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Have you ever had a book or a series that you absolutely loved when you were a child, only to realize that it doesn’t hold up under a 21st century lens? If it has, you’re not alone. As the world changes, so does how we look at beloved movies, television shows, and books. And sometimes, especially when it comes to our favourite children’s books, what we find when we revisit them as adults can be disappointing and disturbing. Feeling nostalgia for a particular story doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there or that we shouldn’t acknowledge them and address them.  

 

if i ran the zoo cover / a dr seuss creature against a bright red coverClassic children’s literature is going through something of a reckoning as librarians, publishers, and the public come to terms with some of the more troubling aspects of our childhood favourites. Recently, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced a decision to stop publishing and licensing six of the titles from their catalogue including: If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and McElligot’s Pool. The decision came last year after a review by a panel of experts (including librarians and educators) determined that the titles contained racist and offensive portrayals of Asian and Black People.

 

green eggs and ham cover / a dr seuss creature starring at a plate of green eggs against an orange fieldIt is also important to note that Seuss’s most beloved titles such as Cat in the Hat, Horton, and Green Eggs and Ham aren’t going anywhere, and the Enterprise’s decision to pull a handful of titles is in no way a suggestion that Seuss should be fully removed from the canon. For the most part the decision has been celebrated. Mullberry Street was originally published in 1937, and nearly 75 years later, it’s not surprising that some of the illustrations haven’t aged well. And the Enterprise was quick to note, the six removed titles were also among their lowest selling titles.

 

curious george cover / two police walk with a a small monkey between them, against a yellow field.Interestingly, Seuss isn’t the only popular children’s author who has come under closer scrutiny in the last decade or so. Recently, I had a conversation with a fantastic teacher librarian who mentioned that she’d pulled Curious George and Babar from her shelves. Curious George in particular has remained popular through licensing deals, including an animated PBS series that ran for 13 years and animated film. I had fond memories of the mischievous little monkey, and it’s been quite some time since I read the original stories, so I couldn’t imagine why he was problematic until I started researching it further.

 

The problem, according to critics, is the racist overtones of the books, including the generalization of George being from “Africa,” and taken by force from his home in the jungle. Likewise, there are overt colonialism themes in Babar where the text literally describes the black characters in the book “savages and cannibals.” When examined from with our 21st century views, of course we identify these problems, but the first Babar book was published in France in 1931, and the first Curious George book was published in 1941. What these authors and the general public considered appropriate was different than what we understand now. It doesn’t make it right, but understanding the world that these books came from provides context.

 

little house on the prairie cover / two young girls stare out the back of a covered wagon which rolls across the prairie Another popular series that has recently been reexamined are the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which chronicle her pioneer/settler childhood.  I read most of the series when I was about 8-9 years old and loved it, and I have known several teachers who have selected the book as a novel study to support the pioneer/early settlers component of the Ontario Curriculum. In 2018, the American Library Association decided to drop her name from the annual award given in her name because of her racist portrayals of Native American people in her books. While some disputed the decision, pointing out that the first books in the series were published in 1931 and took place in Wisconsin in 1871, the ALA defended the decision, reminding people that they are not encouraging a ban on Wilder’s books, but simply bringing the award in-line with its values.

 

dr dolittle cover / a man with glasses in a tux and top hat stands in a clearing surrounded by jungle animalsThese are just a few examples, but it turns out that quite a few beloved children’s books (including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tin Tin, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Doolittle, and Indian in the Cupboard) contain racist or offensive stereotypes. It would be easy to chalk it up to another time, another place, but as experts have pointed out, because we continue to read these books today, we have to look at them critically and acknowledge their mistakes. Whether they have lasting merit, or should be pulled from public library or store shelves is a decision that each org has to make for themselves. What is very true is that there are a plwalethora of alternatives that encompass diversity and inclusion and other modern values.

 

In 2014, the Walter Dean Myers Award was created to recognize published, diverse authors who champion marginalized voices. Incidentally, the ceremony for the sixth Walter Awards will be held on March 12th, with Laurie Halse Anderson as the emcee. The social media hashtags #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices both champion diverse books by marginalized voices, and are a great place to start if you’re trying to diversify your collection and find alternatives to some of these classic titles.

 

And of course, LSC is happy to champion diverse collections. While we compile standard lists, like our Indigenous lists each season, we’ve also recently built lists to spotlight BIPOC authors, to celebrate Black History Month, and to highlight Neurodiversity. We’re also happy to build custom lists for libraries by their request. If there is an area, theme, or voice that you want to focus on, let us know and we’ll build selection lists to make ordering easier.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

 

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