Books Can Create Change

Most of us who have had children are familiar with Goodnight Moon. The book was originally published in 1947, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. I was surprised by its publishing date. I read the book to my children no less than 3,759 times, a story of a bunny saying goodnight to things he shared his bedroom with. This beloved book was banned from the New York Public Library for 25 years. What?? I’m scratching my head. One librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, successfully banned the book for all those years. Why?? I’m still scratching my head. Moore didn’t like the book; in fact, it is claimed she “hated” the book. Who hates a children’s book with a bunny as the protagonist? The reason Moore gave was it being “unbearably sentimental”.

Moore was appointed as the gatekeeper of the New York Library and children’s books in 1906 at a time when allowing children access to libraries was a new concept. Moore did play an important role in gaining access to libraries for all children. But … and there is often a but … bookstores and other libraries heeded Moore’s opinion on which books would line the shelves. Writers approached Moore to discuss their work in progress to seek her approval. Author Brown died in 1952, without knowing that by 1972, the book was selling close to 100,000 copies a year. I like to think she now knows the book went on to be a childhood treasure for young readers and she is raising her hand in joy.

A children’s book recently released has a similar title to Brown’s book. It is Goodnight Racism, written by Ibram Kendi for readers ages three to eight. The story tells of dreaming of a world where “all people are safe, / no matter how they look, / how they worship, / or how they love.” Kendi asks the question as to who are the most vulnerable to racism? Answer: children. Who are we the least likely to engage about racism? Answer: children.

Goodnight Racism has already had its share of opposition from those ever-reliable Republicans like Ted Cruz and Carson on Fox Television (I refuse to call it Fox News) who call the book stupid and garbage and any number of similar descriptors. Kendi is well-informed and learned the hard lessons of racism through experience. He was born in 1982 and is an author, professor, anti-racist activist, and a historian of race and discriminatory policy in the United States. He has been the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University since July 2020. He has been named in the New York Times 100 Most Influential People of 2020. I heard him speak on CBS Sunday Morning.

Kendi spoke of 19th century abolitionists saying racism can’t be eradicated by doing nothing, Kendi raising their words again. If we are not actively anti-racist, then racism persists, and we cannot call ourselves non-racist. When we support policy that divides, that segregates, that doesn’t allow for equal access and benefit, then we are racist. We teach our children early on that dark is ugly and light is good; we need to rethink our frame of reference. His book has been removed from schools with the excuse that they “make children uncomfortable”. Don’t we all need to be uncomfortable so we might create change? Isn’t that our job as parents, as raising the next generation’s leaders?

I can’t help but think of David A Robertson’s books who help educate children about Residential Schools and the negative impact these institutions had on generations of Indigenous people. His book, The Great Bear written for middle-grade readers, had been removed from Durham District schools. On May 1, 2022, CBC announced Robertson’s novel was going back “on library shelves and into classrooms in the Durham District School Board”. Robertson is still confused as to why his book was removed in the first place. He wants a system in place to prevent other works from being removed without explanation. He explained to CBC that the “truth can be uncomfortable”. The Great Bear is about standing up to bullying, with Indigenous youth represented in the story. The Durham School Board had not provided explanation to Robertson or to CBC at the time of reporting.

These are three very valuable books that help children understand where we have come from and where we need to go. I hope they are on every parent’s reading list.