Continuing on to day four of Children's Book Week brings me to several books that I like, or at least find interesting in one way or another, but frankly, am scared to death to share. But I'm going to do it anyway, so don't act all surprised.
There are several books in this list that you'd be hard-pressed to find, especially with their original content. Today they are considered to be at the very least, insensitive, and at the very most, really, really, REALLY insensitive. And while part of me entirely understands those feelings, another part of me cannot help but feel that it's a shame, because every book has a story to tell and a place in history. And I have to say that in their time I don't believe these books were written with the intention to disparage other people and races. Much like the content in a story like Gone With the Wind, you can't tell a story of the civil war without slaves and slavery. You can't tell this story without Prissy yelling, "I don't know nothing about birthin' no babies" and without Mammy calling Emmy Slattery "po' white trash." None of it is necessarily flattering, but it was the language and the social situation of the day.
Favorite Uncle Remus Tales by Joel Chandler Harris
These were the stories of Brer' Fox, Brer' Bear, and Brer' Rabbit. Of course, Brer' Fox and Brer' Bear weren't too smart, and Brer' Rabbit was always finding ways to trick them. These were read to me as a child, and I always loved GramTuna's extra theatrical declaration "PLEASE don't throw me in the briar patch!" which, as I think of it, sounded very similar to Roger Rabbit.
Of course, The Uncle Remus Tales were later turned into the Disney movie, Song of the South back in 1946, but this film hasn't seen the light of day (commercially speaking) in several decades. And it's all the more a pity since it has some of Disney's most memorable songs, including "Zippity Doo-Dah." Interesting tidbits about the film include the fact that November 12th was the 61st anniversary of the film (did you miss it? Yeah, I did too), and according to the all things Song of the South website, there is scuttle that the film just might be released in 2008 or 2009. There is also speculation that if the film were to be released on DVD to the public, it might include some educational documentary material that would explain how and why the film was made with a sort of "look how far we've come as a nation" kind of bent to help appease those who would be upset by the film's release. I think it's a great compromise. Preserve and honor the original piece, but include explanations and education to keep it in perspective.
Little Black Sambo
by Helen Bannerman
In a somewhat cringe-worthy manner, at the bottom of the Uncle Remus page on Amazon, they list several other culturally insensitive books they think I might enjoy. Top of the list? Little Black Sambo. And I don't know whether to be embarrased or proud that Amazon and I share the same brain, but I was fully intending to include this story.
All I can say in my defense, is I never thought of Little Black Sambo as anything more than a tale of a very clever boy who managed to outwit some hungry tigers, and got a very good breakfast out of the deal at the same time. And I couldn't wait to get to the part of the story where the tigers had fancy shoes on their ears.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl
It might seem unusual to see Charlie listed alongside Little Black Sambo and Uncle Remus. But the original 1964 version (of which, for some reason, I own two) was overhauled in 1973 to sanitize the description of the poor Oompa-Loompas. In the original book, they were "dark-skinned pygmies from the heart of Africa." The 1973 version had them as "small “hippy” people with long golden-brown hair and rosy-white skin." No longer from the heart of Africa, now they hailed (most predictably) from "Loompaland." More politically correct? Sure, I guess, unless you have long golden-brown haired and rosy-white skin. Then, maybe not so much. And then there is that whole sticky wicket of colonialism as Willy Wonka "rescues" the Oompa-Loompas from their plight. Still in all, I love the hard-bound, hard-to-find original version that featured real Oompa Loompas, and not abnormally orange ones.
Wonderful choices. Of course, being a library-type person too, I have all sorts of issues with censorship. I also never understood the whole 'ostrich' mentality, where if we pretend it didn't happen, maybe it will go away.
I grew up with Uncle Remus and Sambo too -- loved them, especially Brer Rabbit.
Hold on to those two copies - special editions are precious.
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