I’ve never liked Ladybird’s Peter and Jane books: Jane with her dolls, trying to be a little Mummy, doing the washing up, and making treats for Daddy and Peter (see below). Peter always being such a typical little boy with his ball and toy trucks. And what’s the deal with the Native American head-dress? Isn’t it time the books were updated? It shouldn’t be that difficult, just a matter of swapping some pronouns and trashing some pictures.
‘No,’ says Mummy, “Pretty is not important.’
A FEW weeks ago, I caught myself on the verge of being a Nazi when it came to my children’s choice of reading material.
My five-year-old son told me he liked the Peter and Jane books at his kindy and I nearly had a fit. However, I managed to stick on a smile and say nothing.
Coincidentally, a reader wrote in recently and asked my opinion of Ladybird Book’s Peter and Jane series. As usual, the mere mention of these books made me foam at the mouth.
I’ve written about this aversion of mine before and I acknowledged then that it wasn’t very fair of me to staple shut some of the pages of my children’s Peter and Jane books (given by a relative).
The set of books seem to have mysteriously disappeared from my bookshelves. I swear I don’t know where they’ve gone. However, someone has donated a number of copies to the children’s reading room I’m setting up.
Truth be told, the pictures continue to make me cringe: Jane with a doll; Peter with a toy car or sailboat; Jane helping mummy in the kitchen; Peter working on the family car with daddy.
“They’re so sexist,” I said to the reader who emailed me.
While there’s nothing wrong with a little girl learning to cook, I wish these books would also show Jane playing mechanic with her dad, and Peter arranging the furniture in a doll’s house.
The series (Key Words with Ladybird) is aimed at pre-schoolers and so they will play a part in shaping their readers ideas about the world around them.
The images in Peter and Jane reinforce traditional gender stereotypes and need to be challenged if they are not to be accepted wholesale by impressionable young minds. Nevertheless, stopping kids from reading these books is not the answer.
I mean, I get my knickers in a knot about the Ministry of Home Affairs’ restriction of books, but I have been tempted to be equally small-minded and dictatorial when it comes to books my children have access to.
I tell myself that I object to books that are violent, racist and sexist, but it still amounts to imposing my judgement on others.
I came upon an article about New Zealand’s Society of Authors attempts to challenge publishers’ increasing desire to only publish children’s books that offer a sanitised version of the world.
In February this year, the society organised Out of Reach – The Forbidden Bookshelf, a weeklong event comprising readings, displays and a celebrity debate that focussed on the theme of banned, restricted or sanitised children’s books.
The article ended with a list of frequently banned or restricted children’s books. The reasons given for these books being taken off the shelves made me realise how easy it is to focus on a book’s perceived negativity and ignore its value.
For example, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged in libraries and schools in the United States because it contains “racial slurs, profanity, and frank discussion of rape”.
In 1931, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned in China for “portraying animals and humans on the same level”.
And, in 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee asked for that Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl be removed from libraries because it was a “real downer.”
Our kids are not going to be independent, thinking and questioning individuals if we’re constantly breathing down their neck, making decisions for them in all areas of their lives and forcing them to conform to our beliefs.
It’s not easy to “lay off”, though. The pressure is on us to protect our children and sometimes the simplest way is to just say “No” to every thing instead of taking the time to discuss and explain things, as well as respect their desires.
I don’t profess to be the world’s perfect mum, and I don’t always know how best to deal with my children having ideas that don’t quite match my own.
I just have to keep reminding myself that they’re entitled to their own opinions, likes and dislikes, and all I can do is offer my own views on things, without insisting they adopt them.
My three-year-old girl’s passion for pink fills me with consternation, but I got her the magenta hoodie she wanted anyway. I’m pleased that she knows what she wants and knows how to ask for it.
The best I can do is to ensure that her wardrobe comprises clothes in colours other than pink, just so she doesn’t forget that she has other options.
As for Peter and Jane, an outspoken, pro-active, politically-conscious and well-read 22-year-old friend of mine says she loves the books because “they had such happy pictures and they helped me learn to read!” I guess that makes up for the series’ gender-stereotyping sins.