Thursday, May 23, 2013

Vetting Children's Books

I think anyone who has been reading this blog for a little while knows that I love to read.  I also love to read to our children.  I started my children's book collection well before we were even trying to conceive.  While I had the "excuse" of being able to use the books I purchased in my teaching, it was a personal collection, and not a class collection I was creating.  The collection now numbers well into the hundreds and contains favourites, both old and new.  Admittedly, it also contains some duds.

The Bean loves to be read to.  Jen (who was home on maternity leave during his first year) was amazing at making reading to him a priority from his earliest days.  Our bedtime routine includes three stories before songs and being tucked in.  Now that he's getting older, we're moving away from the board books that we pretty much stuck to his first few years, and starting to reading some longer stories.  Books we haven't looked at for a while are making their way off the shelf and into the basked beside the rocking chair.

Just the other day Jen pulled Robert Munsch's We Share Everything out.  Robert Munsch is a much loved children's writer.  He's American, but began writing after moving to Canada and though widely known in Canada, doesn't seem to be recognized across the border.  I grew up on his early books, which is likely why  We Share Everything, one of his newer books, is in our collection.

On the surface it is a funny story about two friends going into kindergarten who have to learn to share.  However, reading it a couple dozen times over the last week has also made me realize there are things I really don't like about it.  The two main characters are mean to each other.  Bullies even.  I don't want The Bean to grow up thinking that treating someone the way these characters treat each other is acceptable.  They threaten.  They yell.  They knock down block towers.  When they finally begin sharing, they share their clothes.  After swapping outfits Jeremiah comments, "My mom never gets me pink shoes" and "No other boy in kindergarten has a pink shirt."  Perhaps worse is when the teacher makes a big deal over Jeremiah's pink clothes.  The Bean doesn't seem to think pink is a "girl's colour", and I agree.  Messages like the ones in this book only bring the issue of society's ideas of what is acceptable for girls vs. boys to the forefront.  I know there might be a day when The Bean wants to throw his pink marker in the garbage, but I would like to delay it as long as possible.  If I can avoid him hearing this kind of messaging, I will.

So now I have to try to go hide this book.  Good thing we've got others to distract him with.

What are your kids' favourite books?  What do you do when you have issues with the subtext in the books you have?  


  1. It's funny that you mention this this because I was talking about The Bean this weekend. A grandfather-to-be mentioned that he is going to have a grandson. The topic of dolls came up. He said something to the effect, 'my grandson won't have dolls.' I then went on to say that the girls have dolls/babies but they are newly into trains and trucks. I talk about you guys buying him a stroller and doll, but that he also has "boy" toys. I think it is fantastic that he doesn't think of pink being a girl's colour or dolls being a girl's toy.

    1. Ugh. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but don't get me started on the girl's toys/boy's toys thing!!! I don't understand how we expect boys to grow up to be caring and nurturing if we don't provide them opportunities to practice. Likewise, girls need the chance to look at the mechanics of how things work. I hope this babies parents have different ideas that grandpa does!

  2. We read that Munsch book not that long ago and I had the exact same issues with it. I was really surprised because some of his books are fantastic and have great messages. When something like that happens, I usually make a comment as I'm reading, like, "Well, that's not true! Anyone can wear any colour they want." Erik is at an age now where he does thinks there are "boy toys" and "girl toys", but I think we delayed it as long as we could, and the other day I saw him pick up a Barbie and play with it for a minute. He also has a very good friend who is a girl and who likes all the same toys Erik likes, so when I hear him say something is a girl's toy, I remind him that his friend plays with whatever toys she likes, even if some people might think she's playing with "boy toys". We've always told both of them that toys are just toys and colours are just colours, and they can play with and wear whatever they like.

  3. So far, the worst book I've found myself reading is one of the Pinkerton books by Steven Kellogg, the one in which there's a big illustration of a robber pointing a handgun at Pinkerton's owner. Fantasy violence doesn't really bother me, but we live someplace where people get shot pretty often, so just uncool.

    The teasing in the Arthur books also bothers me. Maybe it would be different for an older kid who was experiencing teasing and working through it, but I don't really want to be putting those words into my toddler's mouth.

    That said, I want her to have access to a huge range of books, even ones I don't like. I seem to remember having a lot of critiques of old kids books with anti-feminist themes even when I was quite young. Even little kids can read against the grain. So basically, I know the problem, but not the answer.