Thursday, October 07, 2010

You're Invited! A Cuci Mata Read of Classic Children's Books

I recently learned from Karen Lotz, publisher of Candlewick, that the Indonesian phrase Cuci Mata means a "washing of the eyes." Aha! I thought. The perfect metaphor for my new feature on Mitali's Fire Escape.

While we may not want to bowdlerize the classics of the past, we are eager to grow in our ability to discern both anachronistic and universal attitudes in stories (even, and perhaps especially, in our own). Every month, we'll choose a novel written by a now-dead—no hurt feelings that way—children's book author and explore attitudes towards race, class, gender, and culture as revealed in that story. What stands the test of time in this novel?

Our goal is not to critique and condemn these beloved authors with arrogant "we-know-better-than-you" twenty-first century eyes. We will wash our eyes, see in a fresh way, and find elements in these stories to celebrate as universally relevant. But we also want to notice what the authors themselves might have wished they could change for today's young readers.

I invite you to join me the first week of each month, either here on the Fire Escape, where I'll be blogging my thoughts about the books and asking questions, on your own blog or Facebook page, or via Twitter using the hashtag #kidclassic. I'm trying to pick lesser-known novels written by famous authors. Here's what I've scheduled so far:

November: Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

(Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword to the re-issue of this novel from HarperPerennial as a labor of love, but don't let that stop you from seeing it with fresh eyes and speaking to us about what you see.)

December: An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

January: The Well-Wishers by Edward Eager

Other suggestions?

If you're going to join us, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks so much!


Photo courtesy of ryawesome via Creative Commons

15 comments:

Sarah Rettger said...

I'm in! Love this idea.

Astha said...

I'll join in!

Karen D said...

I love Old-Fashioned Girl. It's been a long time since I've reread it. (i was thinking about it a few days ago)
A really weird one with this issue is the Elsie Densmore series. For some reason it is seems to be very popular now in Christian bookstores.
I read a lot of the series as an adult and then I came across this in the 5 or 6th book - not exact quote. She is talking to one of their slaves and tells him "everyone will be white in Heaven" and of course he is estactic !!!!! I read that over 10 years ago, and still remember the shock. I won't be buying those books for my kids cause quite frankly the story/writing isn't good enough to make it worth bothering with. Secret Garden or Little Princess on the other hand; yes, they have issues, but IMO, they are worth the time and effort (ok I am biased Secret Garden is one of my favorite books).

E. Nichols said...

Great idea! I'm looking forward to the reading and the discussion.

Melanie Kimball said...

I am in as well. I have to confess that "An Old Fashioned Girl" is my very favorite LMA story and I reread it from time to time. (I re-read lots of my favorites)

Melanie

Sherry said...

What a great idea! I'll try to join. I must admit that I usually skim over issues of this sort in books of the past. Then, my little white WASP (yes, I know redundant) self wonders what all the fuss is about. I'd like to become more aware, not condemning as you said, just aware.

Charlotte said...

I'm in! I love all three of these books, but have never subjected them to serious Thought.

gail said...

I love this kind of thing. I will try to read the Alcott book before December so I can take part with that one.

The Brain Lair (KB) said...

Such a great idea. We need to spread it around a little. I've never read any of these books...

mclicious said...

Little House on the Prairie (black doctor, as I recall, plus fights with "Indians") or Little Town on the Prairie (minstrel show and other things) might be interesting.

Mitali Perkins said...

So glad you guys are up for this--please spread the word. LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE is a great idea; I'll add it to the schedule. I met an Indonesian friend today and he told me the correct pronunciation is "Choochee Matta."

Rasco from RIF said...

I am looking forward to participating; what a great idea, Mitali!

olugbemisola said...

Fantastic idea! It's funny, I remember the Black doctor as being one of the more positive Prairie references. I loved Elizabeth Enright's work (still do); she had some passages that upset me as a child -- a few mentions of Native people, buck teeth equated with "a Japanese General's"...

Cindy said...

This is a really interesting concept. I would offer LM Montgomery's The Blue Castle as an option. It is my favorite of hers (mostly due to the gorgeously poetic writing about nature and the tempting theme of freedom from caring about what other people think of you) but it could fit into this meme. There is an interesting theme of class in this book - essentially old money vs. new money. Might be a good inclusion.

Mitali Perkins said...

I love, love, love THE BLUE CASTLE and am adding it to the list. Great suggestion.