I was supervising while Elizabeth did a bit of tidying in the Children’s section of the bookshop last week. We haven’t reviewed a children’s book for a while, so my sniffer was in gear. Somewhere in the thousands of children’s books Elizabeth has, there are some dog stories. I just know there are!
“What about this one, Stella?” Elizabeth showed me the cover of the book and my tail began to thump. I had to use all the toes on one paw AND my dew claw to count the dogs there: Five. A Boy and Five Huskies! Wow!
Elizabeth tucked it in her backpack and we went home for the night. Before she took me out to my house, we had a cuddle and she began to read me the story of Eric. But something was wrong. Eric only had one husky, Inouk. And before long, he was giving Inouk away to a First Nations man they called Red Cousin! Using just one toe, I could see that meant that the story had become a tale of a boy and no huskies.
“What kind of story is that?” I whined.
“Oh, Stella…. Wait and see!” She showed me that there were still lots of pages left. Definitely not a one evening read, this book.
As we walked out to my house that evening, I asked Elizabeth some questions about the way they talked about Red Cousin in the story. It was clear that he was a good friend of Eric’s family. But the way he was presented and the way they called him Red Cousin…. I don’t know. It sounded a bit strange.
Elizabeth explained to me that the book was written almost sixty two-legger years ago (that’s 420 dog years!!), when an attitude called racism was more evident in some ways than it is today. Some two-leggers looked down their noses at people who were different, and it showed in the way they wrote about them, too. Sometimes what came across was unintentionally racist, but it still wasn’t anywhere near ‘politically correct’.
I found this racism idea rather curious – my poodle friends Nigel and Gilby don’t look down on me because I am a mixed breed. I don’t think any the less of Holly the Shih Tzu although her nose only touches my knees. Except when she jumps. She is a really good jumper!
But then I remembered some people who called me a scruffy mutt once, the breeder who said of me and my family, “They bred them on purpose?” and those books we’ve looked at that don’t talk about anything but purebred dogs…. I realized this racism thing must be a two-legger weakness.
“Should this book be read to little two-leggers if it reflects racist ideas?” I asked Elizabeth.
“Well, I think if parents who read it to their children talk to them about it like we’re talking now, it could be a valuable teaching tool. It helps to show how society’s views change over the years as people learn more about each other and how our differences make us stronger when we work and live together instead of using them as dividing lines. And the whole book isn’t bad. Most of it is just an exciting adventure for boys.”
We read on for several evenings, and she was right. The boy learns a lot about life from different people from different walks and stations in life, and he is pretty respectful of all of them. He learns some lessons about helping family members and friends when they are in need, even when it is difficult or painful. He learns a lesson in what happens when you don’t look after something essential to survival because you are distracted by something else. Eric learns how to survive in the wilderness and the importance of perseverance. That’s all good stuff to learn, I think.
And best of all? In the end, there are even more than five huskies that show up in the story!