Throwing the baby out with the racist bathwater?
February 15, 2010 11:11 AM Subscribe
Would you read your three-year-old the Just So Stories, given the racist / patriachal / colonialist / whatnot themes and subtexts?
posted by KathrynT to Society & Culture (62 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When my three-year-old daughter Lillian was an infant, I went out and joyfully bought all the kids' books that I remember with fondness from my own childhood. One of those books was Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which you can find online here: http://boop.org/jan/justso/ in case you're unfamiliar with them. I ADORED these stories when I was a child, and they are nice and short and very well cadenced for reading aloud. We have just begun reading Lillian stories from non-picture books, and she loves them.
But as I cracked the book for the first time to read her one of the stories, I suddenly remembered with horror that the edition of the book from my childhood contained the N-word, at least once. It's not used in a cruel or malicious context; the story was just written in 1902, is all, by a colonialist white man. I later confirmed that the sole incidence of the word in the original text has been removed in our edition. But reading through the stories with modern, adult eyes, I was a little distressed to realize just how much colonialism and Noble Savagery and whatnot is really peppered through the stories.
Which, of course it is, right? The stories are more than a hundred years old, written by a man who was shockingly, casually racist.
I am so torn. I love these stories -- I LOVE them. And from a cultural diversity standpoint, well, there are virtually no white people in the stories at all, and the protagonists of the stories are certainly presented neither as devils or children. I mean, except where they actually ARE children.
They are creative and joyful, and a number of the stories center around a father's relationship with his exceptionally clever daughter, which is one reason why they're so special to me. My father read me these stories, and my husband wants to read them to Lily. Bowdlerization is kind of ick, but I can't imagine actually saying the words "'You are lazy,' said the Eldest Magician. 'So your children shall be lazy. They shall be the laziest people in the world. They shall be called the Malazy--the lazy people'" to a three year old. What would you do?