List Love 6: Top 10 politically incorrect kids books

I am in a reviewing slump at the moment, so here is a bit of list love:

Top 10 politically incorrect kids books

I came across this list when I was researching the Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting (which I loved as a child), and thought it would be interesting to take a look at them. I think when adults read children’s books, they tend to forget that children generally don’t read much between the lines of books, and pretty much take a situation at face value. I know that when I was a child, I never noticed any racism in any of the books in this list that I read at that time.

Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Politically incorrect because: it is offensive to Native Americans.
I have read this one, but it was so long ago that I don’t feel up to commenting on it. I do remember that I liked reading these books as a child/teenager, but I didn’t love them.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Politically incorrect because: it is offensive to black people, due to racist terms and mentions of slavery.
While the language and attitudes towards black people described in the book are offensive, the text itself does not feel racist to me. The book tells me how white people at the time thought and spoke of black people, but it does not tell me that this is right and I should do the same, and in fact does quite the opposite by showing the prejudiced folks as bad or stupid. Jim is a sympathetic, sometimes even heroic, character, and we must remember that when Finn calls him by the infamous N-word, he isn’t being racist as such, he is simply using a term someone of his race and class would have commonly used for a black person (I also realise that this knowledge doesn’t make it any easier for black people to read the book because the casual way in which the damn word is used jumps out at you). While Jim is superstitious and uneducated it is because he was never given a chance to be anything else and not because Twain wants us to think black people are stupid.

Kim - Rudyard Kipling
Politically incorrect because: its endorsement of British colonialism in India.
I haven’t read this one, but it think it is telling that many Indians, including two I know personally, love this book and seem to find it charming rather than offensive.

The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant - Jean de Brunhoff
Politically incorrect because: it appears to justify French colonialism.
I haven’t read the book, only seen the cartoons, so I can’t really be a judge of this one. But, for heaven’s sake: it’s about animals that wear clothes and talk and behave like people, and unlike Animal Farm, it was written for young children. Exactly how much of the supposed subliminal message do people think kids are going to absorb?

Noddy Cheers Up Big Ears - Enid Blyton
Politically incorrect because: it is offensive to black people because of the golliwogs, and some have seen an endorsement of homosexuality in it.
My brother was given some of these books when I was a child. I hated Noddy because I thought he was so dumb, but any supposedly offensive content went completely over my head. Except for the Golliwogs. See more on those below.

The Story of Dr. Dolittle - Hugh Lofting
Politically incorrect because: it shows Africans as generally simple and even stupid. (A later book in the series promotes the "noble savage" stereotype of Native Americans).
This is an interesting one. I never saw any racism in them until it was pointed out to me in later years. The African characters were, to me, simply different, and maybe not very sensible people, but I was too young to realise that this was supposed to have anything to do with skin colour. The problem, however, isn’t just one of racial stereotyping, it is one of general and rampant anglocentrism - which can be said to plague a lot of books by a lot of British authors. Everyone who isn’t English is inferior in some way, and in fact, any Englishperson will always be inferior to the noble doctor and to most of his animals as well.

The Story of Little Black Sambo - Helen Bannerman
Politically incorrect because: The term Sambo and the illustrations in the original book.

Here, it seems to me it was mostly the illustrations that were considered offensive, plus of course the Sambo name, which has negative racial connotations. When I read it as a child, I didn’t see Sambo as a real black boy – I saw him as a black doll, because of the way he was drawn in the Icelandic version.

The Three Golliwogs - Enid Blyton
Politically incorrect because:  the depiction of the golliwogs.
Another case of offensive illustrations, and of course the word “golliwog” has negative racial connotations. I don’t remember what the golliwogs were called in Icelandic, but I don’t remember it as being a racist term. I did think they were ugly, but never connected them with black people, possibly because the stories were all about live toys and not "real" people.

Tintin Au Congo - Hergé
Politically incorrect because: of its depiction of Africans.
When I first read this I was old enough to find the appearance of the Africans in the book distasteful – I thought it was not a nice interpretation of black people when compared with the white people in the story.

And Then There Were None (Originally: Ten Little Niggers, then Ten Little Indians) - Agatha Christie.
Politically incorrect because: of the the original title and the inclusion of the rhyme.
I didn't know this was considered a children's book, but maybe the person who compiled the original list couldn't find any others? Or perhaps they confused the Christie book with the original rhyme (which, by the way, is very racist because of its use of the word 'nigger'). The Christie book isn't racist (unless you consider it racist to not have included any non-white characters in it), apart from the original title and the inclusion of the rhyme, which has been toned down in later editions by substituting the"Ten little Indians" version for the original.

Comments

Dorte H said…
When you consider the time they were written, I think there is some kind of understanding for the Indians in The Little House.

Though I really enjoyed Blyton´s Five series as a child, I think it is rather horrible now when I think back. All the prejudices against working class children she sneaked in though a Danish child didn´t really see it.

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