Monday, January 7, 2008

Rabbit Hill

At the request of my son, who took the book out of his school library, I just finished reading Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson, first published in 1944 and Newbery Award winner in 1945. My son was having trouble with his book discussion questions, so I took time out to read his book so I could be helpful.

His complaint was that the book didn't follow the usual pattern of a problem, a solution, and a resolution - staples of his language arts class. I suggested that since the book is 64 years old, perhaps plots and themes were much different then. I eagerly anticipated a dip into the past as I read the book.

The past I found was an unpleasant one. The copy that my son checked out was from 1966. Animals walked "Indian file," and the African American cook, Sulphronia, was portrayed in an offensive and stereotypical manner. A quick search of the internet showed me that many schools use this title, and I was surprised to say the least. Further checking showed that all copies issued since 1970 have been edited to remove the offensive portrayals common at the time Rabbit Hill was written.

If a racially or ethnically insensitive book is to be left on the shelves for an elementary school reader, then it should be used as a "teaching moment," to comment on the positive changes made in society and the need for acceptance and tolerance.

What I think of the book is immaterial. What I learned is the importance of
  • knowing one's collection
  • remaining engaged in my children's learning experiences
  • and of course, weeding

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