Do We HAVE to Read Children’s Classics?
I recently started as a librarian in a new school library. I love my job. I get to show kids how fun libraries are, and we get to read fun books and books that speak to them about injustice. (No one is more outraged about injustice than elementary kids.) I get to have awesome conversations about books and show kids how interconnected libraries are. But as I’m wrangling stacks of the loose-pages from Pokemon books and a perpetual shortage of copies from the Amulet series, I’m also curating a library that will give my readers, who all kids born after the 2008 Recession, a great launch into their 21st Century lives. There are SO MANY amazing children’s books being published right now and I can’t wait for my kids to get to read them.
We’ve got Creepy Carrots and The First Rule of Punk and Do Not Lick This Book and Ghost and Karma Khullar’s Mustache. Yet with my limited shelf space, I am also questioning the value of old books. There are the old books that no one reads because they are too tattered to look appealing. There are the old books that have weird old ’80s or ’90s covers that kids in 2018 are not going to pick up. And then there are the old ones that are not getting read much and they are full of outdated ideas about race, gender, and historical narrative.
As I question these books in my own library, I also wonder about them in general. Some of them are beloved classics that people remember from their own childhoods. But what if children didn’t have to unlearn all of the old ideas that we find distasteful now?
What if readers never read books that showed blackface as an unquestioned good time?
What if we never needed to learn that Native Americans are people, because we had never read anything that suggested that they aren’t?
What if we hadn’t read books that used fat-shaming jokes or only portrayed heteronormative relationships?
What if kids read so many books at the forefront of social thought that they can’t even fathom how people accepted exclusionary ideas?
What if we let our childhood favorites remain in the past?