One of the best parts about being a parent is introducing my kids to the books I loved as a child. It’s a wonderful experience to share and it helps me remember my own childhood as well.
One of the toughest part about being a parent is reading all the books I remember loving as a child and seeing how flawed they are now.
A large part of this is just a function of the books being products of a particular period of time. Richard Scarry and Curious George for example are both pretty bad when it comes to gender roles—both in terms of what jobs boys and girls can grow up to have as well as the division of labor within the home.
I’m okay with them as products of their time.* But I find that particular world view is easily forced on to other books which we’re reading. I’ve caught myself pointing at a picture of a woman in a white coat in a hospital and calling her a nurse just because she’s female. This scares me. I know better and really don’t want to be teaching things like that.
*I’m a bit less charitable when it comes to current things. I haven’t gone off on Cars’ treatment of race though I’ve touched on it a couple times. I suspect that if I ever watch Cars 2, I’ll be unable to resist that post.
The products of time thing also makes me think about technology. Some things like milkmen were essentially obsolete* when I was a child. Now, telephones and newspapers look to join them.** I was not fully prepared to go into “when I was your age” mode yet.
*Yes, I know you can still get milk delivered but it’s a niche market now.
**Interestingly, both should survive with the same sort of niche market as milk delivery.
Also, the lack of any real white collar jobs is interesting. Yes, it was actually possible to be middle class on a blue collar job. And yes, little boys (in particular) really like the construction workers and truck drivers of the world. But still, it’s somewhat odd to for a kid to be reading about where adults work without having anything even close to what his parents, or his parent’s friends, or much of his family, do listed.
Curious George has other problems since I realized that he doesn’t have a tail. Yes, I know this means he could be a monkey still. But he’s more likely an ape and I always try to call things by their correct name when I’m reading books.*
*This is how my son surprises people by knowing what an obelisk or the Eiffel Tower is.
The biggest tragedy though is Babar. I loved those books as a child. I can’t bear to read them now. I get too much of a Hawai‘i, or any other post-colonial, vibe from it now. The idea that it’s a good thing to emulate European society, pave over native lands to do so, and lose any semblance of what was unique and wonderful about the original culture reminds me of the tragedy told in the Hawaiian Hall in the Bishop Museum.
Thankfully, The Monster at the End of This Book is still as great as it was when I was little.
It’s interesting to read about this issue when it becomes a national one. In Germany, there’s currently a debate about both the content and the language in some old children’s favorites. Should they be changed? Is this censorship? I tend to fall into the camp which wants them kept as they are, but also would discourage keeping them in circulation as kiddie books. This is the same point of view I have with Song of the South. It’s important to keep these as they were and let kids see how things have changed. But it’s also important to be clear that this is no longer socially acceptable.