Hey hey hey! I know I kinda sorta technically missed my September recommendation, but I did recommend a web series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice last month, so I’m counting it. K? K.
This month I’m recommending something of a more academic bent: a book of essays called Should We Burn Babar? by Herbert Kohl. Dis wat it looks like:
I had previously heard of the title essay from a professor during my undergrad, and one of my grad professors this semester recommended the whole book, so I picked it up after the class ended (it was a half-term class). And I was glad I did.
I know many Bookpressers are YA lovers and advocates of social justice. This book is a brilliant combination of both. Kohl dives into difficult questions about children’s lit and education, and he definitely had me fist-pumping at certain points. Here’s a quick rundown of the 5 essays in this book:
- “Should We Burn Babar?: Questioning Power in Children’s Literature” – in the title essay, Kohl analyzes the classic Babar story for its issues of colonialism and classism. He ponders whether or not the famous story and its problematic symbolism is suitable for children, if they understand the implications of the tale at a young age, and if we should keep it as a children’s classic.
- “The Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Revisited” – Kohl points out all the problems with the simplified Rosa Parks story we teach children and explains the way we should be teaching the Rosa Parks story instead. It’s brilliant.*
- “A Plea for Radical Children’s Literature” – Kohl makes a call for more stories that don’t just show young people rising up from their circumstances as individuals (which are common), but stories that champion the ability of a community to make radical change on the current system of power. (The whole time, I was screaming “NEWSIES!” at him, but he didn’t hear me because 1. “Newsies” isn’t literature, and 2. I don’t think the author can actually hear you when you scream at a book.)
- “Wicked Boys and Good Schools: Three Takes on Pinocchio” – in this essay, Kohl explores the Pinocchio story in the context of the education system. Also brilliant, and mirrors some of my own thoughts on education.
- “The Good Old Days: I Was There, Where Was They?: A Fictional History of Public Education in the United States” – Literally is what it sounds. A brief retelling of the history of public education in the US.
*If you have the newer edition of the book, you might not have the Rosa Parks essay and instead have one called “A Love Supreme: Riffing on the Standards: Placing Ideas and Dreams at the Center of High-Stakes Schooling.” This sounds fascinating, and I’m sure it is, but I didn’t read it so I can’t comment on it.
Altogether a fascinating collection; although it was published 20 years ago, it is still extremely relevant and a must-read for anyone interested in education (especially English) and/or children’s/YA lit.
FOR THOSE WHO LIKE:
- Literary criticism
- Social justice
- Children’s/YA lit
THINGS PEOPLE MIGHT NOT LIKE:
- Academic writing style
- Slightly repetitive
- Slightly preachy (or could be seen that way, though I didn’t see it that way)