Skip to main content Skip to main navigation

09 Jun 2022 • 3 minute read

Banning classic kids’ books isn’t necessary – but add some stories from this century

Our favourites from decades past absolutely have their place in today’s homes and classrooms - however, we also need books reflecting today’s world for today’s children.

If we were to look at many children’s book collections, chances are we’ll see the classics: Harry the Dirty Dog, Where the Wild Things Are, Hairy MacLary, Possum Magic and the like.

The classics are classic for a reason: they’re examples of quality, captivating literature.

Who doesn’t love the rhythm and adventure of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, or the lyrical opening line of The Very Hungry Caterpillar: (In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf”)?

They’re the same titles which have been sitting on bookshelves for decades – which my research has shown can raise some issues given they often portray a world which is far different from society in the 2020s.

But contrary to widespread misreporting in the media on this research, it does NOT mean we should be banning children’s books from yesteryear.

I have all of the above books on my shelves, as well as classics from my own childhood such as Blinky Bill and Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie.

Classic books tell much-loved stories, but they also evoke treasured and important memories of childhood.

For many of us, they launched us into the world of books and the love of reading.

Perhaps this is why any perceived criticism of these books evokes such a strong reaction – a reaction which would be understandable if I were actually calling for these to be banned or removed from bookshelves.

But I am not. In fact, if a book is banned then I want it in my collection!

However, several studies, including my recently published research with preservice teachers, have shown many adults rely on classics as their go-to books to share with children.

In my recent study, the top 10 choices had been published between 1963 and 1992.

I found similar results in my other studies in early learning settings.

Dr Helen Adam reading a children's book.
Dr Helen Adam.

Yes, classic books absolutely have their place in today’s homes and classrooms and many enjoyable hours and positive conversations can come from them.

However, we also need books reflecting today’s world for today’s children.

It’s about adding new titles to our collections, not replacing or removing the classics. There is room on our shelves and in our kids’ hearts for old and new stories.

In our diverse, multicultural Australia, at least 25 per cent of children rarely get to see characters which look like themselves or their family reflected in a book.

In fact, research overseas suggests children from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to see a dinosaur or a rabbit as a main character in a book than someone who looks like them.

Believe it or not, this matters.

Children learn about themselves and the world through books; when children see characters they can relate to in a book this can transform their lives.

It promotes children’s sense of identity and belonging, and understanding of others who may be different to themselves.

Diverse books benefit children of all backgrounds.

If we truly want all children to read and learn, then all children have the right to see themselves reflected in the books we choose to read to them.

This can include characters of different genders, ethnicities, religious beliefs, physical abilities, family backgrounds and more.

By all means, keep the classics – but diversify your book choices too.

Even the authors of some of your childhood favourites have written or continue to write books which do reflect today’s world: Mem Fox’s The Tiny Star or I’m Australian too, and Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickstick based on his recovery from COVID being just three examples.

There are also many newer writers such as Maxine Beneba Clarke, Scott Stuart and Jasmine Seymour to name just a few.

There are scores of excellent stories about today’s world for today’s children.

Yes, you can do good things with almost any book, but you can’t make the invisible visible.

Unless you’re Grandma Poss.

Dr Helen Adam,
Senior Lecturer, School of Education