Hoop skirts and petticoats went out of style before my time as did butter churns. Nonetheless, I am two generations closer to a time when those items were in general use than my grandchildren are. And while I love sharing classic books with the young ones in my life, I also look out for writing situated in current times.
With this in mind, I was delighted to meet the fictional protagonist Cilla Lee-Jenkins, a spunky and funny eight-year-old aspiring author. Like the author, Susan Tan, Cilla’s family is composed of both “white-bread” American and Chinese immigrant grandparents. The first two books in what may well become a long-running series were almost entirely a pleasure to read. (There is a third book I have not yet read.) Aye, there’s the rub.
In the second book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, Cilla’s aunt gets married, providing a pleasurable peek into both Chinese and Korean wedding customs. The sour note comes as Cilla’s aunt’s friend, Jane, is introduced along with her own girlfriend and soon-to-be spouse, Lucy. Sigh.
No big deal is made of the relationship, which suggests to me an assumption that children growing up today should not question two men or two women getting married any more than they would question people from different states getting married. The norm has changed and the expectation is that only someone still in hoop skirts would even think that an explanation is necessary.
Reading books where single-sex relationships are treated as matter-of-fact, of course, promotes exactly that result. Yet, consigning children to only read books written decades or centuries earlier doesn’t seem to be a solution. I turned to my daughter with this dilemma to find out how she would handle it with her ten and eight-year-olds. She had an easy fix for this particular book, consisting of a black marker and a pen to write in an alternate fiancé’s name. It does mean that my daughter would read the book on loan from the library and then, if she decides it is worth her daughters’ attention, would need to purchase a copy that she could edit.
When I asked what she would say if her daughters questioned the edit, her response made me smile. Her children are used to edited versions of all sorts of material, including finding paper clothing pasted in her teenage son’s sports magazines. The general concept, that mommy and daddy believe that what you read and see shapes your character, has been present since birth and raises no questions.
I realize that “progressive” parents, teachers and librarians would most likely be aghast at this close censorship of reading materials. Yet, they too monitor media for children extremely carefully and write and read with goals in mind. That is precisely why homosexual relationships are put into so many children’s books and shows these days. We aren’t differing in the concept of supervision as much as in what we are choosing to present.
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