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Old-fashioned school books

(37 Posts)
Ginmummy1 Sun 13-Mar-16 20:01:47

I've just posted This thread in the Children's Books board, but it's perhaps a general primary school question.

Does your school use some very old books? Have your children ever brought home any that you consider to be so old-fashioned that they are inappropriate?

A couple of weeks ago my daughter brought home the Hans Christian Andersen story of The Little Match Girl, which I felt was inappropriate for a Reception-aged child. However, I overlooked it as she chooses from the year 3 selection and this story content is probably ok for an 8-year-old - I recognise that the teacher may not always have time to consider the content of each book.

However, this weekend she brought home a book which is 30 years old, and I wouldn't let her read three of the stories as they were either gruesome (animals ripping another animal to shreds, or a dragon eating four children) or offensive (they way it described simple Simon, and the highly questionable moral message at the end).

I don't want to cause trouble, but I've not let her read these three stories, and feel I ought to explain why in the reading record. Am I being over-sensitive?

irvine101 Sun 13-Mar-16 20:20:36

My ds's reception teacher recommended Hans Christian Andersen books to my ds when he was in reception. I think it depend on child, my ds would have been be ok with animals ripping another animal to shreds, or a dragon eating four children, since it's not real. Also, if he didn't like the content, he was able to tell me he didn't want to read the book anymore.
If you think it's not appropriate for your dd, then stop. My ds's favourite books in reception was transformers and beast quest!

Newes Sun 13-Mar-16 20:22:55

Yes, you are being over sensitive. They are fiction. By all means explain that they were written in a time when attitudes were different but if she can read the content she is capable of understanding that.

Jules125 Sun 13-Mar-16 20:28:06

Perhaps some are inappropriate and they can certainly be offensive, but we have loads of old books (dating back to 60s and 70s) for early readers as my mum was a teacher (and a hoarder). My reception daughter loves reading them, so much more than the utterly contrived phonics books she brings home from school. I mean do Alphablocks really install a love of reading???

These old books are teaching her to read far more than modern books (because she wants to read them) so I am a fan. If your child loves reading the modern phonics books then that is great, but some children may genuinely be getting a lot more from older books. They are not all offensive or gruesome (I do agree the Little Match Girl is a bit tough at 4/5 - I don't know the others you mention) so perhaps give them a chance. You don't have to read every one if they seem inappropriate.

greenbloom Sun 13-Mar-16 20:30:04

Maybe your school could do with some new books.
No, I don't think you are being over sensitive, although modern books can also cause trouble. The content of some of the Jacqueline Wilson books is one example. It is hard to get it right - what one child can take in their stride will upset another-of course you know your child best. But the example you have given does sound unsuitable. Certainly put a note in the reading record.

Tron123 Sun 13-Mar-16 20:58:45

I think it is very interesting as to what is considered appropriate for children to read. Some would argue that as long as the literature was age appropriate ie re violence etc then any reading is better than none, and if this inspires the readers especially the free reader it is a good thing. As children get older again the question as to what is appropriate, and again whether we should sensor books, whilst by the time children reach the later stages of school reading any material is viewed as a positive. The whole Enid Blyton debate having raised views both for and against. I think at the end of the day each book needs to be considered on its own merits, old fashioned can mean classic or show a different way of life - however the child's maturity might determine whether the book is apprpriate for them.

louisejxxx Sun 13-Mar-16 21:11:39

My ds once brought home one of the ORT non-fiction books (Fireflies maybe?) and it was about the Tour De France. We read all of it up until the last 2 pages where it was going on about how amazing and fantastic Lance Armstrong was......

Ginmummy1 Mon 14-Mar-16 08:43:13

I have written a simple note in the reading record to say that my daughter hasn’t read this book because I feel that the some of the content is inappropriate. I’m not going to make a fuss beyond that as I recognise from comments on here that that it’s not a view that others hold strongly or at all.

Newes, I would not necessarily agree that if she can read the content she is capable of understanding that the stories were written in a time when attitudes were different. To truly understand that concept would take a lot of discussions and open up lots of topics of conversation that are inappropriate to have with a five-year-old, however bright. To explain that ‘it used to be ok to call someone stupid and to say they’re so stupid they wouldn’t even be able to beg very well but we don’t say these things now’ is planting a thought in a child’s head that I, personally, would rather they didn’t receive at this young age.

In terms of the ‘violent’ descriptions of ripping an animal to shreds or eating children, I recognise that plenty of children would be ok with this: my daughter happens not to be keen on that sort of thing. Of course we would expect a baddie to come to a bad end, but I would be more comfortable with “The other animals chased the mean old fox far away, and he was never seen again” than “They flung themselves on the fox in fury and tore him to pieces”. Same message, but the latter version might bring on rather more nightmares…

I actually think that the book (and other similar books, some of Enid Blyton for example) could make a really interesting class discussion or project for an older child, for them to consider how the messages we give to children and the way of communicating those messages change over generations, and to consider this in the context of other things happening in the world. However, this is surely more suitable for a secondary school than a primary school. One could say that a younger child would read the words and follow the general story without considering the deeper meaning, but surely we want to encourage our children to interpret the meaning behind the words, and empathise with the characters. I don’t want to discourage my daughter from thinking about the story: that’s the point of reading.

The idea that any reading is a good experience doesn’t wash with me: books are hugely influential. While some of the modern phonics schemes may be considered dull (I can’t really comment: we’ve not been subjected to them) I don’t think we’re going to run out of appropriate reading matter for children , that has been published (or reissued) within the past decade.

As you can probably tell from the length of this post, I’m finding this topic quite fascinating, and welcome additional views!

WombatChocolate Mon 14-Mar-16 12:05:05

Personally, I wonder if you are being rather precious about what your DD is exposed to. You sound as if you are looking at every book to see if you morally agree with it, or if it fits with your views. Once children are in school,to some extent you do have to let go a bit and accept that you won't be able to control everything they have access to - books, films, ideas. There might be the odd time when you something is inappropriate and if you feel strongly about it, then you can let the school know - but this needs to be very occasional, so you need to pick the issue to raise carefully. You will have to trust their decisions most of the time and let them get on with it. If you are feeling unhappy about a number of different books, then it might be worth asking yourself if the issue is with you, rather than the school.
I would say children are more robust than you imagine and that perhaps reading about some of these things is not as scary as you might think. Reading things described in by more graphic way, is all part of reading moving on. It is also important to recognise that much of the cultural fabric of life has not been produced in the last 5 years and might reflect some different values - that is something to get to grips with too, as is the idea that not everyone might feel so strongly about not letting children see attitudes which might have changed. Not surprisingly, much of the excellent children's literature heritage we have available is from the past - often pretty far back too - values will be different, but the quality and what these books can bring to our children is immense. Children really are done a disservice if they are only ever given books written in the last 30 years.

My DC read lots of Enid Blyton - they thoroughly enjoyed the books and contributed to them being avid readers. I don't have any qualms about them having been exposed to some ideas that aren't widely held today - for example, Anne carrying out the cooking in Famous Five. Feel free to discuss the ideas, but I wouldn't restrict access to them. Again,surely children grow and learn to be discerning themselves by exposure to a range of materials. So yes, certain things would be inappropriate for small children, but they can often cope with more than you think. Younger Junior age children often read Michael Morpurgo books which look quite deeply at issues relating to war - will you be key for your child to not know about these things at age 8?

Incidentally, I seem to remember Oxford Reading Tree did a series for able Infant age readers - the language etc was advanced, but they were about concepts more suitable for younger children. Can't remember what they were called.

Would your DD enjoy Milly Molly Mandy, or My Naughty Little Sister? Great books for new readers.

mary21 Mon 14-Mar-16 12:19:23

I was once told that old fashioned fairy tales were very helpful for children. They enabled them to experience scary things in an abstract way within the safety of there family. An in the end good wins out in most of them. Children have scary thoughts/and dreams and it helps thm explore these feelings and learn to overcome them

irvine101 Mon 14-Mar-16 13:17:43

When my ds was born, my sister sent me books of classic children's stories in my native language. I was pretty surprised to find all the ending has been changed. Original stories I read as a child was sometimes very brutal, there was a lot of stories about being good or bad, and bad always suffer the consequences in the end. They are re-written with milder endings, like OP described. I survived as a child exposed to those, I wondered what has changed so much that children need protection from every angle. But that seems the way world is going.

greenbloom Mon 14-Mar-16 15:55:17

It really depends on the sensitivity of your child. If you are letting them read or watch things that gives them nightmares or keeps them awake worrying, then whatever the age of the book or the age of your child, it's obviously too much for them. I haven't yet let my 11 yr old dd watch some of the Harry Potter films or read the Hunger Games. She can't handle Dr Who either. Many children would be fine with them.

mrz Mon 14-Mar-16 19:10:09


MsMermaid Mon 14-Mar-16 19:20:32

My 6yo had the pied piper a few weeks ago and talked about it for days. She was genuinely upset that the rats were drowned, then cried so much she couldn't carry on reading when the children started following the piper. She made me finish the story for her so she knew the children were OK, but it wasn't really helpful to hear the end because the children never get to go home. She was devastated by it.

I don't think many children would be that upset by it, so I didn't complain, but I was a bit taken aback by how upsetting it was for a young child, I remember it as a nice story when I was a child but I was probably older when I read it.

We've had other books that she couldn't stop at the end of a chapter because it was too sad and we had to find a happier place to stop.

Dungandbother Mon 14-Mar-16 21:13:54

I agree with many PP

DD is sensitive. I remember not letting her read a Biff Kipper book about a burglar because I knew it would cause issues. She was 5, it was maybe a gold level book. Our school had bugger all suitable books for advanced girly innocent types. So she was Milly Molly and Amelia Jane from a young age. Now in Y4, they want advanced readers to read Micheal Morpurgo and she HATES them. They are sad and they make her miserable.
But she doesn't attune with Enid. Having some success with old Mrs Peoperpot Type stories. She actually dislikes D Walliams etal because she doesn't want to be glued to her book. confused when it's so interesting.

Now DS is also beginning to show excellence at reading. Y1. He loves Tin tin, violence, old fashioned all the bad endings books.

School books are all 20 + years old. Tragic but true, I have supplemented their reading far more than I feel I should have.
DD got a Jennifer yellow hat. I had that 35 years ago. They were crap then and worse now. Tragic.

Ginmummy1 Tue 15-Mar-16 09:27:07

It's really useful to have so many people say it's quite normal for these types of books to be around in schools these days.

Dungandbother, my daughter sounds a lot like yours. She often asks us to read the voice of the baddie in a book because she hates saying the words. We're trying to encourage her to be braver and to reassure her that there will (normally) be a happy ending.

Now I know it's quite 'normal' I have no intention of causing trouble with the teacher. It's parents' evening in a week's time, and if the topic comes up I'll simply say that she's quite sensitive to these things.

DH has been keen to get her into Harry Potter (book 1), Star Wars, Stardust and suchlike, and I've been a bit reticent as I know she can worry. However, maybe she does need to learn to cope with things that are not always pink and fluffy.

Ginmummy1 Tue 15-Mar-16 13:17:46

Actually, I'm getting distracted by the 'gory' issue. My main concern was with the Simple Simon story. Here is the first page of the book:

A few weeks ago, you would never have thought that Simple Simon would become the richest man in our village. Not only was Simon stupid, he was poor as well. He was too stupid to learn a trade, and could not be trusted to do the simplest job. He begged for a living, and even did that badly. If you gave him money, he would probably lose it before he got home.

Here is the last page:

The King gave Simon a handsome pension for life. It made Simon the richest man in the village. Simon admits that he is not at all clever. "But who cares?" he asks. "Maybe it's better to be lucky." Perhaps Simon is not so simple after all.

Does this bother anyone else, or again am I being over-sensitive?

fredfredgeorgejnrsnr Tue 15-Mar-16 13:25:09

It's an opportunity to discuss the themes? How labelling can be harmful, what societies responsibility to those too stupid to learn a trade is, why being clever is not sufficient, why being lucky might not be a reliable strategy.

One of the things that needs to be learnt, is not to believe everything you read. That, I would say, should be a lesson that comes before the ability to read, if every story you were exposed to had such negative themes, and the themes weren't discussed and rebuffed then that would be bad, but simply hiding the themes and avoiding the discussion is not a good way to learn.

Matildatoldsuchdreadfullies Tue 15-Mar-16 14:08:49

When DD2 was in year 1 her teacher read the class 'The Little Match Girl', and explained that it was her favourite fairy story. DD2 loved it (though I found it difficult to read it with her as I tended to get a rather large lump in my throat).

Frankly, I'd rather they actually read Hans Christian Anderson than watch the abomination that is Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'.

greenbloom Tue 15-Mar-16 16:24:56

DungandBother - has she tried Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child? Goth Girl is good, if rather eccentric.
Totally agreeing re Michael Morpurgo. Unfortunately he is very popular in schools at the moment.
I'm a pathetically sensitive person and refused to 'do' 'The Handmaiden's Tale' for English A Level - I read it and just couldn't bear to write about it. They gave me 'A Room with a View Instead'

WombatChocolate Tue 15-Mar-16 16:57:37

I suspect that 'simple Simon' story is from a reading scheme series on traditional folk tales". Oxford Reading Tree certainly had lots, many of which were not traditional British stories but from other parts of Europe. Sometimes there is a moral to them and sometimes they are to help children think about the simple symbolism in them. They are used as literature and not to teach morality or values.

OP, how frequently do you yourself read literature of the past? Do you find it difficult to read about times and attitudes which are different to our own? I just wonder.

What is it that bothers you about Simple Simon?

It's great that you have realised there will be a range of books that children are exposed to - this is all to the good and part of the teaching of English. Your DD maybe a sensitive soul, but I think you sound like you are the sensitive one mostly and your instinct is to control the content of the reading matter. Of course there are certainly things that are not suitable for small children, but most children can manage more complex ideas than we might think and also tricky topics too; I think of Year 6s Reading Morpurgos Private Peaceful and the book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas about the Hololocaust and of some of the scenes in Goodnight Mister Tom which is often read by upper Juniors in more able groups. They stretch the readers and make them think.

Ultimately I think you can trust the school books. It is more tricky if your child wants to opt for library or books in a shop which might not be suitable, but I don't think you are at that stage yet.

goingmadinthecountry Tue 15-Mar-16 21:23:27

Better than the dreadful Captain Underpants and the farting and pants books that so many people feel are what's needed to make boys love books. Or awful American pap about badly behaved children.

jamdonut Tue 15-Mar-16 21:25:14

How do you feel about The Gingerbread Man being eaten by the fox, or the troll in the 3 Billy Goats Gruff threatening to eat the Goats, or the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk meeting a nasty end when Jack chops down the tree etc,etc.
These are traditional tales, they will be used throughout her primary school life. You can't completely shield her from the fact that bad things can and do happen, and that life is not all fairies and unicorns and rainbows. Also, that stories are just that...stories. Does she recognise the difference between fiction and non- fiction? These are all good talking points for discussion, for checking comprehension, and vocabulary knowledge. Lots of children give the appearance of reading very well, even using good expression, but when pressed don't really understand what they have been reading.

Roseformeplease Tue 15-Mar-16 21:28:28

Are you planning on publishing something on this topic?

Themodernuriahheep Tue 15-Mar-16 21:40:38

Gin, how about Beatrix Potter, grim things but happy endings ( though avoid Samuel whiskers), and little house in the big woods, scary bits but happy resolutions?

Gobbolino and the little wooden horse and Tove Jansson's moomins also come to mind. I found the first two stretching, myself, but Ds loved them, and I found the last bland but comforting.

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