It was a few days ago, in a small dusty stationary shop, when I stumbled upon what I considered to be a treasure, a blast from the past: the children stories I grew up with and were some of my first reading experiences and a gateway into the world of books and literature.
As it turned out, many people were just as excited about them as I was, or even more so, although I must say for those unfamiliar with the said illustrated stories, the reaction may seem a bit over the top. In our defense, though, they would look much more appealing if you were a kid in 1992.
So I decided to get some of those stories and experiment with them on my 8 and 5 year-old nieces – whenever I could get them off their tablets that is-. To my mild surprise and despite the not-very-flattering illustrations, they seemed quite interested. However, there was a little problem.
You see, it’s different when you read a story from the 1990’s after you’ve developed some critical thinking skills. You start reading the story to the kids and then your mind goes into panic mode and you’re completely horrified at the crap you’re pouring into their minds right now.
Let me give you an example.
We read a story called “In the circus”. That particular story seemed to caught the eye of both my nieces, how not so when it has a monkey balancing on a rope and bouncing a colorful ball over his head? It’s a daydream materializing into a 2-D drawing.Yet, the title of the story was a bit misleading, so to speak. If they called it “How to be a good monkey who suffers silently” well, that would be more like it.
The story revolves about a little monkey who works at the circus, and who one day decided he’s had too much and decided to run away from the circus because the trainer works him and his brother too hard. He suggests the idea to this brothers who refuse to join him so he carries on with his plan alone. Long story short, the little monkey escapes, gets into trouble, and finally goes back to the circus with his trainer, ashamed of what he’s done and promising not to do it again. And it gets better, and by better I mean worse of course, for guess what was the monkey’s name? “Nimrod”, which is a famous name in Islamic and Biblical literature, the name of the tyrant who threw Abraham – Peace be upon him- in the fire. In popular culture, the name became synonymous with mischievous, rogue and unruly behavior. In other words, that monkey was a no-good maverick who didn’t know any better.
As soon as I finished reading it I turned to my 8 year-old niece and asked her what she would do if she was in the monkey’s place, would she run away or stay in the circus, to which she immediately replied that she would stay. Naturally, I told her that I would leave, because that trainer had no right to torture that little monkey and because monkeys should live freely in the open wilderness where they could feed on bananas and swing on trees. To be fair, I told her the monkey’s only mistake was that he broke into someone’s house and ransacked it.
But that’s just one story and one kid. What about all the kids who have read this story and others? Don’t underestimate the power of the subconscious mind and all the ideas instilled in it. Don’t you dare resist. Don’t you dare revolt against oppression, and don’t you dare find a better life for yourself.
I’m not questioning the intentions of the people who wrote and illustrated those stories. I’m almost sure they did it with the best intentions at heart, but after all there are many ideas that are deep-rooted in the collective mindset of society and those are bound to display themselves in our literature. Take another example:
Here, the raven is being described as “ugly with its hideous black feathers”. It’s not strange at all given this is coming from people who live in a society obsessed with whiteness and who associate fair complexion with beauty. And it’s not only this story, I’ve read other stories from our folklore with some less than subtle comparisons between the pretty white princess and the sinister, ugly, black slave. I guess this is a universal problem, white supremacy is global plague, but it becomes alarming when you see that in the 21st century, it is still being nurtured and instilled in our children.
All in all, there is no way to protect your children from all the poisoned ideas that will be pitched at them whether on the street, at school or through the media. The best thing you can do is to try and help them develop the power of critical thinking to be able to think for themselves from an early age and bust any rotten idea before it seeps into their minds and take part in shaping the way they see the world.