Changing words in books when reading aloud to children? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 12 Old 06-15-2013, 09:11 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Do you ever change the words in books when reading aloud to your children?

I am talking about when reading older books that use not very politically correct language.

Or do you just read it as it was written and explain to your child?

Or maybe read it aloud as written and don't say anything to your child at the time but explain more to your child about not using those words if they start using them themselves?

 

We are now reading some chapter books to my almost 4 yr old DD.

We have come across this a few times in books, especially the ones that we have from when we were kids, or classics written long ago. They are childrens books, so the ideas are not usually inappropriate, but some of the language is now.

 

For one example, which we are coming across now, is when reading Little House on the Prairie we keep coming across the word Indian. Where we live you do not call aboriginal people Indians, you call them Aboriginal or Native American. Using the word Indian is very derogatory. I would not want my child to say the word Indian unless they were talking about someone from India.

 

For now I have used the word Indian, as written in the book, and have told my DD that before people used to call Aboriginal people Indians but do not anymore. She seemed fine with that. But now we are in parts of the book where they say the word quite a bit.

 

So what do you do when you come across some derogatory things/language when reading to your kids?


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#2 of 12 Old 06-15-2013, 10:39 PM
 
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I used to do a blend of both. If there was too much to chamge I would try to put it in a historical context for DD. Sometimes she was okay with it and sometimes she wasn't so we would find another book. Classic books are nice but they often have casual meanness and that horrified my DD.
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#3 of 12 Old 06-17-2013, 07:50 AM
 
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Well, I used to change it but since she learned to read herself I couldn't. I still read to her some books and she follows the words. If I see a word I don't like I read it as is as she would catch me right away. I do let her know we don't use the word. Since most of our books are borrowed from our library I put it away as soon as I can and return it. She did get a Barbie book once as a present. I hated it and would almost skip a whole page. I'd read it really fast and she wouldn't know what part was left out and always told her I didn't like the book. She finally parted with it. I am sure she had read that page herself a few times but as long as she knew it expressed something I didn't approve of. It is really hard to keep it a 100% clean. :))


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#4 of 12 Old 06-17-2013, 09:05 AM
 
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A Children's Garden of Verses (the Robert Louis Stevenson classic) has the line "negro hunter's hunt" which is problematic in so many ways.  I read it "lion hunter's hut", which was the original intent.  We also have an unedited copy of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which is pretty casual with the "N" word, so we changed that.  Usually, though, I read a different copy that had those words changed, and the illustrations were lovely.

 

We live in a Native American community, so the girls have plenty of opportunities to hear appropriate words, and I don't feel like "Indian" is seen as derogatory here (though it's also not the preferred term anymore).  In our immediate area, we mainly refer to the specific name of the nation (or "tribe" in some contexts, like "tribal" but it's not preferred).  So, I never changed those parts of Little House, not feeling them as being a slight, though I think I might have skipped the parts where it is mentioned that "Ma hated Indians".  Now my girls are older, I think we could discuss that.  We never got to the black face performance, the girls losing interest in the stories by then.  Now, I would read it and just mention that those skits are considered offensive now and why (the girls are 6 and 8 now).

 

For a while I even skipped the scene where Aunt Lotty is asked which hair she likes best, and Laura's comments that everyone knows gold is prettier (I had one blond and one brown haired girls and a fair amount of tension).  So, it's not just words and phrases that are seen as racist or sexist to modern readers that were problematic to me.  

 

For stories written in an attempt to capture the vernacular of a population, I am careful.  I much prefer, for example, the Uncle Remus volumes illustrated by Jerry Pinkney than the versions written by Joel Chandler Harris.  My girls aren't growing up with media stereotypes like I did (think Looney Tunes--ouch) so I think at those times they associate the vernacular just with that character, and not because the character belongs to a certain racial group.  Still, I like it softened because I did grow up with it, and it's hard for me to support that.

 

So, yes, I feel like if it's small I can skip over a word or a phrase, if it is not central to the point and the word is otherwise inconsequential.  But my girls are getting older, I don't do it as often.  


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#5 of 12 Old 06-17-2013, 09:54 AM
 
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I do it all the time... Either for the reasons stated above, or just because the text is clunky/poorly written/too wordy. Reading aloud is more like a performance to me, so I take liberties with a lot of the books I read to my 3-year old.
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#6 of 12 Old 06-17-2013, 11:39 AM
 
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I don't change it, but I do talk about it with my kids. I think it's a great opportunity to share our values with our children.


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#7 of 12 Old 06-17-2013, 09:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So far I haven't changed it for this particular book. But I have discussed it with her a few times.

It is a confusing discussion for a 3-4 yr old. She can understand that it is a word not used anymore. She can understand that some words hurt some peoples feelings. She can understand that there are "bad" words. Indian is a hard one. Where we live, calling an Aboriginal person and Indian is derogatory. However, we also live in a place with a lot of people from India. And calling them Indian is not at all derogatory. In fact I think it is preferred in a lot of instances. So trying to explain to a 3-4 yr old that it is OK to call some people Indian and not OK to call other people Indian is confusing for her.

 

I am now having more issue with the fear of Aboriginals and the tension and the portraying them as "like animals" than I am with the word Indian. Man, I haven't read this book in a while.

But she'll get it one day, like we all do.


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#8 of 12 Old 06-17-2013, 09:57 PM
 
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I do, unapologetically. I won't read certain words to my kids, ever. And even though they often "know" what the word in the book is because they've heard it read by others I still don't read it. 

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#9 of 12 Old 06-18-2013, 12:13 AM
 
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Yup.  I do it all the time.  Mostly for the following:

I replace "stupid" or "dumb" with "silly,"

I replace "hate" with "dislike."

I often replace "school" with "library" or "class" We''re homeschoolers, and it seems like SO many kids' books are set in school.  When I can, I replace it with library, or just say 'class' in place of school, because DD does take a class here and there.  This isn't because I'm sheltering her from the idea, not at all.  It's to let a few of the books be more accessible to her experience.

I often replace "dad" with "baba."  My DP is called Baba by the kids.  If there is a character who fits the bill, I replace it so that my kids can hear their own family represented now and then.

I do replace "Indian" with "First Nation" too.

Easy ways to make some of our reading material come in line with our life. 

We get 25+ books out from the library each week, and I might change words in two or three.  Not often.


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#10 of 12 Old 06-18-2013, 12:16 AM
 
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I read the book the way it is written and explain the context to the children if there is something in it that bothers me.


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#11 of 12 Old 06-18-2013, 09:33 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by starling&diesel View Post

I replace "stupid" or "dumb" with "silly,"

 

The name calling--yeesh!  I really don't like when the main (supposedly good) character thinks dropping insults about the "bad" kid is OK.  I once read (and stopped reading) a library book my girls liked because the dad said to his son "No one likes a slow poke" or something like that.  I've usually read them and commented on them ("I don't think that was a nice thing to say"), but when they were younger and it was a single word that was easily edited, I would. I was sitting there to read to my child, not be given lessons.  I mean, I would, but I didn't always like stopping the flow of the story.  So, if it was a simple thing like substituting a word or skipping a sentence, I did.  I might feel differently on the next reading and do something different, and mostly I read the text as is now the girls are older.


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#12 of 12 Old 07-13-2013, 03:33 PM
 
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When my son was young I occasionally changed words. I only really remember doing it with an old Althea book about trains where all the workers were men. As he's got older we've very much enjoyed a lot of old fashioned books, especially original Enid Blytons, and I use the original text and we discuss how language and ideas have changed. They have been great history lessons!

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