Kids don’t know about best sellers. They go for what they enjoy. They aren’t star chasers and they don’t suck up. It’s why I like them.
— Maurice Sendak
Enid Blyton’s Noddy books were taboo for years when I was a kid. You could not find them on the library shelves, in either public or school libraries, and they were hard to find in the shops too.
Some adult, at some point, decided they promoted racism, sexism and homophobic tendencies — then everyone jumped on that bandwagon and an enjoyable, imaginative series became thought of as mud.
All the unavailability of Noddy did was make me want to find one to read.
When I eventually got my hands on one, I read it and thought, ‘Meh.’ The storyline didn’t float my boat, so I didn’t bother pursuing the others in the series.
But, those so-called themes didn’t exactly jump out at me either — in fact, it wasn’t until many years later, as a college student studying Children’s Literature, that I even knew why Noddy had been banned. And, even then, I really had to search the text to find clear examples — ones that kids would pick up on.
My point is this: Kids don’t actually see a lot of what adults think they might see. They enjoy a good story for what it is — entertaining, funny, great characters … whatever. If they like a story, they will read it (or want it read) again and again; if they don’t like a story, they won’t even finish it.
It is adults who look deeply into stories (or into their own sad little minds in some cases) and say, ‘Ooh … this stereotypes women,’ or, ‘Oh no, this encourages racism.’
The word is that publishers of children’s books tend to, on the whole, shy away from such themes. The fear being, maybe, the book will turn out to be another Noddy. It makes me wonder how many truly wonderful tales have been passed on because they dare touch on a ‘taboo’ theme.
Walker Books deserve a medal because they dared publish a picture book with not one but two scary themes — death and zombies.
OMG!! Somebody call the children’s book police!
Admittedly, My Dead Bunny (written by Sigi Cohen and illustrated by James Foley) is recommended for older readers … but Walker Books did not shy away from publishing it.
As Maurice Sendak states: ‘Kids aren’t star chasers and they don’t suck up.’ Basically, if they like something, they’ll say so; if they don’t, they will also say so.
How many children say, completely off their own bat, ‘Oh dear, this book applauds racism,’ or ‘We shouldn’t have this book in our library because it reinforces gender stereotypes.’
As a general rule, most kids I have ever come across DO NOT DO THIS — unless they are guided by an adult in their thinking. They also don’t tend to read things into a story that weren’t there in the first place.
I am not advocating that we all go out and write or buy openly racist, sexist or homophobic children’s books. They will certainly be out there in some form, I’m sure.
But, neither should we look for evils in children’s books, particularly ones published in a different time to now, then stop children from enjoying the stories because we think they will draw a certain message from them.
Instead, I feel our time would be better spent sharing great books with our children, then educating them on accurate inferring and critical reading.
If we stop children from reading certain books, they will probably want to read them all the more, like I did. And if we don’t openly discuss perceived themes, then children, being children, will wonder why we are being so tight-lipped and will draw their own conclusions.
Or, they will go looking for stuff that isn’t there — thus turning into adults and losing the ability to enjoy things for what they are.