The Origins of the Bookish Jelly Bean

I have an MA in Children’s Literature and a (at the time of writing) nearly-5 year old son. I also have a rather active social conscience, a real love for fiction that accurately represents the wide and varied stories of which humanity is made up, and a great love of those 1001 [nouns]’s you should [verb] before you die type lists.

At some point I got my hands on the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up book, and began collecting or reading the books therein. Then I had a kid. And after 5 years of reading him stories (of both the ‘classic’ and ‘not’ variety) I have realised that an amazing number of kids’ books are really quite horrible when you look at them with liberal adult eyes. 😉 I figured I wasn’t the only one to think that way. So I decided to start working through it with a view to creating a resource for like-minded parents. Basically, I’ll read and assess the ‘classics’ so you don’t have to. And I’ll drag my kid along for the ride.

The plan is to do the first two sections (0-3 and 3+) on a daily basis, and once I hit the 5+ section dial it back to twice a week. This should mean that I’ll be more or less in sync with the sproglet’s age. It should also mean that as the books get longer, I give myself more time. I’ve created a list of criteria, but it will, knowing me, evolve and adapt as I get into the swing of the thing and get feedback from people.

And I’ll offer alternatives if I have them, and ask you for alternatives if I don’t.

I hasten to add that this is not meant to be a means for censorship. Clearly, I am willing to read every one of these books to my kid at least once. This isn’t about saying “don’t read these books”, it’s about approaching them critically. People get quite emotive about kids’ books, often because they loved them profoundly long before they had any discernment or critical eyes beyond “I love this story”. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t love your favourite book from childhood just because it fails the Bechdel test. I’m simply providing a resource for looking at these books with critical eyes and maybe helping you have conversations with your kids about the issues therein.

I hope it’s helpful. At the very least, it should be fun. Welcome. Let’s get started.

4 thoughts on “The Origins of the Bookish Jelly Bean

  1. Why is it mandatory to have ‘diversity’ in European fairly tales? Of what value is the deconstruction of classic literature through a cultural Marxist lens? Are any other racial groups reciprocating this nearly pathological desire for ‘inclusiveness’? Are Jews rewriting their mythos to include more Gentiles?

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    1. The short answer is, it’s not mandatory, of course. But I think there is something significant happening when our “accepted canon” of children’s books scores so low in this regard. To me, what’s interesting is less about the individual books (and if you read my reviews, you’ll see that I have more than once recommended a book despite low scoring on the metrics provided), as about what it says that when we start looking at the canon, we see only one worldview repeated in the vast majority of these books. It’s early days yet, and the list from which I am working is more or less chronological, so the skew is not surprising right now (the last book I did was published n 1978). But it will be interesting to me to see whether the more modern stories even that skew out or not. My gut says probably not. But we shall see.

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      1. Was the recent burning of European artwork and books by South African blacks an indication of the reciprocation your naive liberalism will receive?

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        1. I’m going to respond to this in a separate post, so that I can address it once and not have to keep arguing with people in comments, since I am sure you won’t be last.

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