10 Children's Books Turned Racist
We take a look into the past at popular children's books that have now been surrounded by controversy due to their negative, derogatory and prejudice contents. Spanning from a boy and a giant peach to adventures down the river with your best friend, this is the top children's books you didn't know were racist.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Published in the U.K. in December of 1884, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells a tale of mischievous Huck Finn faking his death and running away from his former life. Running into Jim, a black man fleeing from slavery, together they embark on a raft down the Mississippi River on a grand old adventure. The controversy around this book stems from racial slurs, belittling racial designations, and the liberal use of the "N" word combined with its portrayal of blacks that most people consider stereotypical and demeaning. Astonishingly, the "N" word was used over 200 times in the original novel.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
A 1964 children's book written by author Roald Dahl, the story depicts the adventures of a young Charlie Bucket from a very poor family, who gets an opportunity of a lifetime by being allowed to tour a chocolate factory owned by an eccentric chocolatier named Willy Wonka. In its original texts, Oompa-Loompas were described as dark-skinned pygmies from the heart of Africa, in which Willy Wonka simply found their tribe, enslaved them and then used them in replacement of his regular workforce because of their willingness to work only for cacao beans. This would later be reworked in both the newer versions of the book and the film industry due to its clear derogatory portrayal of African American slavery.
Sherlock Holmes Series
Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character developed by British Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that spanned four books and 56 short stories. Having a knack for drawing broad conclusions from minute observations from his surroundings, Detective Holmes solved many mysteries for his time. Controversy crops up in a few of Sir Arthur Doyle's writings for being racist, as people give examples such as in The Adventure of the Three Gables when Holmes pursues a former slave, Steve Dixie, and upon meeting him, won't let the man sit for "I don't like the smell of you", and that giving Dixie "any lip" is "certainly the last thing you need.” Another example lies within The Sign of Four, where Tonga, and his people of the Andaman Islands, are referred to as "naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small fierce eyes and distorted features", among other descriptions.
A Cricket in Times Square
Winning the Newbery Honor a year after its publication in 1960, this charming tale told by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Williams depicts a cricket named Chester getting lost in New York City, and then proceeds to befriend a mouse, cat, and boy, only to be discovered as a musical sensation. What readers find disturbing within this book's passages is that it relies heavily on racial stereotypes. One example of this is the working class Italian family that owns the newsstand, depicted as typical immigrants that are overly emotional, feckless, and aimlessly hard working, understanding labor but not business. Another example is Sai Fong, an elderly Chinatown shopkeeper who helps the boy feed and house his new pet cricket, but talks with broken English, never failing to place an "l" in words where an "r" should be.
The Secret Garden
A novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden was published in its entirety in 1911. The story depicts Mary Lennox, a troubled unloved young girl who lives in India with her wealthy British parents. When her family dies, she is shipped to Yorkshire to live with an uncle she has never met, and this is where her adventure starts. Readers get offended with the various epithets against Indians and dark-skinned people described within the book, but often refer to one passage in particular. After arriving at her new home, Mary meets a servant named Martha who remarks that she thought the little girl would be black as she came from India. Upset by this comment, Mary replies with rage and a feeling of humiliation by saying, "You thought I was a native! You Dared! You don't know anything about natives! They are not people - they're servants who must salaam to you."
Chronicles of Narnia - The Horse and His Boy
Published on September 6th, 1954, the author C. S. Lewis takes us into the southern regions of Narnia with his fifth book out of the seven in the Chronicles of Narnia Series. In this novel, the main protagonist Shasta decides to pack his stuff and run away on a grand adventure when he finds out his adoptive father is going to sell him into slavery. The problem people have with this book comes into play when the people of the south, Calormenes, are described as dark-skinned people that live in the desert, have long beards, wear turbans and pointy shoes. Their nobles, Tarkaans, have also been pointed out as being vaguely similar to Middle Eastern military rulers known as Tarkhans. The Calormenes’ religion focuses on a Satanic figure who requires sacrifices, and are almost always depicted as "evil men", some being self-centered, traitorous, greedy, cruel, or cowardly.
The Little House on the Prairie
This series of American children's novels was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and published by Harper & Brothers between 1932 and 1943. These books were based on decades-old memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood in the 19th century, located in the northern Midwest region of the United States. Within these books, Native Americans are depicted as brown, Redmen, wild, savage, and terrible. Further described as smelling horrible, their eyes were glittering like snake eyes, and Laura compares them to wild animals. In another passage, Laura's father participates in a minstrel show with grotesque racial caricatures, and Laura refers to the performers as "Darkies". On the other hand, at the same time, elements in these stories confound stereotypes of the time, such as the African American doctor saving the family from malaria in 1870.
Hugh Lofting wrote this colorful tale in 1920 where an English physician learns to speak with animals and becomes a veterinarian. He then sails to Africa to cure a monkey epidemic, gets arrested, escapes and vaccinates the monkeys. He also makes a deal with an African prince, encounters pirates on his sail home, and then travels with the circus. That’s virtually the whole book in a nutshell. It comes under fire from readers for containing several language and plot elements that are considered racist by present day standards. In one plot, Bumpo the African prince desires to be white so he can marry the "sleeping beauty", and makes a deal with the doctor to bleach his skin in exchange for setting him free. Accompanied by the description as a "burning brown paper" smell, it wasn't a wonder when this novel went through changes and revisions in later years to appeal to audiences once again.
Pippi Longstocking Series
Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren's first four Pippi Longstocking books were published between 1945 and 1948, followed by six more from 1969 and 1975, then completed in two final stories in 1979 and 2000. The books focus on the experiences of Pippi Lanstrump, a little girl who is left orphaned when her father, a sea captain, disappears at sea. Having limited contact with "civilized" people, Pippi's lack of knowledge of common courtesy and normal childhood behavior adds a humorous background. Dr. Eske Wollrad, a feminist theologian, claims that at least three of Lindgren's novels have colonial racist stereotypes, with Pippi in the South Seas often being used for the example as it states "the black children throw themselves into the sand in front of the white children."
James and the Giant Peach
A popular children's book written in 1961 by British author Roald Dahl, the plot focuses on an English orphan boy who enters a giant magical peach and then proceeds to have a wild surreal cross-world venture accompanied by seven magically infused garden bugs. Several accusations from readers on profanity, sexual innuendo, and mysticism, among others, have seen this book banned and reworked several times. As far as racism, only one claim from a woman in Hernando County, Florida in 1964 was found, and she took issue with the Grasshopper's statement, "I'd rather be fried alive and eaten by a Mexican" for which she claimed the book was promoting racist ideas.