Creepy Elf On the Shelf, the Christmas phenomenon that made children feel like they were under surveillance during the holiday season, is still around, but it isn't king of the shelf anymore.
The festive "toy" could be adopted online by the families who bought them, with the children of the house being told if they touched or moved them, the elves' Christmas magic would fade away. So on the shelves (or wherever) they would sit and watch the goings-on, untouched and unloved, with their cold, dead eyes.
It is a positive step that fewer kids are now being told that Santa will know if they are naughty or nice with the similar kind of localized spying technique (watch and report those around you) that Mao, Stalin and East Germany employed.
But I figured that true little rebels wouldn't give a damn anyway; instead, those kids with nicely developing moral compasses would be the ones most messed up by such a passive-aggressive object.
This year, the spending crazies have moved on to Hatchimals.
Those are the little robotic colourful baby animals that come in an egg, crack their way out of it, and apparently talk to their new seven-year-old mommies or daddies. They play games with them, too.
But children are obliged to care for them, as if the over-stimulated darlings weren't already busy.
It's like a Muppet ate a Tamagotchi (remember them?). So what happens if kids move on to outdoor games like, say, skiing? Do the Hatchimals die just as Tamagotchis did? Will there be sleepless nights for little Jaden or Olivia as they ponder existentialist dread?
Thank God for gift cards and kids who like books. Then the responsibility for the purchase of post-apocalyptic series about teens with totalitarian futures is down to the parents.
Here's an idea, why not buy kids a banned book?
The thought struck me last week as I heard that a school in Virginia had banned To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil Rights novel that introduced segregation and institutional racism to so many high schoolers around the world.
The same school also banned Mark Twain's classic satire about racism, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
All it took was the complaint of one parent, who didn't like the use of the N-word, and now the local school district is considering a full district ban.
Disgusting racist epithets are being spray-painted and thrown about with greater frequency at the moment, in Canada as well as the U.S., and you'd think that conversations with our children about lives such as those explored in the two novels would be timely.
Other banned books in the yearly Top 10 list in America since 2013 include The Hunger Games (for religious viewpoint, being unsuited to age group), the entire series of Captain Underpants (offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence), and the penguin picture book And Tango Makes Three (anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and "promotes the homosexual agenda.")
Even A Stolen Life, the story of the 18-year-long kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard has been banned (drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group).
It is also a problem in Canada, with freedomtoread.ca offering a list of 100 books, magazines and other written works that have been "challenged" in this country. This means someone has sought to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries and even bookstores.
Challenged works in Canada that are suitable for young people include: A Clockwork Orange; Asha's Mums; Black Like Kyra, White Like Me; Bridge to Terabithia; Cat on the Hill; Chicken Clicking; Darth Maul: Sith Apprentice; Dolls and Bears to Make and Dress (not strictly for children, but for adults wanting to make dolls and bears for children); Foxfire; Go Ask Alice; Hey, Dad!; If I Ran the Zoo (Dr. Seuss); Of Mice and Men, Impressions (Language arts series for Grades 1 to 6); The Golden Compass; and Little Bird's ABC.
Oh, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and And Tango Makes Three are on the Canadian list, too.
The point is there are many ways to buy a good present — and apparently many ways to buy bad ones. It's a personal choice, to be sure, but it is good to put some thought into the kind of world you want to live in when you buy one.