Z and I read two older chapter books recently, one from 1960 and the other from 1965, and I have been faced with the realization that some children's books age far better than others.
The book from 1960 (here if you're curious) is a Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book. And yet, I found myself cringing in parts as I read it out loud to Z. The racially-stereotyped language and emotions for the various characters (Chinese and Italian mostly) were so discomforting that I found myself changing words as I went along. There were no "pronunciation" spellings but the grammar was terrible (for the "Chinaman") and the vocabulary was skewed (for the Italian mama). I didn't want these stereotypes to be incorporated into Z's world view. I believe they belong to a different era -- one where Mickey Rooney can put in some fake teeth, yellow his face, use bad grammar and pass as Japanese.
The book from 1965 (this one), on the other hand, didn't use any sixties slang or stereotypes. There were only two things I had to change or explain as I read. The first was the word "aspirin" because Z just hears name brands now. So I just told him it was medicine like Motrin and moved on. The second was "zwieback" -- something I haven't heard mentioned since the seventies. I just started saying "crackers" instead because I couldn't quite remember what it was! Besides these product references, the characters all spoke in normal ways and we had no problems getting through the story.
Sidenote: Strangely, both books refer to facial tissue as Kleenex -- which my mom (a child of the 60's) has never called anything else but Kleenex. It took years for me to realize it was a name brand!
So, readers, what do you think? Should all children's books remain on the shelves forever as representatives of their times? Does an award nomination or win make a book valuable forever? Or should some books be "retired" to archival status once their messages are far enough from what we want our children learning?
Do you have any examples of children's books that you think have aged especially well or somewhat poorly?
Finding the balance between sentiment and value,