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The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop
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Jul 30, 08

bookshelves: picturebooks

It's a classic, but it was way too upsetting for me when I read it in kindergarten and I never liked it after that. (The death of a child and four attempts at execution? I know the Grimms' fairy tales aren't much better, but sheesh... )

Like many, I'm also not too keen on the illustrations. It is SUCH an old racist stereotype to portray all Chinese as looking the same. The pictures - true products of their time - don't help kill that misconception. Of course it's absurd to think that every kid will automatically become racist from reading this, but it's also naive to think such images unchecked have no influence. When an eight year-old kid in my classroom pulled his eyes into a slant and sang, "I'm a ching-chong-Chineseman!" while his Vietnamese classmate sitting two seats away from him turned red, I know he didn't come up with that stereotype on his own.

I don't think the book should be banned, but I don't think it should be read unsurpervised either. People like my father are very sentimental about the book since they have fond childhood memories of reading it - just as many progressive people have fond memories of Little Black Sambo and Topsy. Nevertheless, if it's going to be read to young children, I think it absolutely fair to alter the illustrations in modern publications to be less overtly caricaturing, as seen in the reproduction of Little Black Sambo into Little Babaji. The original versions can and should be preserved for children old enough to have a discussion about our bleak history of racism.
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