And What About Nostalgia?

Nostalgia reigns in the world of children’s books. What grown-up doesn’t have fond memories of books read or listened to in that enchanted time we call childhood? What parent wouldn’t want to buy their child a shelfload of those very same books? And yet, and yet…

I think about the Enid Blyton books that were my staple youthful reading, and I am frankly tired of the racism they contained, some of it veiled and some of it not so much. I think of The Little House on the Prairie books and Dr. Seuss. I tell myself I’d much rather see children reading anti-racist books. What are we doing, still feeding kids that old poison?

But what about the grownup world? Should we forget those books existed? Or does calling them out also call out the attitudes they’re infused with, attitudes that have not gone away?

It’s the question Angelica Jade Bastién asks in her article, first published in 2017: What are We to Do with Cinematic Monuments to the Confederacy?

Excerpt:

What makes Gone With the Wind’s racism so important and difficult to taxonomize is the deftness of its characterization. The white characters in the film, including minor bit players, feel real, complex, and human in ways many period epics fail to conceptualize. They are heroes it can be hard not to root for. For all her cruelty and selfishness, Scarlett’s prickly nature make her a fascinating anti-heroine. Yet everyone — including Melanie, one of the most selfless and naïvely angelic women ever portrayed in film — are still complicit in, and directly benefit from, the enslavement of black people. 

Dr. Seuss still dominates, witness this exhibition in Toronto at the end of last year, before Covid-19 shuttered all such mass extravaganzas. When the ALSC decided to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, a mere 2 years ago, there was pushback. Nostalgia dies hard, it seems. I wonder if those who hold it dear know just how its effects are playing out in the lives of real children.