I recently wrote about the treasure trove of Little Golden Books that we were given by my Godfather. As part of my “museum origin story” the focus was on how their history and connection to the past was so exciting.
Now that I’ve spent more time with the books, there are even more interesting questions coming up. The first is about how you should use (or not) a historical object like this. These were given to my son for him to read. They were not intended to be handled with white gloves…but is that right? Some of these are WWII era with all the pieces intact. Although my son is extraordinarily careful with his books, he is still two and things will happen. So, should they be used? Or protected? If used how do you convey that they are something special to a toddler? If they should be protected, what does that look like for the average civilian (with no museum attached to their house).
I’m sure questions like this come up all the time, but people may not frame it in terms of “museum vs. use.” That special piece of jewelry, the antique china, the toy from your childhood. When do you hang on to it and when do you let it be used for its purpose? How do you preserve the stories even if it is being used?
As I paged through the books I also realized that some of them present a very real problem of cultural representation. While I can appreciate the place they play in history, where does that leave me when I read them aloud? I can screen out the ones that we are just not ready for or should only be used as historical context, but there are some that are borderline. The role of women in the stories, the way African-Americans are portrayed in illustrations (or left out completely)…this comes up even in the most bland stories like “The Taxi that Hurried”
What is my role as a Mom? I can make sure that his bookshelf is more balanced and that these books only play a part, but it doesn’t feel right to let it pass completely without comment. After all, when the little boy is bouncing all over the seat because he isn’t buckled in…I mention that! This is a conversation that will grow and change as he gets older, but it is especially difficult at this age. It goes back to feeling like I don’t have the right words or explanations that are age appropriate.
This is not a post with any answers, just more questions. Would love to hear your thoughts!