Children's classics. Difficulty level: non-racist
November 5, 2019 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for some children's classics to listen to in the car with my elementary aged kids. The problem is that so many of the children's classics I remember have some pretty awful content hidden among the delightful English countryside or wherever. Specifically seeking classics and not modern books.

We're listening to 'Five Children and It' by Edith Nesbit, which has a surprise chapter about 'gypsies', and I'm really glad I didn't try to listen to 'The Secret Garden' before pre-screening it, because of all the colonial racism and wife beating.

What children's classics can I safely listen to in the car?

I'm willing to deal with mildly problematic stuff, but I'd like to know in advance what's going to be there so I can be prepared to contextualize it for the kids, so if some iffy content, please report. As for sexism, it's basically pervasive throughout this genre, but wife beating is Right. Out.

OK: The House of Arden has Jewish characters in it that are mildly caricatured but overall positively portrayed

Not OK: wife beating and blatant racism
posted by bq to Society & Culture (69 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Fairly certain about: Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (though the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, has some dodgy stuff and isn't nearly as good a book), Danny the Champion of the World, the BFG, Matilda, probably others. There's a really good Penguin set of audiobooks on CD.

Good in my memory but perhaps check them out first: the Borrowers series by Mary Norton. I haven't read these with my 6yo yet but loved them as a child.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:04 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I found the Swiss Family Robinson held up surprisingly well as an adult. There's a smidgen of racism (a couple of references to potential meetings with savages, but as a WOC I feel like it's more than offset by the clear respect the narrator has for various indigenous cultures he mentions learning from) and while it is very Christian, it's more the loving benevolent Jesus than the asshole RW one.

What Katy Did is unfortunately ableist enough that I don't feel comfortable recommending it (girl in wheelchair Magically becomes better at the end) but it has a super charming sequel, What Katy Did Next, that's basically about an adult Katy travelling to Europe, having adventures, and falling in love.

Treasure Island, of all things, was super enjoyable even as an adult, and as a bonus you can watch the criminally underrated Treasure Planet after.
posted by Tamanna at 12:06 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

At a bit of an angle: Kij Johnson wrote a very nice pastiche of/sequel to The Wind In The Willows called The River Bank, centered around female characters. It is available as an audio book.

Travel Light, by Naomi Mitchison, is not available as an audio book but it's a terrific children's classic that is Not Terrible.
posted by Frowner at 12:10 PM on November 5, 2019

I believe you're safe with the Moomins. I just flipped through Comet in Moominland and nothing leapt out at me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:11 PM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]

How old does a book have to be to be considered a classic? The Pushcart War is delightful and I don't think has any issues.
posted by Mchelly at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I found the Swiss Family Robinson held up surprisingly well as an adult.

You will definitely need to prescreen this because, as a 19th century children’s book, the many translations and adaptations vary wildly.
posted by Hypatia at 12:23 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sorry, this is a negative recommendation, but: many Roald Dahl books are shockingly sexist (horrible aunts, grandmothers, etc). Especially bad are George's Marvellous Medicine and James and the Giant Peach. And, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, aren't the Oompa-Loompas basically slaves?
posted by number9dream at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2019 [18 favorites]

Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain are wonderful, and have no racist content, though all the human protagonists are white. There is some violence, but in the context of battles, nothing directly aimed at individual women. There are evil magic users though, so it might be scary in places.

Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth is a cross between a modern-day Alice in Wonderland and a modern-day The Wizard of Oz, and has absolutely no racist content or violence (unless you count a few things getting comically destroyed). However, again all the human protagonists are white.

For that matter, the same could be said of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass — wonderful, no racist content (though Carroll was probably a genteel racist, as other works of his show), no violence except comic, and all white people.
posted by ubiquity at 12:30 PM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]

You might want to read Ursula Vernon's live-tweet of Swiss Family Robinson. There are a lot of elements to it that I might not want to expose a child to.

On preview, I agree that Roald Dahl's work is probably not what you want.
posted by Lexica at 12:30 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Harriet the Spy were books I loved as a kid and I don't remember any serious issues. Is written 40+ years ago considered a classic?
posted by victoriab at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2019 [16 favorites]

Does the dog die is a website giving you prewarning if, well, the dog in a given book dies. But it also has lots of other prewarnings you can ask for, including is there hate speech, is there domestic violence, and so on.

I have no idea how *accurate* the site is, but it exists.
posted by nat at 12:44 PM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was revised in the early '70s to remove the more horrifying racist Oompa Loompa characterizations, and I'm assuming they've gone with that version for the audiobook. You should still probably do a check on this one before playing for the kids, though.
posted by queensissy at 12:46 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I proudly declare that Holes is a classic children's book, and I can't think of anything problematic about it. Most of the characters are a racially diverse group of boys.

I second Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and I also suggest A Wrinkle in Time, but it's been ages since I've read those, so I don't remember if they have anything problematic.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2019 [12 favorites]

It's been a while so I'm not positive, but will Black Beauty fit?
posted by lindseyg at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2019

I believe that Lois Lowry (of the Anastasia Krupnik and Ramona Quimby series) should be fine for this and appropriate for that age group.

Number the Stars was the first children's book I ever read about the holocaust. It was heavy going but extremely moving. That one's possibly for older children though.

These are old books - I read them as a kid - but not sure if they could be called 'classic', as they are fairly modern.
posted by unicorn chaser at 12:55 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

boxcar children? all white, but i don't think too problematic beyond that?

what about the classic pooh stories?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:57 PM on November 5, 2019

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has no racist content, and is an underrated work of feminist fiction. (There's stuff about Jewish people, but like The House of Arden, Jews are positively portrayed, in one case very positively.)
posted by holborne at 1:09 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Lois Lowry wrote The Giver, a modern teen dystopia/utopia classic that 8th graders read in school. Beverly Cleary wrote the Ramona stories. I (middle school ELA teacher) also read Lowry’s Number the Stars w some 8th grade classes. It’s more accessible for struggling readers, but still pretty explicitly a Holocaust novel.
posted by toodleydoodley at 1:12 PM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]

I would cross Linnets and Valerians off your list, sadly. I reread it recently and there was just so much no good very bad class stuff that would be really difficult to work around. Ditto Dr. Doolittle - just don't go there, whoa. I was about to suggest Peter Pan but on second thought, um, maybe not. Sigh. Mary Poppins might be okay? I would recommend doing a preread. Black Beauty is so dark; I had nightmares for years after reading it. There's a whole lot of cruelty to animals in there.

I would think Wind in the Willows would be fine, depending on how much mystically inclined thinly veiled Christianity you can take, and the same would go for the Narnia books. What about Little Women? Everybody's white but it's mostly OK otherwise. And while the Laura Ingalls Wilder books have some colonialism/ racism, I think the majority of it is okay and would be a good conversation starter on a difficult topic. I suspect the original Kipling Jungle Book should probably be okay too, despite his well deserved racist reputation - the Jungle Books really don't talk about humans at all and I loved them as a child. But I have not done a recent reread so YMMV.

The Once and Future King may be too new - 1958 - but I'm throwing it in there since I feel it gets overlooked a lot and shouldn't be; it's just a wonderful book although for older kids, say 10 and up.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:16 PM on November 5, 2019

Mary Poppins has one chapter that's so racist it shocked me when I was around 11 or 12. Other than that one chapter, it's more or less ok, I'm pretty sure, and I wouldn't be surprised if modern audiobooks just dispense with that chapter altogether.
posted by holborne at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2019

Holes is great. I assert How to Eat Fried Worms is also a classic, in which two kids embark on a competition, the eventual ferocity of which takes them by surprise, but in a way that could lead to lots of thoughtful conversations between kids and parents. And it's not at all didactic and also funny.

Have you come across TH White's The Once and Future King? The first part, The Sword in the Stone, is about King Arthur as a boy up until the sword in the stone incident. The later volumes when Morgana enters the story are massively, grotesquely misogynist. As far as I remember this doesn't happen in the first volume but you would have to check. Anyhow, they are classics and TH White wrote Mistress Masham's Repose, where an intrepid young orphan, burdened with ineptly criminal foster parents, rescues a bunch of Lilliputians. It's a little wordy but I think this is an issue you are going to have if you're going for what are thought of as classics of children's literature.
posted by glasseyes at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I remember Charlotte's Web as being OK for problematic content.
I also really liked Rascal by Sterling North as a kid, and I'm not recalling anything offensive in there. It's mostly autobiographical, about a year in the author's life as a child in Wisconsin during World War 1.

I love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but the later chapters of the book touch on some heavier territory, so check out a synopsis of the plot first. Includes alcoholism, a sexual assault on a minor, a shooting, plus more that I'm forgetting. Still definitely worth a read but I'd recommend for ages 12 and older.
posted by castlebravo at 1:41 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Laura Ingalls Wilder books don't have a lot of overt racism, but the whole pervasive colonial point of view that makes it heroic to steal land from the native people is pretty awful.

The Anne of Green Gables books are mostly not racist through lack of diversity, a common theme in this thread. The last one is virulently anti-German, though. Little Women should work well, though.

It would help to know how far back you think of as "classic." Is Daniel Pinkwater classic yet? Every child should be fed a steady diet of Daniel Pinkwater.
posted by rikschell at 1:43 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by matildaben at 1:48 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

holborne, IIRC, that chapter in Mary Poppins got rewritten for later editions and the racist cariacatures of humans got replaced with animals. I can't guarantee that fixed it, because it's been decades since I read it. (Confused me no end as a kid because I somehow read copies of both editions at different times, and sometimes the chapter was people, while I distinctly remembered it was animals previously, and nobody explained to me that things can change in a book between editions.)
posted by telophase at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and other stories by Alan Garner, should be old enough to be classics now.

Lets see, John Masefield, A Box of Delights and its precursor, The Midnight Folk. I'm afraid I'm just going by what I was given to read 50 years ago now. I don't actually remember if there's anything objectionable in those two. I found them cryptic and fantastical.

Carbonel I seem to remember enjoying as an 8-year-old. It's about the King of Cats. No unpleasantness there.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

The Dark is Rising.

Tom's Midnight Garden.

All the above are thought of as British children's classics. I wouldn't swear to A Box of Delights but I don't think the others have wrong attitudes in them. They do have varying degrees of jeopardy and a variety of nasty villains, and a strong tendency towards fantasy and myth. As they were mostly written in the 50s they are quite slow and wordy by today's standards.
posted by glasseyes at 1:52 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

My sister teaches in a very, very progressive district in one of the highest rated public schools in the country and does a whole year on Alice in Wonderland. So I would give that a try.

Also I recently started re-reading The Wind in the Willows and so far, so delightful. Its culturally critical in interviewing ways.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:54 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wind in the Willows is awfully classist about the weasels though. That struck me even as a kid. The other characters are 'gentry'. The weasels are common, and therefore ruffians.
posted by glasseyes at 2:03 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Swallows and Amazons has super independent and self sufficient tween girls and boys sailing in the English Lake District. It was written around 1930. There aren't any POC characters, so no racism. Female characters are just as smart and self-motivated as the boys.
posted by monotreme at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

You know you're old when you see people describing the contemporary fiction of your childhood as "classics." Here are some (both old and more recent) that, as far as I can recall, are okay:

Alice in Wonderland
The Princess and the Goblin
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Tove Jansson's Moomin books
The Wheel on the School
The Twenty-One Balloons
everything by Astrid Lindgren (except maybe Pippi in the South Seas)
everything by Beverly Cleary
All-of-a-Kind Family
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Swallows and Amazons
The Garden Behind the Moon
posted by Redstart at 2:32 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was revised in the early '70s to remove the more horrifying racist Oompa Loompa characterizations, and I'm assuming they've gone with that version for the audiobook. You should still probably do a check on this one before playing for the kids, though."

The newer audiobooks do use the more recent version, with the racism gone. It's still problematic from a labour relations point of view but that's provoked some interesting conversations with my kid.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:38 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

the racist characters in the bad Tuesday chapter of mary Poppins were changed to animals in travers' last revision

I've been listening to Cleary's henry Huggins books: beezus and henry dress up as a roma woman and a native American one Halloween. the terms "gypsy" and "indian" are used.

betsy and tacy go over the big hill has them and tib befriending a Lebanese Catholic immigrant, rescuing her from racist bullies and spending time others in her neighborhood . Winona's Pony cart has her including Lebanese Catholic kids(and other)at her bday without letting her mother know that more are expected. emily of deep valley has her befriending the Lebanese Catholics, helping them integrate into the town community and taking steps to help them obtain US citizenship.
posted by brujita at 2:44 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just re-read Anne of Green Gables and found it unproblematic and still lovely, weird gender role stuff aside.
posted by EmilyFlew at 2:53 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've recently re-read the following by George MacDonald and don't remember being shocked by anything (other than in a pleasant way, George MacDonald really was ahead of his time when it comes to the psychology of children):

The Princess and the Goblin
The Golden Key
The Lost Princess
The Day Boy and the Night Girl

Princess and the Goblin has some strong religious overtones but not in a way that felt oppressive, probably because God is represented by a kick-ass old lady.

Also recently re-read A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door. Read anew The Forgotten Door, The Wonderful O, The Ordinary Princess, The Owl Service, The Mouse and His Child, and the Chrestomanci series. I am a distracted reader so cannot guarantee there were no throwaway racist/sexist lines but definitely nothing central to the plot that I picked up on.
posted by brook horse at 3:02 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have to disagree about the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. They vary a lot book by book, but some required a lot of editing/discussion when I read them with my oldest kid a few years ago. Enough that I didn’t even bother doing them with my younger kid.
My younger kid and I did recently read The Pushcart War and it was pretty good, but there is definitely some casual sexism that was bad enough that I stopped to call it out.
posted by ElizaMain at 3:27 PM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

Despite mygothlaundry’s recommendation above, and my own appreciation of the books, I don’t think the Narnia books are what you want. They have a lot of vintage sexism, Christian imagery and overt messages of Christian superiority. The brown skinned nation of humans introduced in the later books have a mashup of Middle Eastern and Central Asian cultural signifiers and are not portrayed in a positive light - they and their evil god literally fight an apocalyptic war against the Narnians and their Christian god stand-in in the final book.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Little Prince recently won the Retro Hugo award for Best Novella. It's delightful, and I don't think it has any problematic content.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:42 PM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

My Father's Dragon!

Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy are more or less unobjectionable. There is virulent racism in the other Little House books, including lots of anti-Native American sentiment and a minstrel show
posted by ChuraChura at 3:52 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Wheel on the School should be ok. It’s about children in a small Dutch village trying to figure out how to bring the storks back.
posted by FencingGal at 3:56 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Laurence Yep writes really excellent books. His Golden Mountain series is about Chinese-American history. Dragonwings came out in 1975: I don't know if that's too late to count as a classic, but it's really good and also set in the 1890s.

If the 60s and 70s count, there were also Black writers doing children's books then, though many of those might require vetting to make sure they don't use antiquated language. The House of Dies Drear is from 1968. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is from 1976.

These are by white writers, but Island of the Blue Dolphins came out in 1961 and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is from 1977.
posted by storytam at 3:57 PM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

I would look at Noel Streatfields 'Shoes' series. Ballet Shoes, White Boots (about skates)....

Both have nice overall messages about perseverance and overcoming obstacles, and while 'dated' seem to hold up without being too dreadful.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wind in the Willows is awfully classist about the weasels though. That struck me even as a kid. The other characters are 'gentry'. The weasels are common, and therefore ruffians.

glasseyes, as someone who had exactly the same reservations as a child, I can most emphatically recommend Jan Needle’s Wild Wood, a socialist retelling of TWitW from the POV of the Wild Wooders.

I also recommend this to the OP, but IMO one should have read TWitW first to fully appreciate WW.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 4:05 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pa performs in a minstrel band in one of the Little House books, so, well, that's not great.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:23 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

One of the best classics, with a very relevant current message is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Estes has a series called The Moffats, that as I recall, was fine, and my kids loved it.
posted by momochan at 4:51 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series seems to hold up pretty well, although we haven’t yet gotten to the book where they befriend the Syrian immigrants on the other side of the valley - I’ll have to reread that one before reading it out loud. In my memory, everyone was kind and both groups learned about the other culture... but I didn’t remember so much racism in Little House in the Big Woods, either, so...

Also, I don’t know if this is a concern, but Tacy’s baby sister dies in the first book, and it gave my 5 year old a few weepy nights. Apparently it hadn’t made any impression on me as a kid.
posted by Kriesa at 5:35 PM on November 5, 2019

Seconding E.B. White.

Pippi Longstocking is sort of OK, although there are a few iffy bits.
posted by Kriesa at 5:38 PM on November 5, 2019

The Laura Ingalls Wilder books don't have a lot of overt racism

They literally present genocide as a valid point of view, multiple times.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:57 PM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Laura Ingalls books are wildly racist, with both minstrel shows and lots of violence against Indians. The Little Prince portrays child suicide as a happy ending, yikes. Try the L. Frank Baum Oz books, which are quite progressive in general, but not the Ruth Plumby Thompson ones, which are full of racist tropes.
posted by shadygrove at 7:52 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Pippi Longstocking is sort of OK, although there are a few iffy bits.

I mean...her absent father is a cannibal king.

How about Little Women? Or Heidi? A Girl of the Limberlost?
posted by the_blizz at 8:00 PM on November 5, 2019

Some others that haven't been mentioned yet that could be considered classics:

Understood Betsy
No Flying in the House
The Animal Family
My Side of the Mountain

The stories about Mowgli in the Jungle Book are totally fine. Most of the characters are animals and the people are just referred to as men; their race is not mentioned. Some of the other stories have problematic bits, Her Majesty's Servants being the worst.
posted by Redstart at 8:01 PM on November 5, 2019

A.A. Milne still holds up.
posted by slightlybewildered at 8:59 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Frank Stockton’s “The Griffin and the Minor Canon” is pretty non-problematic except for an iffy bit about the sick and the poor, but really nobody in the town escapes the griffin’s or the author’s contempt except the minor canon and maybe the three old women from the church.

I’m not familiar with his other work except “The Lady or the Tiger?” which I haven’t read since high school, so I don’t know if there’s bad stuff lurking in his other stories.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:22 PM on November 5, 2019

I love Anne of Green Gables, but the scene where the Jew peddler sells her black hair dye that turns her hair green? That was the most shocking thing 10 year old me had read at that time. I brought it to my mother, who had to tell me about antisemitism.

A wrinkle in time seems to hold up.

I read Little house on the prairie to my kids and had to censor it, because some of it was so hateful and racist.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:22 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Having reread Anne recently, it was an Italian peddler, not a Jew.
posted by bq at 10:33 PM on November 5, 2019

My bad on the Little House books, sorry! I only really remember the first one and Farmer Boy, which was always my favorite.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:46 PM on November 5, 2019

Thanks storytam, for reminding me of Lawrence Yep. I just bought three books for my niece.... after I re-read them
posted by unknown knowns at 10:51 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

no....marilla had told anne no Italians in the house; the peddler with the dye was a German Jew. obeying marilla, anne had him show her his wares outside.

just rechecked with Google books.
posted by brujita at 11:59 PM on November 5, 2019

It's not a children's book but ER Braithwaite's autobiographical To Sir With Love about his post war experiences as a Caribbean teacher in deprived areas of London is really engaging and also, eventually, heart warming. It brings up serious issues in a personal, progressive way and because the focus is on the children it reads like current young adult fiction. It's lovely. (Theres a film starring Sidney Poitier and Cilla Black which is watchable, at least)
posted by glasseyes at 12:33 AM on November 6, 2019

Nobody has mentioned The Hobbit yet or can one take it for granted everyone reads it now?
There's the Just William series by Richmal Crompton which are hilarious. I don't remember any dodgy stuff but you would need to pre-read each one to check just because the series began to be written in the 20s.
posted by glasseyes at 12:44 AM on November 6, 2019

Edward Eager is like a poor man’s E. E. Nesbit but happens to be less racist because of the intervention of fifty years as I recall.
posted by corb at 1:53 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Regarding Narnia, as a child of colonialism the subservient attitude of the native population to these literal (White British) children who suddenly showed up and were anointed rulers bugs the fuck out of me even without the subtle-as-an-anvil religious aspect. The native population manages fine on our own, thanks.

The Hobbit is better, although you do want to call out the anti-Semitism in how the dwarves are portrayed. Tolkien did do better with Gimli, so points to him.
posted by Tamanna at 3:59 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Possibly Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? I don't remember anything bad, but it's been a (long) while so I may have missed/forgotten problematic content.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:45 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

My love for Roald Dahl makes me want to suggest some of his novels here, but you definitely have to be careful. I just finished Danny the Champion of the World with my first-grader, and she loved it. Potential problems: they live in a self-described trailer from a gypsy caravan, and there's a totally needless few pages devoted to corporal punishment at school. Happily, I discovered you can swap in "camping trailer," and completely skip the chapter about the last day of school before the big heist, and it doesn't cause any loose plot threads.

Matilda should also be fine if you water down the horrible things the headmistress does to the kids, and The BFG isn't problematic, if you aren't too worried about the central premise, literal monsters who eat children.

A Wrinkle in Time and The Dark Is Rising are also excellent, though maybe for 3rd+ grade rather than first. Charlotte's Web is not problematic at all, though you're in for a sad time after the last chapter.
posted by Mayor West at 5:50 AM on November 6, 2019

Edward Eager is like a poor man’s E. E. Nesbit but happens to be less racist because of the intervention of fifty years as I recall.

I love Edward Eager, but didn't recommend him because the children travel in time and space and, as I recall, some of their encounters are patronizing if not downright racist. And, to tie in with some of the above, one of their visits is to Laura Ingalls Wilder's time (probably On the Banks of Plum Creek), so you have all the implications that make Wilder potentially unsuitable. It's all pretty mild though. I certainly enjoyed all of them, multiple times, as a kid.
posted by ubiquity at 7:39 AM on November 6, 2019

Half Magic is another good one that should work for you
posted by Mchelly at 8:27 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

The frog and toad books. The (original) Winnie the Pooh series is not only not problematic, it's quite funny.
Anti-recommendation for The Saturdays in which 'gypsies' kidnap a kid and a girl is shamed for painting her fingernails (the horror!)
posted by last_fall at 2:32 PM on November 6, 2019

I think any book by Natalie Babbit would work. I love The Search For Delicious and Tuck Everlasting best, but everything she writes is wonderful. It has been some years since I have read any of them so a quick preview might be in order just in case, but I'm pretty certain they're good to go. Only thing is most all the characters are white. Also The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell, is a GREAT book with a gentle story about family being who you choose. Bonus! The illustration is done by the late Maurice Sendak. Don't miss that one. It's truly lovely.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:16 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone - I now have a very full list to work through.
posted by bq at 12:54 PM on November 8, 2019

FIrst some anti-recommendations to help you judge my tastes: I remember Roald Dahl as a nasty little person who writes nasty pettinesses. T.H. White's stories about King Arthur ("The Once and Future King," "The Sword in the Stone") show surprising amounts of ethnocentrism and stereotyping, but I guess you could use them as a springboard to discuss how some forms of child abuse work? Ha ha.

I enthusiastically second the recommendation of "Understood Betsy," which has a conveniently expired copyright.

free audiobook:
free text:

When your child reaches a maturity level where you can discuss how people sometimes partly misunderstand other people of different cultures and nationalities, I suggest you look into Richard Kipling's "Kim."

Kipling's "Captains Courageous" is also a possibility, although some parts near the beginning could frighten small children.
posted by cattypist at 2:11 AM on December 30, 2019

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