Racism in Classic Kids' Book Is a Bad Excuse for Banning It

Pippi LongstockingSome parenting trends are pretty easy to get behind. When someone says let's all raise our kids to be readers, it's a big ol' race to see who can fill those IKEA shelves faster. But while we're smack dab in yet another "get the kids to put down the video games and pick up a book" venture -- better known as National Young Readers Week -- news that yet another classic children's book is being ripped to shreds is a good reminder that it takes a lot more to be a good parent than following the trends.

A German theologian is arguing that Swedish classic Pippi Longstocking is racist. Parents jumping on the book-challenging bandwagon are technically correct. So what? If you're a good parent, does it even matter?


The first three books about the freckle-faced kid with the carrot-colored braids were written by Astrid Lindgren in the 1940s. At that time, Swedish citizens found it acceptable to use terminology that was completely inappropriate. Swedish publishers -- and eventually publishers worldwide -- likewise thought it was just fine to include said wording in books for kids.

They were wrong. But it happened.

Guess what parents? A lot of crappy stuff has happened in this world. Slavery. The Holocaust.

But we don't tell our kids' schools to stop teaching about them because they are in the past. It's common sense. We encourage them to cover history in order to give our kids the perspective necessary to prevent those atrocities from resurfacing. If they learn young that something is bad or inappropriate, they're set up for a lifetime of avoiding it.

So why wouldn't the same be true for the books they read?

You may want your kids to read books so they'll develop a kickass vocabulary that will help them slam dunk the SATs. I want my kid to read books because school shouldn't be the only place for her to learn more about the world (past, current, and future).

Dr. Eske Wollrad, a feminist theologian from Germany's Federal Association of Evangelical Women, says parents should skip over the racist language or skip the books. I think that's a cop-out.

It's my job to give my kid context for what she reads, not pretend the world has always been full of glitter and unicorns. I need to read books to her/with her, and explain that a racist reference in Pippi Longstocking reflects the times when it was written. I need to use it as a jumping-off point to explain how far we, as a society, have come.

You'd explain what a VCR is in a kiddie book from the '90s. I gave my kid a lesson on iceboxes when we read Mr. Popper's Penguins (written in 1938). Stop being so afraid of talking to your kids. If you want to raise a reader, this is part of the job.

What children's books from your childhood did you discover had references you had to explain to your kids -- positive or negative?


Image via Amazon

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