What do we do about bad words in good books? asks Stephanie Cohen on Acculturated.
Author Dan Gutman, known for his My Weird School series and a baseball time travel series, responded on Facebook to parent asking whether it was appropriate to use “the n-word” in children’s books. The parent’s 10-year old son is reading Gutman’s book, Jackie & Me, about ballplayer Jackie Robinson, who integrated the Major Leagues.
In other books, Gutman has used symbols instead of curse words, the parents wrote. Why not here to replace a racial slur?
Gutman replied that he’d struggled with the question when he wrote the book 18 years ago. He decided that leaving it out would not describe accurately what Robinson went through in 1947. “I haven’t regretted my decision,” Gutman wrote. “Thousands of kids have learned about race relations and the civil rights movement by reading Jackie & Me.”
Five years ago, a publisher released a “less hurtful, less controversial” version of Huckleberry Finn that refers to Slave Jim and Indian (rather than Injun) Joe. It’s meant to be more acceptable in classrooms.
These are “teachable moments” for parents, writes Cohen.
When I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my three oldest children, I . . . told the kids that the next word was a very bad word . . . Reading the word, of course, prompted questions about when the word was used, who used it, why they used it, and whether anyone would still use it today.
Parents should not “shield our children from hearing evil or seeing the wrongs of the past,” writes Cohen. “Our job as parents is to teach them how to be righteous people in their own moment of history and how to prepare to teach righteousness to their own children.”
Alice Hemmer’s favorite part of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” doesn’t involve the drug-addled cross-country road trips, encounters with prostitutes in Mexico or wild parties in Manhattan. Alice, who is 5 and lives in a Chicago suburb, likes the part when Sal Paradise eats ice cream and apple pie whenever he feels hungry.
Soon to come is a kiddie version of To Kill a Mockingbird “minus the rape charges, Ku Klux Klan rallies and racial slurs.”
What’s the point?