the van.

And I wondered what I had done to my daughters. I had taken their innocence from them. Okay, I didn’t do it; the Vikings did it. Sure. Shift the blame. Yeah, the Vikings stole it.

Life is cruel. People are cruel. People kill other people. People lie and steal. But when do I tell my children these truths? I want them to know what life is like. How evil people can be. I don’t want to shelter them from reality. But at the same time I see that she is six years old. Abigail won’t always be this young or this little. Her innocence is precious. What does she know of life, but her ballet class, the sweet spring in her step as she dances an arabesque, colorful drawings of horses and princesses, her love for her sisters and parents? So much of human cruelty is foreign to her. And I want to keep it that way for a little while longer. Lessons on Hitler and Stalin can wait. She’ll have plenty of years of her life to know the pain of people. For now perhaps I’ll keep the curtain around Abigail as I can, and slowly pull it away as she and I together prepare ourselves for what will happen when it is gone.

Tags: family

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark A. Hershberger // Dec 30, 2004 at 7:55 am

    It could be worse. You could have a mini-goth like my 4 year-old!


  • 2 Tom Ligda // Dec 30, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    I feel ya there. They are so innocent and the world is so . . . well . . . not.

    My wife and I were watching a documentary (“Live Nude Girls”) the other night and a part came up where this young woman who was a stripper and very much OK with it had to tell her mother that she was a stripper. We started talking about our two-year-old daughter (and thinking about the new daughter that’s coming in a month), “What if she came and told us she was a stripper?”

    I don’t think I could take it very well at all. She’s my little baby girl! She’s so innocent and so precious that I have such a problem ever thinking about anything like that happening to her. I thought about it for a while and thought that if she does anything like that, maybe I just can’t be there for her in the way she needs someone. I’ll need to rely on other gracious people in the world to shepherd her through that because I just might not be able to do it.

    WTF??? I have no idea what this has to do with your post.

    I guess the idea is that the world is not a good place for innocent folks, but there are some helpful folks out there and if we can give them the tools to seek them out and rely on them, then I think we’ve done a great job.

  • 3 Tamara // Dec 30, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    Reading something like this really reminds me of how boys and girls differ.

    My sons regularly talk about evil. The kind of evil that comes with the black hatted villian and is vanquished by the superhero. They run around the house with baby blankets tied around their necks. They draw pictures of scary people running away from men in costumes with big muscles.

    Same innocense, different packaging.

    I’m not sure they really understand murder, even though they so casually mention it. The K word as my husband and I like to call it. Even though they don’t get it, they instintively know to drive it away.

    My oldest does understand death. A few years ago (when he was 3) my grandfather died. We discussed it and he became obsessed and fearful of dying and going to heaven. We reassured him and eventually the subject became less scary. The same discussion with my second son was cut and dried. Going away? OK, I’m not ready yet, Mommy.

    I think this is all harder on us than it is them. They are so young and sucking up life and information that often it’s just another interesting tidbit. To us, we labor over what we should tell them and what we should allow them to know and the perfect timing of each.

    Because you protect them, this is just another block of information. You open the dam a little each time so they won’t be overwhelmed. 🙂

  • 4 Lisa Williams // Dec 30, 2004 at 8:57 pm

    One of the things that’s important about this story is how easy it is to believe that Those Other People would do horrible things, but We wouldn’t. Here in Boston there was a sad and famous husband-kills-wife case; the husband accused a random black man, and the police spent several weeks combing black neighborhoods before coming around to the truth — that he had killed his wife.

    It’s important to remember that Those Other People (whoever they may be given the local circumstances) are exactly like us, and no more or less prone to bad acts.

  • 5 Julie // Dec 31, 2004 at 1:30 am

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

    Mark: Oh, my, a mini-Goth!

    Tom: I’ve had some similiar thoughts at times. Thanks for sharing.

    Tamara: Thanks for sharing what it’s like to be a mother of boys!

    Lisa: I agree with you. I find that the best moments to teach my children and help them understand how horrible we all are don’t come from reading books, or at least they haven’t yet.

  • 6 Anita Rowland // Dec 31, 2004 at 6:15 am

    I’m thinking about similar issues when I’m reading “My Big Rescue Book” with my grandson (his current favorite book). I admit I give the most gentle spin to what the coast guard divers, police dogs, and fire fighters do on a daily basis. It’s a great book, though, and might have been created just for him!


  • 7 Lisa Williams // Dec 31, 2004 at 12:45 pm

    It’s not so much that we’re all horrible — just that we’re all human, and not to get conned by someone who wants to tell you “those X people did it!” which still happens all the time today.

  • 8 Earth Girl // Jan 5, 2005 at 5:30 am

    “Her innocence is precious” and we have much to learn from the reaction of innocents to the horrors of evil. I will never forget helping Ricky on a book report of “Night Crossing” and his reaction to the horror of learning that when Jews were “taken away” they were killed. He ran screaming to his bedroom and sobbed inconsolably.

  • 9 Rachel // Aug 21, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    The way i see it is that u can not tell your kids to trust anyone , not evan there parents because even though it is sad, people do molest people and rape them and this is especially big in families that bring it upon there children like its alright or a tradition or somthing.

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