Someone recently asked me if we should be reading outdated books to our children. I asked what they meant, and they said ones that express racist or sexist thoughts or ideas. I get where they were coming from but if we do that then we need to throw away a very rich library of books. There goes Jane Austen books, anything by the Brontes or any writer from that era. Let’s get rid of The Great Gatsby, Tom Sawyer or all of Charles Dickens. The Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales all have to go.
READING AND TEACHING
I don’t believe that we should stop reading these books. I think they are great for teaching our children about history and to show them how society has changed over the years from learning, adapting, changing. To add to that, I also don’t think that we should get rid of statues because we should teach our children the historical truth of what happened. I know that not everyone agrees with me. That’s ok. I want my girls to know the truth, to be involved in synthesizing the information and forming opinions on their own.
I am going to use Enid Blyton as an example. She is one of my favorite authors. I grew up reading her books. I have started reading them to my girls. They are enjoying them.
These books were written from the late 1930s to early 1960s. These are post World War 2 books. They are British, and it is so very obvious from the language, terminology, and how the characters interact. In 2020 a large number of the books are considered sexist and racist.
Things that stand out as “outdated” ideas:
From “The Famous Five”
- The children, all tweens, go on adventures by themselves. Yes, with no adult supervision far away from home.
- The girls do all the cleaning while the boys sit back.
- The idea that boys are better than girls.
“ ‘George, you’re almost as good as a boy’…..And George beamed with pride.”
From other books:
- There are golliwogs, which are no longer politically correct.
- “Nanny” is someone who is raising the children.
- Characters are often named after prominent features, like “Big Ears”.
- Social class was important and often defined how the parents related to their children.
We end up having some great conversations about what we read, about the things the boys will say to the girls and why they just take automatic leadership “because they are boys”. We talk about the cultural differences, both from a historical and locational aspect.
I think it is important to discuss these ideas with our children. Because they will be studying history when at school, so why not start some critical thinking and analysis from a young age? If we stop children reading books from an era that thinks differently to how we do now, then we end up with revisionist history and/or the wrong ideas repeating themselves.
So, should we stop reading these books? No. I don’t think so at all. Use them. Enjoy them. Have great conversations.
(I love books! On a slightly different topic, here are some of my favorite picture books.)