Rachel in Australia inspired me to write this post, but it’s connected to what I’ve been writing about recently, the importance of teaching the next generation skills and ideas like independence, critical thinking, courage, diversity, tolerance (although I do have some reservations because I believe there is a tendency to stretch the idea of tolerance too far, and express intolerance against people that don’t agree with you). I believe literature plays an important role in influencing kids with the right ideas as they develop empathy. It shouldn’t make us feel embarrassed when children express empathy in public.
We moved from Bodø in Nordland county to Haugesund in Rogaland county in august this year. That was almost a 1500 km drive and we had to leave most of our stuff behind. We couldn’t afford a moving van, which would have cost about £ 4000. We focused on bringing the clothes and our daughter’s furniture, books and toys. It made this big change better for Tarisai because her room was still familiar to her when we got here after driving for 3 days.
We did get rid of some of her things, mostly books and toys she had outgrown. The book Black, White, Just Right! was one of the books we didn’t keep, but it had been an important part of developing her identity from the beginning. Like in the book we are a family consisting of an African American mother, a white father and a perfect combination in our daughter. We still have the book I love my hair which is about being proud of your heritage.
Shine On Daizy Star
I don’t think I’ve read a children’s book alone since I read the Hardy Boys as a child, but I decided I should read the books before I decide whether or not I recommend them. Daizy Star by Cathy Cassidy was quite amusing. This is a book my wife have read together with Tarisai.
Daizy is 10 3/4 years and is about to start 6th grade. This turns out to be a complicated year. Her father resigns from his job and decides it’s time to do something about his old dream of sailing around the world. He buys a flat-pack boat and turns the garden into a ship yard. He also signs Daizy up for a swimming class at The Baby Dolphin Club. The first class ends in total humiliation and Daizy drops out, but still pretends to go. Her older sister, Becca, turns into something Daizy describes as an extra from The Addams Family. Becca had a boyfriend with green hair, and this has to be kept from her father. They meet while Daizy is supposed to be swimming, which is why Daizy pretends to enjoy the class. She also lies to her friends and teacher because she doesn’t want anyone to know about her living on a shipyard.
Things get even more complicated (not to mention hilarious for us grownups) when her two best friends, Willow and Beth, are all mushy over Ethan. Daizy described them as acting all lovesick and gooey, while they insist that her lack of hormones have left her immune to Ethan’s good looks and animal magnetism. Fortunately what Willow so eloquently refers to as hormones boiling away inside her, like a vat of school stew, haven’t made their appearance in our home yet. When it happens I’m sure I won’t be as amused as I was after reading this book.
There are some great mushy qualities, humour and drama in this book. It teaches you that lying is not a good idea, especially to your friends. Daizy feels that she is drowning, but at the end she finds that friends and family can be the lifeguards she needed. The book is also a reminder to us parents that our perfect dream could be the children’s worst nightmare. Like dad says at the end of the book: Doing things for selfish reasons is never a good idea.
My wife and I signed our daughter up for a book club for girls called Girl it. She may have been too young, but I don’t like that club no matter what her age is. The books she gets every month are usually about all the things girls think they need to do to get a certain boy to like them. They have to change to become something he likes. Cathy Cassidy seems to write books that are much better, so I think we’ll choose the book ourselves and not just leave it up to a book club.
Incidentally, the boat did sail on treacherous oceans, but I’m not going to spoil the fun if you haven’t read the book.
The Butter Battle Book
I think it’s a shame that the books I was reading during my childhood and adolescent years are considered obsolete today (such as science fiction, Gulliver’s Travels, Ivanhoe, Jack London, Anne of Green Gables etc.). That would be OK if the replacements teach children the same lessons, but I’m not sure they do. However, some of the old books are still going strong. Dr. Seuss is definitely one of the more enduring American authors, and I especially like this book. It can be read as an anti-war/anti-arms book.
The Yooks and the Zooks live on separate sides of a low wall, and there is a strong distrust between them. The Zooks eat their toast with the butter side down, while the Yooks keep the butter side up, which is the correct way as this story is told by a Yook. The wall gets higher and the weapons more powerful. The book was published in 1984 and it’s easy to see the parallel to the arms race between the USA and The Soviet Union.
Mildred Taylor has written a series of books about a family in Mississippi in the 1930’s. Many of her books are based on true stories, things that were told in her family while she was growing up. She has written several full length novels, but the two on the picture are short (40- 60 pages). Song of the Trees is the easiest one of the two to read. Even a very slow reader like me finished the book in an hour, while the other one took more time because it is written in dialect.
The story Mississippi bridge is told by Jeremy Simms, the one white friend the black Logan-children have. You can see him at the back on the cover of the book. Why does he want to be friends with the Logans? It could be because he grows up seeing his very racist father at work, and he doesn’t like it. I think he chose to become a different person himself. Children don’t necessarily grow up to become what you are.
The Care and Keeping of You
I’m showing one last book, and this one is important to a child’s development too. I guess this one should be evident, but I’m not sure it is. My wife is reading this one together with our daughter. If we had had a son I’d be reading a book about boys. The Care and Keeping of You has all the things girls need to know. Sex education was non-existing in school when I was growing up, and in my experience as a teacher it isn’t much better today. So this is up to the parents, and a book is very useful, especially if the child wants to read it. My wife says this is one of the best guides to puberty she’s ever seen. The book is from the doll company American Girl, so they probably don’t have one for boys, but there are plenty of other books written for boys.
Maybe I’m dense, but there’s something I don’t understand concerning this list of challenged books, books that have been censored in schools and libraries in North America. These are some of the books and why they were censored:
The Butter Battle Book was objectionable because it condoned war. 1984 by George Orwell was accused of being pro-communist and sexually explicit. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by the Christian author C.S. Lewis was banned because it focused on witchcraft and the supernatural. To Kill a Mockingbird might cause black students to be mocked because of racial stereotyping. In a Wrinkle in Time they claim that be book sends a mixed message about good and evil. This is because Jesus Christ is mentioned together with other individuals as a defender of Earth against evil.
They totally misunderstood the point and it makes me wonder if they read the books at all. Some of these books are old, but the people making these decision seem to think the same way today. Harry Potter is objectionable because of witchcraft and Roald Dahl’s The Witches is an allegory of rape. Another Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach, contains crude language and encourages children to disobey parents and other adults. Wouldn’t that make a lot of children’s literature illegal, and do we really want children to always obey grownups?
There are books on this list I understand, like The Story of Little Black Sambo from 1924. I’m sure this particular book doesn’t exist anymore, but there are probably similar ones in print. Books like that shouldn’t be available in school libraries, but I don’t believe in banning them from public libraries. I believe in parents reading them and making sure their children get the right books. It’s about raising healthy individuals, and I believe many of these banned books give children some of the best ideas. But of course there are people that don’t want you to get any ideas.
I’m closing this post with a quote from The Beauty and the Beast where Gaston talks to Belle:
It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas….. thinking.
To some people, like the politicians, it’s frightening thinking that their voters would actually develop ideas and think. Sometimes it seems like that is the intention of education as well. This is what Carter Woodson said in The Mis-education of the Negro (with a little addition):
When you control a man’s (or woman’s, or child’s) thinking you do not have to worry about his/her actions. You do not have to tell him/her not to stand here or go yonder. He/she will find his/her “proper place” and will stay in it.
This is why I call it dangerous ideas. That’s what positive, independent thoughts and voices seem to be today if they are not controlled. I still encourage all of you to think dangerously.