The debate was about older classics like Babar the elephant, Little Black Sambo, Tintin and more and whether these are damaging for children to read. Are they imprinting unhealthy values on our children like colonialism, prejudism and racism?
They went on talking about how we don’t know what effect Little Black Sambo and other books have on children. We don’t know to what extent we are being prejudiced by the colonialism books. We know that children learn positive things from children’s books so of course they can also learn the bad things. But a book doesn’t begin and end with the book – there are a lot of stuff before and after the actual reading. But for some children the book does stand alone – what then?
One of the important debaters was Michael Rosen who had some interesting points – for instance that you could argue that the problem of Babar is both the representation of Africa as some strangely savage Eden that needs to be civilized, that Celeste is one step below the King Babar, that hierarchies are natural etc.
Of course some books have lasted very well – and others are so horrific that children shouldn’t read them at all anymore. In all genres there are books that become outdated in one way or the other and some children’s literature have aged rather badly and for various reasons shouldn’t be read anymore (except maybe by scholars).
I’m not quite sure what I think. I have two small children, the oldest is just two years old, so she’s slowly growing old enough to start reading books like this. But should she? I knew both Babar and Little Black Sambo when I was a child but they were not among my favourites so it doesn’t mean the world for me that my daughters should read these books.
I’m in a position of being able to explain to them the not so good parts of these books and I can give them something else to read to balance these books. But not all children have parents that have the time, the inclination or the opportunity to do this. Will these children be worse off? I have no idea and I don’t think anybody know. I know I don’t think these books should be banned because I don’t believe in banning books for any reason.
But should they be censored? I remember when Tintin was censored so Captain Haddock stopped swearing and smoking and I found it so silly. But what about doing something about Babar so the African people aren’t the lowest of the low, the idea of hierarchy isn’t presented as right and true etc. Or edit Little Black Sambo so it isn’t so racist? I think there could be some good in this. Maybe. Racism in any form, the idea of some people being better than other because of anything like skin color, where you were born etc, is just plain wrong. There is so much hatred in the world today so if you can stop some children growing up hating by censoring these old classics, shouldn’t you do so?
I think – after going back and forth on this – that my answer is no. No, you shouldn’t censor. You should never censor. Who is to determine what to censor anyway? Besides, children see the whole picture. If they grow up in a world where their parents respect other people, they go to school with all kinds of children, and they are exposed to a lot of different books, movies, games etc, reading Little Black Sambo will not make them racists. And if some children do not grow up in this world, maybe they will be racists. But these books are not what will push them over.
Like so many other things, you have to look at everything that influence children. I don’t believe that small children should watch the news but the appropriate thing to do about it is that the parents make sure they don’t – not to ban the news. And it’s the same with these books. If parents let their children read them, then they must make sure to put them into context and explain what’s wrong with them – and read other books that promote multiculturalism, appreciation of different values and cultures and the idea that it’s okay to be different.
The podcast can be found here (the discussion about this subject is towards the end of the podcast).
Anybody have any thoughts on this?