Historical Accuracy, While Preserving Timeless Tales, Today

Still in turmoil over Huckleberry Finn.Can't read this story verbatim aloud to my children (or even to myself!) without omitting/updating words, yet I detest revisionism.

Whether I am reading The Secret Garden, Huckleberry Finn, Gulliver's Travels, Swiss Family Robinson... I change the words, the context, the outdated language to bring the story to life, today.


This fall I surprised a squirming class of First Graders and appeared as The Mystery Reader to share with them my love of Pippi Longstocking, of whom even the teacher had not ever yet read.

Accordingly, I let the story speak from decades past, today, by inserting my own contemporary flourishes while removing others.

It's a hard line to walk, sending, with love, great stories through time, while preserving historical accuracy... and an opportunity to discuss in context.

[A friend points out that Huckleberry Finn is in the public domain. Yes, lawyers certainly can sidestep the struggle and balance of the larger historical accuracy, great storytelling... and multiple versions of the same tale... what makes art...epic, and controversial.]

What do you think?

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Personally, and as a parent, I think it's better to read a story you admire as it was written and explain to your children why certain words or whatever else make you uncomfortable than to edit it as you read. I don't know of any educated adults who feel comfortable using the N-word, and yet at the same time, when I see a report of the slur used in a public context reported by, say, the NY Times, as "the N word" (not saying the word itself, which I also feel uncomfortable repeating here), I'm disturbed by the intellectual cowardice at work. The word exists. The word is used. At one time, the word was commonplace. To act as if the word has never actually existed denies historical truth in every conceivable way. Not only does it leave the reality of the past unexplored, but it also diminishes the significance of whatever social progress our language reflects today.
I agree to an extent but I *do* omit / change wording to carry the spirit of the tale when reading to my six year old... she's SIX!

My children don't yet know about racism or bad words,(actually I take that back- the 8 year old heard bad words this year but nothing to the extent in this discussion) it will be something delved into at length, when they do discover it, but right now I'm... just... *trying* to have them know a world without prejudice or hate so that when they do come across it.. they remember it doesn't have to be that way.

In the case of Pippi Longstocking or The Secret Garden the audience would be very young- and in both those books there are skewered references to India and Africa I'm certain my fellow parents from India or Africa in that class would not appreciate me passing on. Our school, which has over 20 nations represented in the student body, enables our students to be very aware of other countries in a tangible way that homogeneous children, when these books were written would not know, so if I read,
"everyone in India walks on their hands" or "everyone in the Congo is a liar" like Pippi asserts (and in The Secret Garden the references are darker), well... I would certainly get parental calls from our classmates from that country.

Why not tell the spirit of the story in 1st grade, to then in 4th grade discuss in relation to history?


However that is I, making those verbal diversions, while reading from the original text for the child to later pick the book up, go, "Heeeey..." and question, learn, and delve into later, intact.
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