A friend of mine was visiting at the weekend with her small child, and she forgot one of her books when she left. I looked through it and was struck by how the story book reflected Swedish society and lifestyle: a picture book designed to groom children in the Swedish way.
The book is called ‘Titta Max grav’ – ‘Look, Max’s grave!‘ – and it was first published in 1991 and written by Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson. The book is a fascinating account of the life of a little boy called Max from the cradle to the grave. He is born, learns to walk and talk, gets a dog, goes to school, becomes a banker, finds a woman (unclear if they are married), has a child. But then it all goes downhill for Max. He watches too much television, so his woman gets sick of him and leaves. He gets sick, wants to consume Swedish ‘snus’ (snuff), gets sicker and eventually dies alone. And the final picture – look, Max’s grave.
The ‘simple’ story promotes many Swedish values which guide Swedish society: all children receive an education, men and women don’t have to be married to have children, women are empowered to leave useless men, everybody receives healthcare, many people die alone.
There’s nothing specifically unique about this particular book. All cultures pass on their values to their children via stories. Sometimes these are verbal stories told by grandparents as they entertain their grandchildren. Sometimes these are communicated via tv or other screens to curious minds.
Very often they are transmitted via ‘simple’ books full of pictures and easy words by parents at bedtime. But these books are actually not simple at all: they are cultural mechanisms designed to pass on values and ethics and indoctrinate children into the prevailing sense of morality.
So those of you with small children. Have you refelcted over what the stories are teaching your children? How are you indoctrinating them?