“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”
- Jo Godwin
It can be difficult to challenge our memories, our cherished favorites, even when we have grown in many other ways. Books from childhood hold an honored place, special to us because we read them again and again, shared them with loved ones and friends, and were excited to share them with our kids.
What happens when the books from our youth contain language, stereotypes, and situations that are problematic? I hold dear the times I read Laura Ingalls Wilder with my mom, acted out scenes with my cousins, and wrote my own stories as Laura. I had my copies of the books, ready to share them with my daughter. I started Little House in the Big Woods and reached my first “whoa” moment. We stopped and talked about it.
As librarians, we don’t have all the answers for you, but here are our tips for approaching those classics that have ideas and ideals that may not match your current views.
Why do you want to share this title with your family? Does it go beyond nostalgia? Are you willing to have conversations as you read it together?
What other books are available that cover the same topic, but in a more balanced, informed way? For example, if you really want to read about the pioneers, is there another book that also includes information about the impact on Indigenous communities? If not, are there books that you can read alongside the classic to create that balance?
Do Your Research. Not sure if you want to go there? Check out the resource pages on The Conscious Kid, A Mighty Girl, and Common Sense Media to learn more about the content of titles.
Learn and Talk as you go. We are not perfect beings; our educations (and memories) have gaps. Admit to your child what you do and do not know and learn together. Have those moments where the reading stops and you and your child check in about what happens in the book.
Ask a librarian. The world of children’s books is so much bigger than it ever has been. There is still room to grow, but there have been amazing strides in representation, information, and quality. Want suggestions of other titles to try that have the same feeling of a classic? We have lots of ideas to share, with no judgment. We’re here to support you and your family as you look for books.