Having a baby causes you to revisit your own childhood. Memories, years buried, suddenly resurface. Somewhere, from deep within comes a longing to relive the experiences, and to share tales of games once played and toys once adored. I’ve recently been particularly nostalgic for the dolls of my girlhood, searching for photos and information about them online and then letting all the memories rush back, smiling.

My mother has always been a reader and I have so many wonderful memories of reading with her, and just enjoying the beauty of the illustrations in my beloved books. Naturally, I’d always assumed I’d one day read these same books to my own children, so from time to time I have brought some old favourites back to my place after visiting mum.

Of course I grew up in a different time, in different circumstances. In a small town with little exposure to other multicultural society. My mother has always been open minded, accepting of all people and all cultures. Yet as I am now a mother to a bicultural baby, I reread my childhood books with the perspective and sensitivity of our family’s circumstances, and from time to time I am jarred by the racism to be found in their pages. Again, I want to be clear, my mum is not racist, and if she reread these books now she would be as shocked as I.

The other day I opened one such book, it was a Little Golden Book from 1972 with particularly charming illustrations by Sharon Kane, I read through quietly to myself and smiled as I came across a page where three babies were pictured in a basket.. and then I read the rhyme underneath it which described them each in racial colour terms and explained how there wasn’t really enough room in the basket for all three of them. I was really disappointed.

The next morning, Alice was playing with Han and decided she wanted to hear a story. Han invited her to go fetch a book and wouldn’t you know, she picked the Little Golden Book. In my head I lamented that she hadn’t picked a Korean language book (We are still only using Korean with Alice and have so far only exposed her to books in Korean)

Without missing a beat, Han opened the cover of the book and started making up a short story for each page, in Korean. When he turned to the three babies who couldn’t fit in the basket, suddenly they were transformed into three babies having a lovely time playing together in that same basket. That’s the lovely thing about being married, particularly to someone of a different mother tongue and big imagination- having someone there to take the evil out of your once treasured books and recreate them into the future fond memories of your children. Maybe one day we’ll type up our own new poem to glue in, under that picture of three babies in a basket.

  • imawoman

    So true, Sophie, and well done. I, too, cringed when I realized after having my kids how horrible some of our American classic children’s books are, especially the old nursery rhymes.

    What does it really mean when we continue reciting outdated nursery rhymes of babies in rockers falling out of trees (say what?!), eating curds and whey (does anyone eat that stuff anymore?), pockets full of posies (Black Death plague), and three male scoundrels in a tub (gay peep show origins…lol)? Why do we continue doing it when the poems are irrelevant, and truth be told, actually have horrid or inappropriate meanings?

    If you don’t like to follow tradition for tradition’s sake, buy Bruce Lansky’s book “Mary Had a Little Jam, and Other Silly Rhymes” instead, if not for your own children, then for your family or friends children. It’s a delightful romp through our favorite childhood nursery rhymes using the same rhythmic cadence but with an entirely modernized twist on the wording. The poems are age-appropriate and the illustrations are beautifully drawn. Both of my boys loved this book and enjoyed reading it time and again when they were little. It’s full of funny, creative, relevant, and – dare I say? – timeless poems.

  • Chantelle James

    Lovely as always Sophie ^_^

  • Cate Han

    This is such a touching post. Alice will have many fond memories of reading with her parents too.

  • dewaanifordrama

    This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.