What we read to children matters…

Over on my Instagram I asked a question… 

Why are people STILL reading Dr Seuss and David Walliams?

However, I do want to acknowledge that whilst I picked out these two authors for the post, there are SO MANY more I could have mentioned. 

From Enid Blyton to Roald Dahl and JK Rowling. 

So the question is: WHY are they still being read to children and by chilren?   

WHY is there no accountability? 

The books we choose matter…

What we read to and with children matters. 

Books are something I passionately believe are one of our most important resources as educators. There are endless benefits of reading to children daily. The most obvious one being the rich language stories provide for them.

However, books are so much more than just that, than words on a page. They are full of opportunities. The opportunity for a child to feel represented and validated, to feel encouraged, to be adventurous. They provide the opportunity for children to learn about the world around them; from countries, cultures and communities to the climate crisis threatening their future. 

The power in Early Years is the freedom it provides. The freedom of exploration, of expression, the open-ended nature of the play and of the provision. The potential to educate the children on anything they choose, whenever they choose. 

What we read to our children feeds directly into that. What they see and hear influences that play, expression and that exploration. What we read opens the children’s eyes to new ideas and starts new conversations. 

Children need to see positive role-models. They need to see themselves, their friends, their family represented in a positive way. They need to see their experiences represented. They need confidence to enable them to feel they can be themselves, without any negative consequences. 

What better way is there to build a child’s ‘cultural capital’, (to quote the buzz phrase of 2019) than through the power of books? Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to give children the first-hand experiences we might like. But you can still teach, talk and learn about these experiences via books. An example from my practice that springs to mind was when we were reading a brilliant book about Ramadan (it is featured on my Instagram), and a child in the group started to ask questions about a Mosque. Due to a range of factors, including the location of our provision, most of our children have no awareness of Islam as a religion nor have they seen a Mosque before, so using another wonderful book called ‘In my Mosque’ (by M. O. Yuksel) I was able to teach the children about Mosques and extend their knowledge in that moment. 

Now let’s think about the books we choose to share with children…

Question:

What about JK Rowling? Should we not read her books because of the views she holds regardless of the characters within? 

I would argue we shouldn’t.

In some ways JK Rowling is different from the other authors I have mentioned as her inclusion is primarily due to her views on Transgender people rather than the characters within her books. (It is worth noting however that one of her newest books called ‘Troubled Blood’ contains a character that is called at best ‘tone-deaf’ by the Guardian.) However, regardless of the characters featured in her books why should we continue to encourage children to buy and read books written by someone who is transphobic and someone who has openly described herself as a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.) 

If she and the other authors mentioned are allowed to continue writing and have new work published and celebrated without any accountability aren’t we just normalising (or at least accepting) their views and those that are held within their books? 

So what can you do? 

Well firstly by being silent you are being complicit. 

Accountability is needed and you can make that happen. You can hold them to account. 

It is evident to me that there is a huge lack of awareness regarding some, if not all of these authors. It’s either a lack of awareness or people are aware but choose to ignore the views held by and stereotypes perpetuated by these authors. 

Whatever the reason, it is not an excuse.  

Clearly, I understand this subject can be emotive, I have mentioned this before. Some of these authors may invoke personal childhood memories or your child might be bringing these stories home from school or talking about them with their friends. I know of many examples of schools still reading Dr Seuss with their children and having David Walliams or JK Rowling as their class authors. This is clearly a problem – or at least it should be. 

It can be uncomfortable to reflect on your life experiences and what helped to shape your views and the person you are today. It can uncomfortable to talk to your children about why their favourite book has harmful stereotypes in it. It can be uncomfortable to challenge a colleague or class teacher or friend about their views or those of the people they are promoting. But just because it is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. 

A quote from Professor Kehinde Andrews shared by Liz Pemberton a.k.a @theblacknurserymanager (you HAVE to follow her on social media if you don’t already), describes this perfectly. 

“We need to be in the discomfort and stay there in order to change.” 

I strongly urge you to educate and challenge class teachers, colleagues, publishers, or anyone else who encourages you or your children to read these books. 

Over on my Instagram, on the post for this article, you will find a list of excellent Instagram accounts full of many stories that represent a diverse range of communities and experiences. 

I have purposely not directly detailed examples in this post of the harmful stereotypes or dangerous views held and shared by some of these authors, but I will add links at the bottom of the page to some further reading if you should choose to read further. (Some of the articles DO contain Triggering information detailing the views of these authors.) 

Further reading: 

JK Rowling: 

https://www.glamour.com/story/a-complete-breakdown-of-the-jk-rowling-transgender-comments-controversy/amp

Enid Blyton: 

https://inews.co.uk/culture/enid-blyton-english-heritage-blue-plaque-racist-1057868

David Walliams: 

https://amp.theguardian.com/books/2021/oct/04/harpercollins-removes-story-from-david-walliams-book-the-worlds-worst-children

Roald Dahl:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/entertainment-arts-55205354

https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20160912-the-dark-side-of-roald-dahl

Dr Seuss:

https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/its-time-to-talk-about-dr-seuss

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/02/26/695966537/classic-books-are-full-of-problems-why-cant-we-put-them-down?t=1614688842541

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/536625/

https://amp.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/07/dr-seuss-books-product-recall-cancel-culture?utm_term=Autofeed&CMP=twt_gu&utm_medium=&utm_source=Twitter&__twitter_impression=true