Coming out of hiding for a minute to defend a talented, inspirational, important American
Time and place are always critical considerations, but are especially important to factor into context of the written word. Language is as fluid and ever-evolving as the human race and societal norms. Whether you're reading Tom Sawyer
or Village People lyrics, knowledge and recall of the era and setting in which they were written are required to to understand and accurately analyze the words and their intent. Most of us cannot fully understand life in mid-1800s Missouri (or '70s Greenwich Village), but I can think of no better guide to the era than Mark Twain (or a group of male dancers in costume).
I, and most Americans, are united in a deep, passionate respect for indigenous people whose ancestors lived on the land we call home long before our
ancestors arrived. I'm not smart or clever enough to figure out a solution to right the wrongs of the past, or sort out a compromise that works for everyone. But I am certain that diminishing the overreaching merits of words written in an era far removed from our own is not a solution or useful compromise.
A point that is far too often overlooked when words in books are dissected and held up as libel: Children are (generally) smarter, more insightful and nicer
than the adults trying to protect them. Most children reading age-appropriate books understand the settings may be different from their modern day life and do not take the words at face value. Few kids fall into confusion over slavery when reading about the house elves at Hogwarts, for instance. (Although why J.K. Rowling chose to go there
is still a sticking point with me. There are many less cringe-worthy plot devices she could have chosen.) Most kids, or at least the ones with spunk and pluck, much prefer reading the sometimes gritty adventures of real-life adventurers like Laura Ingalls than the sanitized and heavily marketed
American Girls version of a young girl's life on the frontier, even with the allure of an expensive doll and accessories.
A parent with concerns about passages or words in a book their child is reading could use the words in question as the start of a conversation about what those words mean now, and why they meant something different when originally written. Parents may be surprised to learn their child has a much deeper and evolved understanding of society than most adults. The adults would do well to listen to their child's insight and world view.
A book that engages a child and ignites their passion for literature is important. There are plenty of engaging books that inspire pre-teen girls to be bold, clever and adventurous. Be it Nancy Drew, Matilda or Laura Ingalls, the books where these characters live hit the sweet spot for encouraging and inspiring young girls to think beyond the Barbie aisle. (No offense to Barbie, but that's a different topic entirely.) Young girls who read these books go into puberty with a legion of characters who have their backs when the hormonal going gets tough. The young reader books pave the way and launch interest for more advanced literature with strong, inspirational, clever female characters who provide both motivation and refuge for girls (and women and boys and men).
History is not always comfortable. Life on the frontier was difficult. Surviving each day was an accomplishment. Being a 10 year old is not always comfortable. Life in the school cafeteria is difficult. Surviving each day is an accomplishment. Bridging those themes is a kid we all want as our friend, a determined and good natured live wire named Laura Ingalls.