4 Hot-Button Kids' Books From The '50s That Sparked Controversy
The 1950s was a hinge decade for noteworthy and nation-changing civil rights events across the United States, including Brown v. Board of Education in Kansas, the bus boycott in Alabama and the National Guard-protected integration of Central High School in Arkansas.
Meanwhile, there was also a revolution brewing in bookstores and public libraries.
By design or by happenstance, a handful of children's picture books were focal points of the American movement toward integration in the '50s.
These kids' books — mostly forgotten or out of print — acted as subtle and soft-spoken social catalysts.
Nancy Huse, professor emeritus of English at Augustana College, says, "Literature acts as a change agent when a process of interpretation involves various kinds of readers over time and in different media."
Some critics describe this as "expansive networking," she says — that is, networking "that moves away from polarized views and closed systems."
In other words, literature can open minds.
Literature can also work as a change agent because it "involves play," Huse says, and "in play, determinative meanings are often transformed or contradicted."
Literature can change minds.
Here are four children's books that stirred up consternation — and conversation — about integration in the '50s:
Maureen Palacios of Once Upon A Time, a decades-old children's bookstore in Montrose, Calif., says, "The power of a well-written, emotionally involving and artfully illustrated picture book can not be diminished. Children glom to books which resonate true to them. Their filters are not yet jaded."
She says, "Ask people what their favorite book is — children's or adult — and most times, at least in our store, the answer is always a picture book. Warm memories of connections made with the reader, enjoyable story times or even laughable moments remain."
Making sure that everyone is being represented in picture books, she continues, "should not be underestimated. This is not just about race, LGBT issues. It can also be about positive portrayals of grandparents (Nana in the City), immigrants (How Many Days to America: A Thanksgiving Story) and even economic issues (Yard Sale)."
Picture books "can be the start of a conversation," she adds, "a thought-provoking concept or a gentle guide to new experiences and understandings."
(This post has been updated.)
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