You're Invited! A Cuci Mata Read of Classic Children's Books

I recently learned from Karen Lotz, publisher of Candlewick, that the Indonesian phrase Cuci Mata means a "washing of the eyes." Aha! I thought. The perfect metaphor for my new feature on Mitali's Fire Escape.

While we may not want to bowdlerize the classics of the past, we are eager to grow in our ability to discern both anachronistic and universal attitudes in stories (even, and perhaps especially, in our own). Every month, we'll choose a novel written by a now-dead—no hurt feelings that way—children's book author and explore attitudes towards race, class, gender, and culture as revealed in that story. What stands the test of time in this novel?

Our goal is not to critique and condemn these beloved authors with arrogant "we-know-better-than-you" twenty-first century eyes. We will wash our eyes, see in a fresh way, and find elements in these stories to celebrate as universally relevant. But we also want to notice what the authors themselves might have wished they could change for today's young readers.

I invite you to join me the first week of each month, either here on the Fire Escape, where I'll be blogging my thoughts about the books and asking questions, on your own blog or Facebook page, or via Twitter using the hashtag #kidclassic. I'm trying to pick lesser-known novels written by famous authors. Here's what I've scheduled so far:

November: Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

(Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword to the re-issue of this novel from HarperPerennial as a labor of love, but don't let that stop you from seeing it with fresh eyes and speaking to us about what you see.)

December: An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

January: The Well-Wishers by Edward Eager

Other suggestions?

If you're going to join us, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks so much!

Photo courtesy of ryawesome via Creative Commons