I recently spent an evening of wonder and reflection in the company of several Judaic incunabula (printed books in Hebrew from the 15th century) at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library. Each was a personality and story, bound by hand and laden with transmitted memory. My guide through their histories, typography and quirks was Judy Guston, the Rosenbach’s curator and senior director of collections, who also happens to be a fascinating storyteller. I was entranced, and the time went by far too quickly.
When Gutenberg developed the printing press and introduced moveable type to Europe in the mid-15th century, he created the world we live in where the stories and knowledge that books preserve and impart were no longer available to only privileged scholars and the fabulously wealthy, but to all of us. Well, maybe not “all” – at least not immediately. Those first printed books were still pricey and far beyond the reach of the illiterate masses who wouldn’t have known what to do with them…
Yesterday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises (the organization in charge of the Dr. Seuss literary legacy) announced that it would discontinue the publication of six iconic children’s books, because “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” The six books are And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. The decision was made because Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) had used racial stereotypes in these books, portraying Blacks and Asians in demeaning ways.
It has been so long since I’ve read any of these books that I don’t really remember much about the illustrations or racial attitudes. But then, I am neither Black nor Asian. I assume that if he had done the same to Jews, I would remember it clearly, because I am a Jew.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” ~ George Santayana
For years now, whenever I’ve spoken at book clubs, I’ve told my audiences, “The book you read is not the book I wrote.” That’s because reading is a participatory experience. We bring our personal histories, prejudices, expectations, hopes and concerns to our interpretations of what we see on the page. That, in turn, can color the narrative and dialog, often making our reading of a book uniquely our own.
I’ve understood that concept for so long that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was blindsided by a friend’s adverse reaction to a word I had written. I consider the word in and of itself a neutral description. But as far as she was concerned, it was a highly charged, derogatory expression.
In this first episode of my new interview series, I chatted with Saroj Ghoting, the Early Childhood Literacy consultant, about how to prepare newborns and young children to be ready to learn to read. More importantly, Saroj shared tips for engaging children in the joy of books which will make them lifelong readers.
Saroj Ghoting is an Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and national trainer on early literacy. She presents early literacy training and information sessions at national, regional, and state conferences, and training for library staff and their partners. She has been a consultant for the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association on the Every Child Ready to Read @ your library® early literacy initiative. She has authored seven books on early childhood literacy including The Early Literacy Kit: A Handbook and Tip Cards, Storytimes for Everyone! Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy, STEP into Storytime: Using StoryTime Effective Practice to Strengthen the Development of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds and Time for a Story: Sharing Books with Infants and Toddlers.