What do you do when your kid’s book is just a little bit racist?

Woman in Native American headdress and clothing

‘Mog and the Granny’ started off innocent enough. Mog the cat’s family went on holiday to America, so she went to stay with a granny and her cat Tibbles. Mog missed her family and reluctantly played with Tibbles. It was all pretty standard Mog stuff until the granny had a party with some other grannies.

“The granny told them about Mog’s people,” the book said. “She said, ‘They’ve been all over America and now they’re ending up at a special Red Indian show'”,

Oh shit, I thought.

The next page showed the family surrounded by people in feathered headdresses dancing around teepees.

As far as racist stuff goes, it could have been worse. It’s not like the granny said the n-word or anything. Plus this book was written over 20 years ago, when people were less aware that many American Indians find the whole feathered headdress/teepee stereotype pretty offensive. The Washington Redskins controversy wouldn’t really kick off for another 18 years, and it would be 2016 before the picture of Hillary Duff and her boyfriend dressed as sexy pilgrim and an Indian chief would cause a social media shitstorm. Still, as a socially-aware adult reading this book in 2017, the whole thing made me a bit uncomfortable.

Of course, the Popple can’t read yet, so I could have resolved the whole issue the first time I read her the book. It would have been easy to change the words to something like, “The Thomas family visited a American Indian reservation, where they learned about the tribe’s rich cultural heritage, which definitely involved way more than just feathers and teepees.” But I didn’t, and she’s practically memorised the book by now, so it’s too late to change it. Or I could have just skipped the offending pages all together, but the whole Red Indian thing is a pretty integral part of the plot.

(Yeah, this book has a plot. It hinges on Mog having a telepathic connection with Debbie, the little girl in the family. It’s a bit of a lazy plot device if you ask me, but Judith Kerr has sold millions of books, so she probably doesn’t need my writing advice.)

Could I just ditch the book all together? Yeah, but the Popple loves it. The fact that it has two cats is the real draw, not the culturally insensitive stuff. I know this because whenever we read it, she yells, “Two cats!” a lot. If she starts yelling, “Red Indians!” all the time, we’ll probably have to chuck ‘Mog and the Granny’ in the bin. But until then – or until she gets bored with it – I’ll probably continue to read it a dozen times a day.

This isn’t the first time a children’s book has given me pause. Another firm favorite, ‘Working’ by Helen Oxenbury (1981), has a picture of a baby drinking what appears to be fruit juice out of a bottle. The book has no words, so I just skim over that fact when I read the story to the Popple, saying something like, “The baby was so thirsty that he had a bottle and he drank the whole thing!”

That seems to do the trick, but part of me wonders if I should say something like, “The baby drank a big bottle of juice, because it was the 1980s and his mummy didn’t know that giving your baby juice in a bottle can cause tooth decay. She had no idea that fruit juice is pretty much pure sugar. No one cared about sugar back then. Everyone was afraid of fat. Now fat is good again, apparently. Anyway, let’s hope this baby didn’t struggle with childhood obesity because of his excessive juice drinking.”

Times change. Books don’t. Sometimes older books give us a quaint glimpse into what life was like in simpler times, and sometimes they just make us cringe and say, “Yikes. I forgot that used to be thing.”

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35 Comment

  1. Lol at the juice drinking. I still know a lot of people who give their babies whole bottles of juice and I just button my lip! I have this problem too with mildly racist books. My son loves Dr Seuss and it has its moments with cultural stereotypes but he hasn’t picked up on them yet and instead focuses on the better messages like ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’. Thanks for linking to #eatsleepblogrt. Hope you join again next week.

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      It’s easy when they’re young to focus on the positive messages in these books – but they can still make us adults cringe!

  2. I change a lot of words in older books. I even went so far as to paste my own story over the words because I liked the photos. My daycare loved it! #EatSleepBlogRT

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Ha! I love that idea!

  3. My cat obsessed daughter love reading Mog the cat but he haven’t come across that book yet. I have to say that sometimes kids books make me cringe and say things that are completely inappropriate for a child.

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Mog is a bit hit in our house!

  4. Hi! I was curious how most moms would handle this situation and as a newly expecting mom, I’ve cringed at so many racial stereotypes in books. I think its up to us as parents to remind children not to be racially judgemental and of course not relying on books to dictate their views on other cultures. Moms should totally step in more when it comes to such books.

    Great read!
    xx Shannon // http://www.duedatediaries.com

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Thanks Shannon! I agree that it’s up to us to challenge any stereotypes we come across in books.

  5. I’m back with #DreamTeam

  6. I have been picking up books from the library and reading them for the first time when I read them with the baby. There are quite a few with weird messages, not just slightly racist ones, but some that promote weird behavior. I wonder how some of the newer ones even get published. #dreamteam

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      I know what you mean – some kid’s books are just weird. I have no idea who thought, “Yeah, a kid would like this,”

  7. We’ve got ‘Mog The Forgetful Cat’ and I hate that book with all my being. I have never understood why, at the end when the police come to arrest the burglar, that he is drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen with the family??!! What kind of message does that send?! #DreamTeam

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      I know! What’s with giving the burglar tea???

  8. We’ve got ‘Mog The Forgetful Cat’ and I hate that book with all my being. I have never understood why, at the end when the police come to arrest the burglar, that he is drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen with the family??!! What kind of message does that send?! #DreamTeam

  9. We’ve got ‘Mog The Forgetful Cat’ and I hate that book with all my being. I have never understood why, at the end when the police come to arrest the burglar, that he is drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen with the family??!! What kind of message does that send?! #DreamTeam

  10. We’ve got ‘Mog The Forgetful Cat’ and I hate that book with all my being. I have never understood why, at the end when the police come to arrest the burglar, that he is drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen with the family??!! What kind of message does that send?! #DreamTeam

  11. Sorry, I have no idea why it’s posted 4 times!

  12. There’s some really odd stuff in children’s books … I either used to gloss over it if the Tubblet didn’t notice or explain that we think / do things differently now if the Tubblet asked. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do for the best. No doubt when our kids are parents, they’ll read books published now and wonder what that was all about! #DreamTeam

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      It’s hard to know what to do – gloss over it or provide some sort of awkward explanation.

  13. Oh this is great – times change but books don’t – absolutely! You did make me laugh about the juice in the bottle – hilarious. There are probably picture books out there of a baby in a pram in full sunshine with no sunhat on too. Oh I could go on and on! Great post #FamilyFun

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Oh no – a baby with no sunhat! 🙂

  14. I don’t think I’ve come across this in a book yet, but there are definitely some old cartoons that make me cringe. Remember Speedy Gonzalez? Don’t see much of him anymore! #dreamteam

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      I totally forgot about Speedy Gonzalez – yikes.

  15. We have a couple of Mog books but we haven’t read them yet. I’m hesitant now though. Maybe I’ll give them a read first before reading them to Molly. Lol. #familyfun

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      I’m actually a big fan of Mog generally – or at least the Popple is!

  16. I’ve come accross some weird stuff in kid’s books too. Peachy doesn’t really understand that many words yet so it’s not a problem yet. I think it might be wise to pre-read all her books in the future just to avoid awkward moments. #EatSleepBlogRT

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Pre-reading can definitely make things easier.

  17. I just found an abonded copy of Indian in the Cupboard (the book) and I’ve been reading it. It’s got some wrong stuff for sure (for example, the boy says something along the lines of “You’re my Indian!” I raise my eyebrows a little but you jut can’t be mad at something that is that old.
    And if you think books are bad, have you checked out any old TV cartoons??
    #EatSleepBlogRT

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Oh yeah, I read that book when I was a kid. I bet that one would make me feel awkward too. I haven’t revisited any old cartoons, but I bet their’s some cringe-worthy stuff in there too.

  18. Oooh we have this book, along with 9 other Mog books that are yet to be opened… We’re still reading The Tiger Who Came For Tea and The Hungry Caterpillar over and over … and over. Thanks for the heads up though, I will be sure to re-phrase . Good point though, times change, books don’t I am sure Granny has given us books from times gone by that may well have a questionable undertone when I get to them! Thanks for joining us at #familyfun x

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      I didn’t know there were 9 Mog books! We only have four – I need to get the rest. The Popple is obsessed.

  19. We’ve got loads of books from the 1980s that used to be Daves. Some of them are really quite unbelievable and really showing there age!! #familyfunlinky

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      It’s sometimes strange when you realise that the things we liked as kids are kind of inappropriate now – I’m sure there are loads of examples!

  20. Mine loves Mog and we haven’t come across this one just yet. There are so many older stories just like this though. There’s been many a time when I have gone lalala until I could think of a quick change of words 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing with the #DreamTeam xx

    1. Squirmy Popple says: Reply

      Lalala might be the way to go!

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