By Elizabeth Wroten
#weneeddiversebooks: Problem Books
On 30, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
When I was at the ALSC Institute about a week and half ago I attended a breakout session about diversity in children’s publishing. It was a really great discussion and I’m hoping to talk more about the issues when I attend the Kidliosphere blogging conference in a couple weeks.
While we were talking at this breakout session, though, I had a question that I’m not sure how to answer. Our discussion never really steered in that direction so I didn’t bring it up, not wanting to derail the whole session, but it definitely pertains to diversity in children’s literature. I’m wondering what you should/could/would do with problematic books that are already in a collection? Books that have stereotypes or racist over/undertones.
Specifically the Little House on the Prairie come to mind, but so do the TinTin comic books and I’m sure there are many more out there (especially some of the classics). I like to think that there books make for good discussion starters with kids, but I think the reality is that kids check them out, their parents don’t know that they have these issues, the kids read them, and bring them back. No discussion. The Little House books are pretty ubiquitous, at least at my school. They’re in several classrooms, they are in the library and a lot of kids read them. The teachers and librarian also hand them out/recommend them without making note of or even knowing about the racism in them. In fact I know many of them have fond memories of reading the books when they were young. I think it’s a problem if kids read this stuff and internalize the stereotypes and rhetoric and I really think it’s a problem if we don’t talk about it with kids. I don’t think the answer is to not let kids read the books, though. They have value, but how do you balance that with their issues?
So, what do you do with these books? Do you leave them in the collection? Do you weed them? Do you ask that kids present their parents with a note when they check the books out that details concerns with the book? Do you educate the teachers? Do you remove them and find better alternatives? Do you start the conversation with the kids? Does this cross boundaries that the parents may not want crossed?
I’m sure there is no one perfect answer or solution, but I think it’s really important that we don’t let the label of “classic” or our own nostalgia get in the way of being sensitive to the very dark issues that these books have.