November 20, 2006

On Politically Correct Children's Books

Okay, so back to children's books. Sunday's Columbus Dispatch had a huge multi-page spread on the subject, with plentiful suggestions. Award winners were mentioned, as well as suggestions from an august local panel of children's book experts. (Oddly, the names on the panel were in the print edition only. Paper is ephemeral but digital lasts forever.)

Now here's my take. It seems like there are a few basic givens in the award winners and Dispatch selectees. The message of the stories is usually a good one - that the outcast should be accepted. But the choice of the outcast is predictable and has been for thirty years (i.e. Nazism, not Communism - bookburnings by Nazis, not by Stalinites). The villians are likewise predictable (think business and institutional religion). It's not that the victims aren't "worthy" victims, it's just funny how they're never Christians. Not an evangelical or a Catholic in the group, never set in a country like China today or Russia under Communism.

Fit subjects are: the Holocaust, slavery, minorities, even vegetarians being teased by their meat-eating schoolmates. (You say, "why don't you go to a Christian publisher if you want stories about Christians?" That's true, but I always think, perhaps unfairly, that the quality will be low. I always think that if I ever see a book with a Christian scapegoat/outcast in the Columbus Dispatch then it must be an incredibly well-written book. The problem with Christian publishers is the bar is too low. The problem with liberal newspapers is the bar is too high. Rock, meet hard place.)

So below are examples immediately found while skimming the Dispatch page. The historical-fiction choices were especially politically correct:
Weedflower - The life of a Japanese-American family is dramatically changed with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Patterson - the story of the 1912 textile workers' strike in Lawrence, Mass.

The Loud Silence of Francine Green - A transfer student who raises issues of freedom of speech and the Hollywood blacklist upsets the norm at an all-girl Roman Catholic school in 1949-1950 Los Angeles.

The Legend of Bass Reeves - Story of a runaway slave who later became a cattle rancher

Copper Sun - a 15-yr Ashanti is abducted by slavers

The Pox Party - A black youth is raised in Revolutionary War-era Boston.

Porch Lies - The African-American traditions of storytelling are celebrated.

The Cat with the Yellow Star - Rubin tells the story of Ela Weissberger, a Holocaust survivor.

Bella at Midnight - Bella discoveres she's actually the daughter of a knight...The medieval tale includes a worthy heroine with a 21st-century feminism. [Wow..21st century feminism].
Perhaps I should simply be grateful that most of the stories have the excellent message of looking out for others. But the sheer predictability of the protagonists and antagonists has reached the land of parody....Hmm...maybe I should work on the story of a Japanese-American sold into slavery, later forced to work at a textile mill where she is silenced by her Roman Catholic captors because she doesn't want the Hayes Code instituted. Instead I bought a couple gift books from here (scroll down).

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