Welcome to Banned Books Week, 2019. I’ve made it something of a tradition to participate, and this year is no different! I invite you to join me this year, share your blog posts and check out what others have to say. The link will be open the entire week!
Book # 8 on the list brings up some very interesting questions. Skippyjon Jones is a popular children’s book which features a Siamese cat who looks different from his family and thinks he is a Chihuahua.
The reason behind this series making the list is that it has been challenged for “depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture.” This is one of those challenges that can help to move us into deeper conversations. Like the challenging of the Little Bill series, which raises questions around if you can (or should) separate the actions of an artists from their art, Skippyjon Jones brings up important questions about appropriation, stereotyping, and depictions of race.
This is not a new conversation around the book, it has even sparked academic papers, and honestly I’m glad to see that it has made it onto the list – because it means people are talking about these issues and are speaking out when they see something that may appear racist or stereotyping. It is easy to knee-jerk-react to something like this (“But my kids love that book!”) but it’s also important to educate ourselves around the potential issues in it (and look at the larger issues it is a part of).
Often shared, when looking for information about the issues people have with Skippyjon Jones is an article that explores the use of “Mock Spanish” in books like Skippyjon Jones. I also recommend Skippyjon Jones: Transforming a Racist Stereotype into an Industry.
Skippyjon Jones did not appear in a vacuum. His cultural roots stem from other well-known stereotypes of Mexican people, nourished by NAFTA and the immigrant-bashing and modern English-only movements.Beverly Slapin, 4/6/2013.
There are a myriad of articles to explore on this topic and I encourage some google-searching. One of the places I found interesting anecdotes and snippets were in the comments section (I know, usually those are to be avoided, but I found a few good ones), where people shared their own experiences with the story.
The author responded to the challenge, for a post on the ALA’s site, by sharing a bit of a letter they received a few years ago from a fan:
I love your books! I’ve almost read all of them. I’m in third grade. I am 8 years old. I’m really flexible. I have lots of friends and I talk Spanish. My favorite book is SKIPPYJON JONES AND THE BIG BONES. I go to dance class. My teacher reads your books sometimes. I have a big family. My Grandpa talks in Chinese, Spanish, and English. I really love your books.
I don’t have a closing statement of any sort on this, I waffle about on this issue and with what to do about it. I know that I, personally, will not be reading or buying these books – because I do see a powerful harm that it can do. And I see a real need (and will fight for this need) for greater education, promotion of #OwnVoices, and calling out those things which are problematic in what we read, watch, and see. But I don’t think that a book like this should necessarily be removed from access. Maybe surrounded by education, recognition of what is problematic about it, and hopefully doing better as we move forward?
I am curious what others think. This book is just one example, from this year, for this. There are a number of other books that have been challenged and it isn’t hard to imagine (or it is easy to discover) that they have made the list due to potentially racist content, or for promoting harmful stereotypes.