Category: Children’s Literature

Many classic children’s books have troubling themes or language…

Kate Lewis writes:

While helping my 4-year-old son learn to read, I checked out the audiobook of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” from our library. With its legendary battles against Captain Hook and his malevolent pirates, I thought it would be perfect for my superhero-obsessed son, who loves to be the good guy.

About a quarter of the way through the book, Tinkerbell calls Peter an “ass.” I chalked the author’s unfortunate word choice in a children’s book up to how language evolves over time. Besides, my son wasn’t entirely paying attention.

I remarked, “Oooooh, Tinkerbell just said a very bad word,” and shook my head in feigned grave disappointment.

His interest was immediately re-piqued.

“Was it ‘What the help?’ ” he asked, offering up the only bad words he thinks he knows.

I shook my head. “I guess you’ll have to listen closer,” I said. “And ‘What the help’ is something only bad guys say. It’s not something you say.”

Yet when, about halfway through the book, Tiger Lily’s tribe is referred to by a racial slur, I didn’t have a quick-witted reaction, or an admonishment to listen more closely at the ready. I didn’t know what to do.

I was too taken aback to say anything, and again, my son hadn’t been really listening. I was unsure whether to call his attention to the words and give them power, or to put the conversation aside for another day — when he was older and better able to understand, even though research suggests these conversations should start when children are very young.

And it troubled me that I couldn’t easily explain the racial slur against Native Americans in “Peter Pan” as a bad word simply because a bad guy said it. It’s used repeatedly: by the narrator, the Lost Boys and by Peter himself.

I began to question whether we should finish the book.

30 best children’s books: From Peter Rabbit to Artemis Fowl

Philip Womack writes:

We all have cherished memories of the books we read and shared as children. Big friendly giants, honey-loving bears, hungry caterpillars, iron men: these figures populate the vivid imaginary landscapes of our childhoods. Everybody will remember the book that made them laugh and cry, the one that they turn to again and again. Like totems, we pass them on to our own children, each book a spell in itself.

But there isn’t room in this list for everything. I’m sure that every single reader will gasp at omissions and query the order. There are many personal favourites that I’ve left out, and many more 20th- and 21st-century writers whom I would have liked to include.

This isn’t intended as a definitive ranking; but as an overview, and a guide. You’ll recognise many; a few perhaps will be not so well known, but deserve more attention. I’ve considered influence as well as originality; but crucially, all of the books here have stood the tests of time, taste and, most importantly, readers. Each one, whenever it was published, can be read and enjoyed by a child today as much as it was by the children of the past.

Revisiting a forgotten children’s book by one of the 20th century’s most distinctive writers

 Michael Dirda writes:

Walter de la Mare bears one of the loveliest names in English literature, but we don’t hear much about his books these days. That’s one reason the University of Cambridge is hosting an international conference Thursday and Friday called “Reading Walter de la Mare, 1873-1956.” It is boldly and accurately subtitled “A voice which has no fellow.”

Once upon a happier time, de la Mare’s most ambitious work of fiction, “Memoirs of a Midget” (1921), earned acclaim as one of the finest novels of the 20th century — which, incidentally, it is (see my 2004 Washington Post essay on the book) — while admirers of his exceptional animal fantasy “The Three Mulla-Mulgars” (1910) tended to agree with Richard Adams, who, when asked about its possible influence on “Watership Down,” declared: “To try to copy ‘The Three Mulla-Mulgars’ would be like trying to copy ‘King Lear.’ ”

Nothing if not versatile, de la Mare was also an equally gifted poet and anthologist. “Behold, This Dreamer!,” for instance, assembles passages about “Reverie, Night, Sleep, Dream, Love-Dreams, Nightmare, Death, the Unconscious, the Imagination, Divination, the Artist, and Kindred Subjects.” In fact, de la Mare’s work repeatedly conjures an otherworldly mysteriousness. Consider his most famous poem, “The Listeners”:

“ ‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,/Knocking on the moonlit door.”

No one answers, though phantom listeners “stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,/ That goes down to the empty hall.” After pounding harder without response, the Traveller eventually gives up, saying, “Tell them I came, and no one answered,/ That I kept my word.” He then rides away, and silence quickly returns. The listeners would seem to be ghosts — unless the Traveller is himself a fearsome revenant, come back from the dead to fulfill some ancient promise.

Paul McCartney Is Releasing A Children’s Book


Paul McCartney

Michael Cerio writes:

It’s almost weird that Paul McCartney doesn’t already have a children’s book out.

Sir Paul has conquered almost every challenge in his amazing seventy-six years, but he has waited until now for his first foray into children’s literature. The singer just topped the Billboard chart with his new album Egypt Station, but soon might top your bookshelf too with his book Hey Grandude!

The just announced picture book is scheduled to arrive in September of 2019, and is inspired by his experiences as a grandfather. “It’s called Hey Grandude!” McCartney explains in a new video. “Why? Well I’ve got eight grandchildren and they’re all beautiful, and one day one of them said to me “Hey Grandude!” I said “What?” and I thought, I kind of like that, so from then on I was kind of known as Grandude.”

Of all the McCartney nicknames, Grandude has quickly shot to the top of the list. The book features a magical grandfather and his four grandchildren who go with him on adventures. “I wanted to write it for grandparents everywhere, and the kids” he says. “It gives you something to read to the grandkids at bed time.”

You can check out Hey Grandude! in September 2019, but you can pre-order it now here.

In other Sir Grandude news, he sits down with 60 Minutes this weekend for a talk about his relationship with John Lennon and his new album. You can watch a preview below.