I have been reading aloud to Lucia the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved them as a child, and reread them many times. While I recoiled at the racist depictions of Native American Indians and African-Americans (the minstrel show in Little Town on the Prairie) and was able to filter them out, it never occurred to me until I was an adult how these books might affect American Indian and African-American children. Why not? I certainly was affected by reading a lot of classics and contemporary books that were demeaning to women and girls.
Lucia first learned about the Little House books when one of her classmates dressed up as Mary, Laura's older sister. When my father sent out my dolls that had been stored in his attic for over 20 years, I gave Lucia the dolls that I had named Laura and Mary (Fisher Price My Friend dolls from the 1970's). She asked again about the books. I told her that the stories were good, but that there were certain things I objected to. I decided to read them aloud to her with some editing involved plus age-appropriate discussion about those sections.
"Laura" and "Mary" in their little bed
A couple of years ago, I brought up the issue of the Little House books with an online community, and my qualms about reading aloud a beloved series that I nonetheless had problems with. No one came out and directly accused me of censorship, but the term was bandied about. I didn't think that was fair. I didn't say others shouldn't read the books or that they should be removed from the shelves. I talked about my misgivings about giving the books to my own daughter, for whom I am supposed to be a responsible, conscientious parent. When I decided to read the books to Lucia, it was with the idea that this would be her introduction to the stories. Later, when she was older and had more critical thinking skills in place, she could read the books in their entirety.
It's almost two months since Lucia and I started reading the Little House books together. We're on These Happy Golden Years with no plans to continue on to the dreary The First Four Years, published after the deaths of both Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. We've talked about the issues mentioned above, plus the settlers' sense of entitlement to the land, and I think Lucia understands them as much as a 6 1/2 year old can understand.
While she enjoys the stories, Lucia is most fascinated with the clothes described. Last night, she interrupted my reading aloud to ask "What's a polonaise?"
"I think it's a bodice like a basque," I replied.
Please feel welcome to share in the comments or your own blog posts your experiences of being alienated by books beloved to others or your struggles with "problem books" you enjoyed as children.