Saturday 12 January 2008

Little Girls and Why I'm Off Dr. Suess

My mother doesn't know that the lovely anthology of Dr. Suess that she gave Safiya for her second Christmas has been "disappeared". A year ago, as we began to read more Dr. Suess to her, there dawned on me a growing realisation that there were no, but no, female characters in his books. It grew more and more infuriating and uncomfortable the more we read. The absence of "she" (even in the pictures) made even me as the narrator feel cast out from the world, and I wondered what how this misrepresentation is processed by children. Feeling slightly crazy and tired of having to change pronouns all the time, telling nobody, we disappeared what for many is quintessential children's literature.

Today I splurged and picked up "Fearless Girls, Wise Woman and Beloved Sisters", by Kathleen Ragan. It's not a picture book (no illustrations), but an anthology of folk tales from around the world. On the way home, I read one of the tales to Safiya, and she sat and listened as the subway train swayed. Anxious to read more, I was leafing through the book and happened upon this, in the introduction (and if you use the link above you can preview some of the book, including part of the introduction):

"The more I read, the more uncomfortable I became. I couldn't find any female characters in these books. I found myself changing the pronouns from male to female when I read the stories to her."

She goes on in detail how she researched the books by...Dr. Suess. So we're not crazy. However, that's not the real point. Her introduction does better justice to the point than I can (and it's hardly Suess-bashing for all you Suess-lovers out there), so I'm just going to point the way to this lovely book.

And then there's this:

Nothing more wholesome than an apple, a glass of orange juice, and reading "Little House in the Big Woods" aloud, right? We started reading these aloud to Safiya last summer (she plays quietly and any time I stop because I suspect her interest might be waning, her little head whips up and she says "But why did you stop Mama? Don't stop reading!" And so I don't...) But oh my the racism (although when a child, my brain only picked up the opposite from these stories, somehow), the strict gender roles, the authoritarian obedience. I loved these stories when I was a child, and they are someone's story, so we edit some of it out, sure that when she can read she'll find her way. Maybe the story will just change slowly.

But this? I think I'll just rip this page out :-)

Just a little editing....


Heather said...

Perhaps because I don't have any children I never noticed these gender difficiencies! Loved Little House on the Prairie and never noticed what it was lacking. My personal opinion - nothing wrong with a little editing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...Seuss is spelled as such however. Also, what about Sally and Gertrude McFuzz? just to name a few female characters.

Anonymous said...

I think you are mistaken about the lack of women in the Dr.Seuss books! "The cat in the Hat Comes Back" On the third page, and I quote..."When our mother went down to town for the day, She said: Somebody has to clean all this away" You've based your opinion on what looks like FIVE of his books. He has written and illustrated 44 books!

Knittergirl said...

Here's another one to try, The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong women by Katrin Tchana. It's not a true picture book, but it does have illustrations by the wonderful Trina Schart Hyman.