So Your Favorite Children’s Books Didn’t Age Well

From HuffPost:

Many parents love reading with their kids; it’s a bonding experience — one that promotes learning and a love of storytelling.

But what happens when you’re reading a beloved favorite from childhood with your kids only to realize it hasn’t aged so well? Recently, I was excited to reread “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with my older son. I quickly discovered, though, that it features fat-phobic language and has downright racist and sexist undertones. In the moment, I wondered, “How should I handle reading this and other books like it with my kid?”

And I’m not alone. “Even as a librarian, I’ve struggled to find appropriate read alouds for my children,” said Rosemary D’Urso, who runs a book blog and Instagram account called LibraryMom. “Like many people, I have naturally gravitated toward books that I loved as a child or stories that are considered classics. Reading them as an adult, however, has left me feeling uncomfortable at times.”

. . . .

Margret Aldrich of the Little Free Library agreed, advocating that parents address the words or themes “head-on.” She added, “We recommend parents talk about each section that depicts hurtful stereotypes or racist themes, going in depth as to why those ideas are not OK. If you do encounter a questionable passage, pause to talk to your child about why it’s wrong and antiquated, how the world has changed, and what your family does to be an ally to others.”

Indeed, taking the time to explain how times have changed is important, no matter the activity.

LaNesha Tabb, a kindergarten teacher who also runs the successful Instagram Education With an Apron, explained how she talks to her kids about problematic books.

“For me, racist depictions in illustrations because ‘the story is so cute’ is a hard pass. However, a fairy tale with strong ‘wait on a man to rescue a woman’ or ‘appearance over everything’ vibes could be a teachable moment,” she said. “I can read the story and ask my children how they feel. Then, I can intentionally ask them questions that might cause them to think about the story in a different light. A nice part of living in this day and age is the fact that fairy tales, while not perfect, offer children characters that are smart, level-headed and independent. I might ask a fairy tale-loving child how Cinderella differs from Elsa, then we can discuss how being viewed as a ‘hero’ is different in both stories. This is a great chance to develop your child’s critical thinking skills.”

Link to the rest at HuffPost

PG was going to opine, but decided not to do so.

He’s happy to hear from visitors to TPV on this topic, however.

15 thoughts on “So Your Favorite Children’s Books Didn’t Age Well”

  1. Maybe the OP hasn’t aged well.
    Maybe in 30 years, the times will have changed again, and today’s prejudices will seem obviously out of place to a new generation.
    Maybe some people are looking for trouble, instead of looking for enjoyment.

  2. IMNSHO, the biggest problem with a lot of “classic children’s literature” (all the way through today) is not the stories, but the baggage — the overwhelmingly ruling-class-white-Christian-male publishers and storytellers and illustrators and marketing. This is a particular problem with non-English-language material that has usually gone through two layers of ruling-class filtering and bias on the way to the bookshelf (e- or paper-).

    One of the most egregious examples is the mining of parts of the Shahnahmeh via the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights… which gave us Disney’s Aladdin. The less said about the filtering of Russian fairytales through Northwestern European eyes/ears/sensitivities, the better. And the overt religious/sectarian issues in both the actual “gathering” of tales by the Grimms and how that has come down since…

    More-recent works are far from immune, ranging from the obvious (Narnia) to the less-obvious. Even “middle-grade” and “YA” (although those categories didn’t exist at the time of original publication!) class-, race-, gender-, etc.- presumptions in The Outsiders and Go Ask Alice and The Indian in the Cupboard were not entirely unconscious.

    None of this is entirely benign, especially in a world in which children and teenagers and adults are highly likely to get smacked in the face by expections of and about the Other.

    • And yet, here we are, all of us adults aware that going back and reading old stories from our childhood have elements that we didn’t remember. Elements that are at odds with the current mores of now.

      And yet, despite reading those stories, and forgetting the elements that now jar us as adults, the world is a better place than the one we all grew up in.

      And by better I mean, less starvation, less plagues (I know, but comparatively so, Spanish Flue killed 20 million, Covid hasn’t reached those heights, and given the worlds population has more than doubled in the last 100 years – it’s all about perspective people), our technology has benefited our quality of life, even though the world is paying for that.

      But these, and other problems, will be resolved, hopefully for the better. But the truth is, no one can predict what will change and where that will take us.

      The trouble is that people have a tendency to want simple answers to complex questions. Take linking gun violence to movies.

      The last time I checked the literature, while you can show correlation, but causation is another matter. The strongest case of a film causing someone to go shoot another person was a man who watched Sleeping Beauty, who told the police afterwards that the dwarves told him to do it.

      So, while stories contain many things we find unpleasant, we grew up to be adults who were better/different/etc from our ancestors.

      Magical thinking and thought-action-fusion aside, for the vast majority of people, there’s no direct cause and effect from reading stories.

      • Agreed 1000%.
        The world is a lot more complex than activists and politicians make it out to be and 350M people acting on their *immediate* needs isn’t in any way predictable. Especially when vast sectors of the populace feel unable to voice their true thoughts.

        As someone or other said: “They can control what we say but they can’t control what we think. Or do.”

        The civil rights movement was spearheaded by a lot of people who came of age under the orthodoxy of the 40’s and 50’s, as a reaction to the pressures of the day.

        Orthodoxies create their own doom.
        The future will have the last word.

      • The real problem is at least as much the lack of alternatives as it is anything else.

        And you’d be surprised about the “direct cause and effect from reading stories,” particularly as it leads to presumptions about cultural imperatives that can really bite people in the butt. If all you know of Bedouin culture has been filtered through the Burton 19th-century-Empire 1001 Nights, you’re going to be… surprised… at the financial sophistication of the rulers of Kuwait in the 1980s (like several political appointees were). Admittedly, none of this is especially obvious; but that’s the point.

  3. I have children who I read to, with, and buy books for, and I agree with quite a bit of the OP. Not only do surprising examples of racism abound, but just the writing style of many older books doesn’t cut it anymore. When I was a wee lad I lived for Hardy Boy books. Joe and Frank and their “chum” Chet and his “jalopy” do not appeal at all to my own children.

    The OP is also correct in saying that many classic fairy tales feature young women whose primary goal in life is to find someone (ideally, royal) to marry. Where are the fairy tales where the young woman yearns to get into a good four year college on a scholarship? What you read to your kids is foundational, and we are all so over stories that revolve around “the prince finally chose ME!”

    Finally – go to Gutenberg.com and download The Story of Dr. Doolittle, the original. Flip ahead to chapter 11. Read it and tell me what you think.

    • Classic fairy tales aren’t for kids.
      They never were.
      At most they were didactic exercises meant to inculcate proper *adult* victorian (or gilded age) morals in the next generation. The same applies to today’s “early diversity training” books.

      The old “children’s” books failed miserably at their intended mission; the future will let us know about today’s…

  4. My favorite children’s book is The Other Side of the Moon, by Meriol Trevor.

    It is gentle science fiction.

    The only thing that has not aged well is that we now know the other side is just as airless and dead as the near side.

    Which makes the book a fable. But the story is one I can re-read any time as an adult. Small plot points don’t interfere with that.

  5. Imagine that you are a kid having an adult read you a story, and they constantly stop and explain things that they do not approve. Just read the story!

    Watch this trailer, and imagine my joy at seeing what a fun story it looked like.

    Bridge To Terabithia (2007) Official Trailer
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DSGAeeDXO0

    I never read the book, never heard of it, but the trailer looked fun. Little did I know that a bait and switch scam was going on. I bought the dvd and watched the movie and felt instantly betrayed.

    This will give you a sense of the movie. Compare this to the great trailer. I would never have bought the dvd if I knew what the story was.

    Bridge to Terabithia Leslies Death scene
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FYxOqAjjxg

    When I watched the special features it was one long “teaching moment” by teachers intently looking at the camera, emitting the classic vibe of, “trust me, I’m a teacher”. I still shudder at the memory. The shear evil of so many “teachers” justifying themselves.

    Look at this guy doing the interview. My god! that guy is scary.

    Author Visits – Katherine Paterson – Bridge to Terabithia
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo3p3Rtdoys

    At the same time Bridge came out the movie Neverwas was released straight to video. I thought it was going to be another fantasy story.

    wiki – Neverwas

    Yikes!

    2007 was my year of being suckered into buying movies that did not match the trailers.

  6. My own and my son’s favourite children’s book was The Wind in the Willows. Also Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, and they’re as wonderful as ever. I loved them, he loved them.

    • Good one but I wasn’t a kid when I read it.

      My “kid reads” were Verne. Everything.
      Wells.
      The LONE RANGER, TARZAN, ROBIN HOOD, PRISONER OF ZENDA.
      Whatever I could find in the library.

      And comics, lots of comics.
      That’s what my allowance went to instead of candy.
      LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, version 1.
      METAL MEN. FLASH. GREEN LANTERN. (DC’s CAPTAIN ACTION led me to fantasy.)
      Early JUSTICE LEAGUE, SUPERBOY, MYSTERY IN SPACE. (ADAM STRANGE, the original arc.)
      On TV, SPACE ANGEL, TIME TUNNEL, GREEN HORNET. (Absolutely not BATMAN.) STAR TREK reruns, of course. ITC CHAMPIONS and RANDALL AND HOPKIRK. I could never get enough until my teens.
      Designer “drugs” every one.

      Nobody steered me to it.
      I was trusted to find my own way.
      And I did.

      By my early teens I found the SCIENCE FICTION BOOK CLUB and my first week in college I hit the library card file and drew up a list of SF&FANTASY. I was always headed into engineering and SF. (Decades later I met an uncle and his adult kids for the first time. All readers. All SF&F. It’s genetic, obviously. 😀 )

      Too many adults are so focused on “molding the kids’ minds” the *right* way they turn them away from the worlds of the mind. Sports, music, and video games don’t have adult force-feeding so it should be no surprise the kids gravitate that way.

      How things are done matters as much or more as the intent.
      Children are their own person and respond best to a light touch.
      The rebellious teenager cliche isn’t a standard for no reason.

  7. And somehow, many of us grew up on these stories without having our parent stop and explain them didn’t turn into frothing at the mouth racists and misogynists. The stories are just that. stories. If parents include ‘inclusive’ stories and stories about the ‘other’ alongside their traditional ones, the kid will get a broader view that will serve them better than stopping every other page to discuss how horrible the story they’re reading is.
    Kids don’t want to know the politics of the story, they just want to know if the princess is going to be eaten by Baba Yaga or not.

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