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Stereotyping in Children’s Books

February 26, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Check this.

Books that have complaints:

Alcott, Louisa May. Eight Cousins (
“Eight Cousins is frequently disparaged because of its descriptions of Chinese people, but also because of its sexist representations of women.” 1
Baker, Betty. Little Runner of the Longhouse (Harper, 1962)
Banks, Lynn Reid. The Indian in the Cupboard (
“The Indian in the Cupboard is a novel with ethnocentrism undertones. A toy “Indian” that comes to life, only to be owned by a Caucasian boy has many implications. Indigenous Native Americans have been constantly attacked through inaccurate, insensitive, and offensive portrayals through literature – something that still occurs in modern literature.” 1
“Readers criticized the author for having Little Bear (the toy figurine) speak only broken English and view things in a simplistic way.
Many, including the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, pointed out that even the concept of owning a “plastic Indian” is problematic in and of itself.” 2
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan (
“In the text, the Native Americans are called a racial slur and display certain stereotypical characteristics like speaking in grunts and calling Peter Pan the “great white father.” Peter Pan himself uses a racial slur when referring to them.” 234
Benchley, Nathaniel. Red Fox and His Canoe (Harper & Row, 1964)
Bishop, Claire Huchet. The Five Chinese Brothers (
“Considered a controversial classic – Five Chinese brothers is criticized for many elements. The book illustrates all of the characters with the exact same faces, implying that all Chinese people look alike. The faces of the characters are illustrated with a uniform bright yellow to mock their skin color. The Seven Chinese Brothers is an often suggested alternative.” 1
Bridwell, Norman. Clifford’s Halloween (Four Winds, 1967)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Secret Garden (
“… has some blatantly racist lines…. colonizing overtones and outright racism against black and native people, and saying that they’re not respectable and even “not people.” 23
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (
“Modern printings of this comical classic depict Oompa Loompa’s as we remember from the film. Funny little men who are loyal to Mr. Wonka (illustrated by Quentin Blake.) But original printings were illustrated by Joseph Schindelman, and show the Oompa Loompa’s as African Savages that become Mr. Wonka’s slaves at the factory after he “saves” them.” 1
“… the original story had some aspects that have not fared well in modern times. The Oompa Loompas, now seen as orange people from a made-up place, were originally African pygmies. When the book was released in 1964, many took issue with the portrayal, and Roald Dahl said he was ashamed but that he originally didn’t see the issue…. Dahl revised the book and it was re-released in 1973. But even recent adaptations of the book have come under fire as viewing the Oompa Loompas as “happy slaves.” 234
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (
“why does no one recall that Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator has its own cringe-worthy moment? I suspect because it isn’t accompanied by any art. You see, there’s a moment when the President calls the Prime Minister of China . . . I’ll just leave it at that. Let your imagination fill in the details.” 5
Edmonds, Walter D. The Matchlock Gun (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1941)
Flack, Marjorie. The Story About Ping (
“Similar to Five Chinese Brothers, the Story of Ping contains antiquated views of Chinese culture & people, in both the text and illustrations.” 1
Ganeshram, Ramin. A Birthday Cake for George Washington (Scholastic, 2016)
AICL Blog Post. NPR.
Herge. Tintin in America (
TinTin is considered a classic comic series by Herge – translated from French to English. This comic shows Tintin in America, specifically Chicago 1931 – but still illustrates Native Americans in headdresses, living in teepees, smoking peace pipes, and addresses them as “redskins.” The comic also shows the natives speaking defensively towards the “paleface.” 1
Hoff, Syd. Danny and the Dinosaur (Harper, 1958)
Jenkins, Emily. A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat (
“This picture story is about a family recipe passed across generations – but fails to understand how a modern book like this can negatively impact young learners. The Plantation scene clearly draws the line between Masters and Servants/Slaves – with the servants only allowed to enjoy leftovers in their hidden solitude.” 1 AICL Blog Post.
Keats, Ezra Jack. Goggles (
“Ezra Jack Keats, a non-African-American writer and illustrator is widely known for his stories featuring African-American children and other minorities. But Goggles is frequently criticized for showing Archie and Peter playing in what appears to be a dump, and their neighborhood as very dilapidated. Keats has been quoted as someone who wrote stories about what he observed – but as an outsider, his illustrations through observations can act as glorification of the ghetto. Are they a true representation of the African American experience?” 1
Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi in the South Seas (
“…contained a racial slur… The offending words were modified when a 1969 television series about the red-haired heroine was re-aired in 2014…
The book has also been criticized for containing colonial undertones.” 2
Lofting, Hugh. The Story of Doctor Dolittle (
“The book came under fire for portraying negative stereotypes of black people, colonialist overtones, and for using racial slurs.” 234Washingtonian.
Look, Lenore. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes (
“Alvin Ho, a series about a young Asian-American boy is applauded for its diversity – especially when juvenile books typically feature Caucasian protagonists. But the book is overshadowed by inaccurate and stereotypical descriptions of indigenous Native American cultures, which should not be acceptable in a book written in modern times. Traditional native dress evolves into a costume for parties, and other traditions are mocked. Author Lenore Look, has been heavily criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of other cultures.” 1
Mosel, Arlene. Tikki Tikki Tembo (
“More inaccurate caricatures of Chinese culture – the story presents a false folktale about Chinese names and families. The actual story may come from an old Japanese folktale, and was misconstrued to be Chinese – implying that they are interchangeable cultures. None of the words in Tikki Tikki Tembo’s full name are Chinese. Nor does Chang mean the words “little” or “nothing”, as the author implies in the story.” 1
Schachner, Judy. Skippyjon Jones (
“A charming little cat becomes not so charming after pretending to become a “bandido.” Skippy Jon is written as if adding an “O” to the end of all his words is speaking Spanish. This short picture book is filled with other miscellaneous generalizations about Latino/Hispanic culture.” 1
Seuss, Dr. The Cat in the Hat (
“”The Cat’s physical appearance, including the Cat’s oversized top hat, floppy bow tie, white gloves, and frequently open mouth, mirrors actual blackface performers; as does the role he plays as ‘entertainer’ to the white family — in whose house he doesn’t belong,” wrote Kat Ishizuka, director of the Conscious Kid Social Justice Library…” 25
Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square (
“offers yet another variation on the racism that pervades classic American children’s literature. Here, the racism is gratuitous. It’s not deeply or ideologically offensive, but it’s not shallow either. Minorities are not evil, savage, or sinister in this world. But they are silly, in ways that the Anglo characters are not.” Lection.
Seuss, Dr. If I Ran the Zoo (
“Depictions of Chinese, Middle Eastern, African, and Russian cultures are negatively stereotyped. The people are exaggerated like the imaginary Seussian animals in the story. While the Caucasian characters bear no stereotypes.” 1
“The book drew criticism for including drawings of, among other things, two African men wearing grass skirts without shirts or shoes. In addition, the book also refers to Asian characters as having “eyes all a slant” alongside a drawing of three men of Asian descent carrying a caged animal on their heads.” 2
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree (
“outdated views on motherhood… When you give a new mother, after her first baby, 10 copies of ‘Giving Tree,’ it does send a message to the mother that we’re supposed to be this person.” 2
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (
“Social satire novel Huckleberry Finn has traversed time to be a classic that is frequently studied in schools – a tale of a boy who runs away, and his friendship with an escaped slave. The beginning of the book includes a notice from the author, warning people to not find motive in the narrative. There is also an Explanatory note, explaining the colloquial language used in the time the book is set in. The reader will quickly notice the N-word dotted frequently throughout the book. The writing describes slavery in what could be considered demoralizing language for our modern times – especially in knowing that educators continue to assign students to read it.” 134
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie (
“… racial stereotypes of Native Americans and African Americans. According to the Washington Post, the Harpers publishing company decided to change the word “people” to “settlers” in 1953 to edit her original sentence “…no people. Only Indians lived there.” 23

Articles:


Beyond the Pluto Problem by Roger Sutton at The Horn Book, September 30, 2015.
Diversifying Your Classroom Book Collections? Avoid these 7 Pitfalls by Kara Newhouse at KQED Mind/Shift, December 3, 2020.
Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books by Louise Derman-Sparks at Social Justice Books, updated in 2013.
I never noticed how racist so many children’s books are until I started reading to my kids by Leigh Anderson at Vox.com, updated November 3, 2015.
Mama Bear knows best: The enduring problem with children’s picture books by Sara Petersen. Washington Post, October 22, 2018.
Many classic children’s books have troubling themes or language. Should we read them anyway? by Kate Lewis, Washington Post, October 29, 2018.
Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Sexism and Racism at Teaching for Change.org.
What to Do About Classic Children’s Books that are Racist at Educating Alice blog, September 20, 2010.
When children’s books are racist by Rebekah Gienap, April 20, 2020;

  1. Children’s Literature with Negative Portrayals and Stereotypes for Curriculum – Community-Created List at the Watcom County Library System.
  2. 10 classic children’s books that haven’t aged well by Lara Walsh at Insider.com, May 14, 2019.
  3. Warning: These Classic Books Have Major Racial Stereotypes by Ayren Jackson-Cannady at Red Tricycle blog, January 9, 2021.
  4. Classic Children’s Books You Didn’t Realise are Racist at News 24.
  5. Surprise! It’s Racist! Unwanted Children’s Book Surprises by Elizabeth Bird at Fuse 8 blog, September 25, 2014.

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